January 18, 2005 by

Zhao Ziyang

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Categories: Politicians

Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese Communist Party leader who was ousted from power in 1989 after publicly sympathizing with pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, died on Jan. 17. Cause of death was not released. He was 85.
Born in the central Chinese province of Henan, Zhao was only 13 when he joined the Communist Youth League. He became a full-fledged party member six years later and devoted the rest of his life to public service. Zhao worked underground as a Communist official during World War II. He was named secretary of the Guangdong province after the Communists came to power in 1949. In the 1950s, he helped purged the province of corrupt government officials or those tied to the Nationalists.
During the country’s Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s “Red Guards” dragged Zhao from his home and forced him to walk through the streets wearing a dunce cap. Four years after this disgraceful exhibition, he resurfaced as a party secretary in Inner Mongolia.
Zhao became the governor of Sichuan in 1975. He launched an agricultural movement that dismantled the commune system, restored private ownership and raised farm prices. His efforts, which were approved by the late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, invigorated the economy, but also brought inflation and income gaps between the rich and the poor.
Zhao moved to Beijing in 1980 and spent seven years as premier. He took over as general secretary of the Communist Party, the most powerful post in China, in 1987 after Hu Yaobang was ousted for failing to quell the pro-democracy movement. Zhao also fell out of favor when he argued against the use of force to crush pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing. Accused of “splitting the party,” he lost an internal power struggle and was stripped of his titles.
Following his expulsion, Zhao visited the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square and tearfully apologized to them. Martial law was declared the next day. On June 4, 1989, the army killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed protesters and citizens. Zhao spent his final years under house arrest.
In response to Zhao’s death, the Chinese government banned news agencies from reporting his passing. Popular Chinese Websites were also ordered to restrict any discussion of the former leader and CNN broadcasts to hotels and apartment complexes were blacked out whenever Zhao was mentioned.

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