Friday, April 15, 2011

'Tis the season...

For commemoration.

And, perhaps, for a rebirth of the inventive and optimistic spirit of the 1980s here, for an end to repression and the beginnings of reform. One day, perhaps; one day, but not yet a while.

On April 15th, 1989, Hu Yaobang died. 

As General Secretary of the Communist Party in the early 1980s, he'd been the prime architect of Deng Xiaoping's reform programme. However, his liberalizing tendencies went too far for the Party's conservative 'old guard'; he was blamed for an upsurge of volatile student activism in the mid-1980s, and forced out of office at the beginning of 1987. Fellow liberals Zhao Ziyang and Bao Tong took over the reins of power and tried to push ahead with reforms, but Hu lived out the last two years of his life in obscurity, publicly disgraced.

In that time, he became a figurehead, a martyr to the still vigorous campus political groups; and the announcement of his death led immediately to speeches, vigils, and memorials at universities all over Beijing. The next day saw the first of a series of mass meetings, where student leaders issued a call for an official reassessment of his political legacy. On the evenings of the 18th and 19th, crowds of several hundred students demonstrated in front of the gates of the Party headquarters. On the 22nd, an estimated 50,000 students marched through Beijing to Tiananmen Square, to listen to a broadcast of his funeral service taking place in the adjacent Great Hall of the People. It was the beginning of a spontaneous protest movement that would soon evolve into a continuous occupation of the Square by hundreds of thousands of students and workers.  

There are several notable dates over the next seven weeks; but this is where it began.

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