In Memory of Hu Yaobang

Twenty years ago today, April 15th, Hu Yaobang died, and in response, China exploded.

Hu Yaobang was a CCP leader, and the General Secretary of the Party from 1980 until 1987, when he was forced out by socialist hard-liners for advocating bourgeois liberalization. He was forced to write a self-criticism, and when he died two years later his name was still officially disgraced.

Hu was a relatively popular leader, whose most famous and well-received policies were mostly attempts to smooth over the failings of previous leaders; he worked to rehabilitate people persecuted during excesses of the Cultural Revolution and removed Han Chinese party leaders from Tibet so that their positions could be filled by ethnic Tibetans.

When Hu died, in 1989, spontaneous crowds formed in Tiananmen Square to mourn and express their frustration with the government’s response (a rather subdued state funeral and recognition of some of his good deeds but no complete rehabilitation). These crowds grew and eventually changed from mourners to protesters, demanding everything from Hu Yaobang’s rehabilitation to complete democracy. The way that endeavor ended goes, I think, without saying.

In 2005 Hu Yaobang was publicly recognized with an official ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of his birth. He still hasn’t been officially rehabilitated, probably because of the association between his name and the Tiananmen Square protests.

Hu is still held in high esteem by modern reformers, many of whom see themselves as following in his footsteps. For example, the reformist/populist 24hourblogbus posted a short piece in memorial today, part of which we’ve translated below. (If you speak Chinese, it’s worth checking out the original post as it also includes a half-hour Youku video on Hu Yaobang).

A year ago today, I wrote an article commemorating the passing of Hu Yaobang, two years ago, I also wrote an article commemorating his passing, and it goes on like this. Leafing through them now, the articles all still exist.

Today, Hu Yaobang’s commemoration falls on the same day as [I’m attending] a meeting in the mountains. The network [here] is awful, and the speed is terrible. A guy of the same profession who was ahead of me was able to post something, but actually it was difficult for me to upload anything successfully. I was in the middle of worrying when he suddenly exclaimed that [his] memorial piece on Sina had been deleted after only ten minutes, getting up early on the 15th he found again that the reposted article was deleted. This discovery caused him to aburptly roar like a lion in the middle of the assembly hall: “This is pissing me off!” I still hadn’t posted anything, and didn’t know what the result would be…suddenly I recalled that on Tomb-Sweeping day, all the articles about the Yang family cemetery were suddenly deleted overnight. Did this mean that Hu Yaobang’s memorial day would also meet with this misfortune?

Actually, this is already quite common, certainly it’s no fantasy for those currently engaged in trying to change the status quo [in China]. [They] use the mentality of a feudal parent and deceive even themselves, scheming to control the ideas of people in modern society, with unprecedentedly stupid methods.

Hu Yaobang wouldn’t do that!


On this, the twentieth anniversary of Hu Yaobang’s death, we write articles to cherish his memory. The reason why some people fear this is that they fear those who follow Yaobang’s example might be as powerful as he was.

Hu Yaobang is immortal!

So what do you think? Is Hu Yaobang immortal, or will censorship like what’s described above continue to prevent activists fighting to change the status quo? Also worth discussing: was Hu Yaobang really the hero he’s been made out to be in death?

0 thoughts on “In Memory of Hu Yaobang”

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  2. A few days ago, I was having dinner with a few friends here in Tangshan and we were discussing politics. I mentioned the June 4th and Tiananmen Square in passing during the conversation and my friend was very surprised that I mentioned it, exclaiming, “You’ve heard of that before?!” I was very surprised that he’d said this and explained that of course, the whole world knows. My girlfriend, who was sitting next to me, then told me that when she was in high school, in her history book, there was one sentence saying that there was an incident in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, but didn’t provide any details. She said her teacher at the time explained that the government avoided something bad, again without giving details. Then she told me another one of her teachers was actually one of the student leaders at the time but that he was suffering some serious mental illnesses (again, without getting specific on what those mental illnesses were, he could have just been diagnosed that way to seem incredible by the government). I asked her if she asked him about what happened and she said was too scared to ask and he was too scared to tell.

    Based on this anecdote, I think it’s totally possible for government censorship to wipe out the idea of Hu Yaobang from the people’s minds — but I think it’ll be much harder with the internet as a resource. However, it’s definitely a problem that there only seems to be a few major Chinese discussion forums.

    As far as Hu Yaobang’s infallible reputation, I honestly don’t think it matters whether he was a squeaky clean reformist or a more-liberal-than-average party member with some blemishes on his record. The fact is that right now, he’s a beacon of hope for the Chinese people in that if there are more people like him, reform can come to China. He’s a source of reliance and hope for human rights and pro-democracy activists across China. A simple parallel for this would be Harvey Dent from the recent Batman movie, the Dark Knight.


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