11/17/2005, 00.00
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Hu Yaobang tribute toned down to avoid party rift

Celebrations marking the 90th anniversary of one of China's best loved politicians have been scaled down for fear of fuelling social tensions. His death in 1989 led to the birth of the democratic movement, later suppressed in the Tiananmen massacre.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The 90th anniversary of Hu Yaobang's birth will be marked only by a handful of low-key events. Secretary of the Communist Party in the eighties, Hu's death unleashed the democratic movement and subsequent Tiananmen repression.

Some months ago, the president himself, Hu Jintao, expressed the desire to celebrate the event. Everything was prepared: in Cangfang, the birthplace of Hu Yaobang in Hunan, plans were afoot to build a memorial museum and an enormous square was to be named after him; in Beijing, a solemn commemoration ceremony was scheduled for today with more than 2,000 guests. And now: the construction of the museum has been stalled, the Beijing ceremony, postponed until tomorrow, has been scaled down to a seminar for a restricted number of some 200 or 300 people. However, a celebration in Jiangxi on 22 November has been added to the timetable; this is the province where Hu was buried.

Despite the obvious scaling down of activities, Liu Jianchao, spokesman of the Foreign Affaire Ministry confirmed that the anniversary will be celebrated, even if he did not specify how and when.

Meanwhile, mainstream media persist in observing a deep, obstructionist silence about Hu Yaobang.

Born on 20 November 1915 to a poor peasant family, he participated in the Long March with Mao Zedong. But, contrary to the Great Helmsman, Hu was always open minded and tolerant, seeking to rehabilitate victims of political persecution (anti-Rightist campaign in 1957; Cultural Revolution in 1966-1976).

Deng Xiaoping was among those Hu "rehabilitated" and when he came to power in 1978, Hu – together with Zhao Ziyang – paved the way for economic reform geared towards transforming China from a state run as a Stalinist economy to a market economy.

Between 1981 and 1987, as Party Secretary, he worked to create openings and modernisation. Among his more advanced proposals were those of distinguishing between the state and the party and also of separating the party from entrepreneurship.

Thanks to him, the Chinese people could start to communicate more freely with the rest of the world.

But conservatives, accusing him of corrupting Chinese society with middle-class and western ideas, dismissed him from his post as Party Secretary in 1987. His death on 15 April 1989 sparked gatherings of millions of people and led to the birth of the democratic movement, suppressed during the Tiananmen massacre.

It is precisely this link between his death and the Tiananmen massacre which prompted the decision to shroud his memory in silence. In recent times, Hu Jintao wanted to the mark the anniversary, perhaps to portray himself as following in the footsteps of Hu Yaobang and his reforms. But the Party fears that mass rallies may once again flow from Hu Yaobang's memory, especially given prevalent heavy social tension. Some party members, like Li Peng, fear that reminders of Tiananmen may reignite the souls of many who seek justice and the truth about the massacre.

So the Security Department decided to keep the celebrations in low profile. Hu Jintao himself will not participate, as he will be attending the APEC meeting in South Korea.

Not even the former collaborators of Hu Yaobang are invited to tomorrow's celebrations in Beijing, perhaps because they are found guilty of being too "reformist".

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