Purged Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang dies at 85

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Zhao Ziyang, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party who was purged for sympathizing with the student protestors in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 died on Monday in Beijing after 15 years of house arrest. He was 85.

Zhao was a reformer within the communist party who acted against corruption, and created programs of economic and agricultural reform that allowed parts of China to recover from the failure and famine of the Great Leap Forward. He disbanded communes and allowed farmers to tend their own land; he also introduced the plan to create special economic hubs in coastal areas — a system that is the current model for China.

In the 1980s, Zhao's success gained him a variety of top posts within the Poliburo of the Communist Party, including in 1987 the post of General Secretary — highest rank within the party. He was seen by outsiders as a potential successor to the de facto Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, though on one occasion Zhao had denied that he would be fit for the role.

Zhao's rule came to an end in 1989, as he sided with the student protesters advocating democracy in the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Zhao's position was not held by others within the core of the Politburo, and he was stripped of his post.

On May 19, 1989, Zhao arrived at Tiananmen Square and spoke to the protesters. In tears, he apologized for "coming too late" and asked them to abandon their protest.

Shortly afterward, Zhao was placed under house arrest despite never being charged. Two weeks later on June 4, the army was sent into the square to disband the protestors, leading to hundreds of deaths.

He never again made a public appearance and was confined to a courtyard house not far from Tiananmen Square. From there, Mr. Zhao ventured outside only rarely and under heavy escort to play golf at nearby courses.

Even in death, the government continues to fear that his name might ignite discontent among impoverished farmers, intellectuals, the unemployed and others who want to see sweeping political reforms.

Security at Tiananmen Square was visibly tightened in the days leading to Zhao Ziyang's death, as reports emerged that he had slipped into a coma.

Official announcement of his passing Monday came via a short dispatch by the state news agency, which briefly said that he had died at a Beijing hospital after suffering longtime lung and heart ailments. The report referred to the deceased leader as "Comrade Zhao" and made no mention of his former titles.

He had been in a coma since Friday after suffering multiple strokes, a source close to his family said.

He is survived by his second wife, Liang Boqi, four sons, and a daughter.


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