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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Zhao Ziyang - Flowers Tell the Story

A funeral for China’s controversial former-leader took place today, with loaner-flowers only and plenty of police.

There’s been speculation ever since Zhao Ziyang’s death on January 17 about how obsequies for China’s former party chief would be carried out. Zhao was driven from command after he opposed the military’s crackdown on dissidents in the spring of 1989, when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of demonstrators were killed over protests in Tiananmen Square. Zhao lived under house arrest for the remainder of his life.


A memorial to Zhao Ziyang, Jan. 21

Victoria Park, Hong Kong

Photo: Bobby Yip, for Reuters

At the news of his death, a huge memorial with floral wreaths and masses of yellow and white chrysanthemums was assembled in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. In Beijing, meanwhile, Chinese authorities clamped down on public expressions of grief. An AFP story of Jan. 27 reported: “Security has been stepped up, apparently for fear that mourning will spark large-scale protests. Dozens of people have been detained and some viciously beaten, witnesses said.

“They were among some 60 people who last week pinned white paper flowers to their clothes, a traditional Chinese symbol of mourning, said a bystander who took pictures of the beatings and posted them on overseas websites.”

We haven’t come across these photos. Have you?

Not so many days ago, it appeared that Zhao would be denied a “life assessment,” the party’s official record of a public person’s career. But today the Chinese government did release such a statement.

“‘He made beneficial contributions to the party and the people,’ the assessment said, before adding, ‘In the political turmoil of the spring and summer of 1989, Comrade Zhao Ziyang committed grave errors.’”

Police nearly outnumbered guests at the funeral itself, according to Agence France-Presse. Mourners were permitted by invitation only, and many who had come to pay their respects were driven away or detained.


Police led a man with a white mourning flower from the invitation-only funeral of Zhao Ziyang.

Photo: Reinhard Krause, for Reuters

Clearly, the right to bear flowers is a mark of political freedom, or in countries where such freedoms are denied, of power: “Floral arrangements were sent by former parliament chief Qiao Shi, former vice chairman of parliament Tian Jiyun and Yang Baibing, a People’s Liberation Army general and younger brother of the late Yang Shangkun, president during the 1989 crackdown.”

But Zhao Ziyang’s own friends and supporters were banned from such expression. Zhao’s nephew told AFP, “Guests could not even bring their own flowers. They had to use wreaths brought there by the government and they could not even write their own inscriptions on wreaths.”

Those permitted into the service “were given white paper flowers as they entered the funeral hall but guards demanded the flowers back as they left.”

A Chinese AIDS activist told the New York Times, “The main fear is that there would be marches and slogans - things they can’t control….Zhao’s fate symbolizes China’s over the past 15 years: the economy has become more diverse, but the political system remains inert and lifeless.”

Posted by Julie on 01/29 at 02:57 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsPermalink