04/07/2015, 00.00
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A decade after his death, Zhao Ziyang will be laid to rest

The former General Secretary of the Communist Party fell from grace for opposing the Tiananmen Square crackdown that led to the massacre of workers and students. After many years of detention, he was held under house arrest until his death in January 2005. Fearing his legacy, the authorities keep a lid on anyone trying to honour his memory. This year, the annual festival honouring the dead comes again with restraints and arrests.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – After waiting more than ten years, the family of Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang will be finally able to bury his ashes. He fell from grace for his opposition to the bloody Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.

"They [the authorities] have agreed to have them buried together," Zhao's son-in-law Wang Zhihua said, referring to the late leader and his wife Liang Boqi, who died in late 2013.

Zhao, who died on 17 January 2005, was cremated. However, his family kept his ashes in the garden of the family home because it could not reach an agreement with the authorities over a burial site.

At the time of his death, the party offered to inter his ashes at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery but his family wanted him buried privately because they were worried about future access to his ashes.

The standoff was due to government fears that the funeral might draw large crowds and lead to disorder and protests.

In a now famous photograph, censored in China, a tearful Zhao is seen holding a megaphone in his hand whilst talking to people around him. To his side stood former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who would eventually turn against him.

Reform-minded, Zhao begged the students and workers in central Beijing in 1989 to leave before Deng Xiaoping could order a crackdown.

Political commentator Zhang Lifan said that permission to bury Zhao's ashes did not indicate the authorities were planning to rehabilitate Zhao. In fact, officials are still worried that his grave might become a pilgrimage site.

Sometimes Beijing fears the dead more than it does the living. This is also the case with Mgr Cosma Shi Enxiang. The heroic underground bishop died after decades in prison for his fidelity to the pope, but fearful authorities have hidden his body.

The government has also tried to curb devotional visits to other "sensitive" graves, especially during Ching Ming festival, a spring festival when people tend to relatives’ graves.

The festival, which this year fell on 4 April, saw the authorities again carry out preventive arrests across the country.

In Shaanxi, police stopped scores of people, members of an anti-corruption group that sought to remember President Xi Jinping’s late father, known for his moral probity and liberal views.

On Sunday, more than 100 people went to Zhao's former home in Beijing to pay their respects but were met by police.

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