China Mutes Memorialization of Reformer Hu Yaobang; Memories Could Spark Critique of Xi Administration

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chinese officials stand guard in front of the gate leading to Hu Yaobang’s grave in Gongqingcheng, China, on Monday.

GONGQINGCHENG, China — Chinese authorities were on high alert Monday in Gongqingcheng, China, where late reformist leader Hu Yaobang’s grave is located, as the day marked the 35th anniversary of his death.

Hu served as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1980s.

Hu was buried not in the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in the Beijing suburbs, where the tombs of many party officials are located, but in the Jiangxi Province city he developed while leading young people as the head of the Communist Youth League of China.

According to local authorities, a memorial service was held Monday, attended by Hu’s family members and other related people. During the event, nearly 100 plainclothes police officers kept a close watch on the surrounding area and prohibited anyone other than those related to the event from entering the venue.

In the 1980s, under paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, Hu promoted China’s reform and opening-up policy. Hu developed a personal relationship of trust with then Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, which led to an era known as the “golden age of Japan-China relations.”

Hu was attacked by conservatives over his handling of student demonstrations at the end of 1986, and resigned as general secretary of the party in January 1987. He is said to have been a man of clean character.

After his sudden death in 1989, crowds gathered to mourn his passing, leading to the Tiananmen Square incident on June 4 of the same year.

An event to commemorate Hu’s death was open to the media under the supervision of Chinese authorities in 2019, the 30th anniversary of his death, but this year the authorities raised their guard.

The treatment of Hu, who lost his position over his handling of pro-democracy students, has long been a sensitive issue within the party. There have been some moves to reevaluate Hu in recent years. Chinese President Xi Jinping praised him as a prominent leader at a 2015 event marking the 100th anniversary of Hu’s birth.

However, social control has been tightened in China under the Xi administration, which emphasizes national security. The economy has been sluggish and unemployment among young people has remained high.

Diplomatic sources said the fact that many people gathered at an event to mourn the sudden death of former Premier Li Keqiang in October last year showed their dissatisfaction with the status quo. The authorities are believed to be wary of a situation in which memorializing Hu might lead to criticism of the administration.