23 October 2018
Hu Yaobang was instrumental in lifting China out of poverty through his support for economic reforms. Photo:
Hu Yaobang was instrumental in lifting China out of poverty through his support for economic reforms. Photo:

Hu Yaobang: A great leader Chinese people will always miss

Li Zhao (李昭), wife of the late Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), died recently in Beijing at the age of 96.

While the party held an official memorial service for her at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery on March 17, many citizens gathered in front of her home to pay their final tribute to her on the same day.

However, although she was the wife of a former Communist Party of China general secretary, the People’s Daily, the CPC mouthpiece, didn’t publish any obituary for her.

Most of those who attended Li’s private memorial service were ordinary Beijingers who were in their 60s or 70s, and who wanted to honor her for her integrity as a steadfast party stalwart during her lifetime.

They also wanted to take the opportunity to express their gratitude to her husband, Secretary Hu, for his lifelong devotion to improving people’s lives and helping to vindicate those who had been framed and persecuted during the Cultural Revolution.

Netizens across the mainland also paid tribute to the couple, with many lamenting the fact that even 28 years after Hu’s death, the party was still reluctant to restore his name and give him the credit he deserved.

As one of the Beijingers who went to Li’s private memorial service told journalists from Hong Kong, after Hu died in 1989, not a day went by that Li didn’t do whatever she could to seek the vindication of her husband. Unfortunately, she didn’t live long enough to see that happen.

But as far as the Chinese people are concerned, it is beyond dispute that Hu Yaobang was a great statesman, and would go down in history as one of the greatest leaders in modern Chinese history who dedicated his whole life to the cause of lifting his people out of poverty and vindicating those who had been labeled “class enemies” and brutally persecuted under Mao Zedong’s reign.

When it comes to Hu’s biggest contribution to the Chinese people, it has got to be his unrelenting efforts to seek justice for those who were framed and persecuted during the Anti-Rightist Movement in the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution during the ’60s and ’70s, and to help them and their families to return to normal lives.

After Hu assumed the position of party secretary in 1982, he made the vindication of the victims of Mao’s political persecution a top priority.

Through his untiring efforts, hundreds of thousands of people, including former party officials, intellectuals, descendants of “capitalist” landlords and wealthy peasants who had been framed, persecuted and ended up being the “untouchables” in society under Mao’s rule, were finally vindicated.

Another major achievement of Hu is that when he was in power, he took great pains to debunk the ultra-left doctrines pitched by Mao and the Gang of Four, clean up the toxic legacy of the Cultural Revolution, and above all, free the entire party from ideological bondage, so that officials could focus their energy on economic reforms rather than political struggle.

Hu was highly critical of personality cult, and was never afraid to denounce the Cultural Revolution and point out the mistakes made by Mao, even though that might touch a nerve among some of the most diehard Maoists.

He also called on his partymates to always stay vigilant against any resurrection of ultra-left frenzy both in society and within the party.

As he put it, the only good political theories are theories that can stand up to the most rigorous rational and scientific scrutiny.

He also urged officials from all levels of government to always stay in touch with reality and the true needs of people when it comes to making policies.

On the other hand, Hu also put a lot of effort into improving the situation of the intelligentsia, who had suffered a lot during Mao’s reign, and promoting freedom of expression in society.

Thanks to Hu’s whole-hearted support, liberal provincial leaders such as Wan Li (萬里) and Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) were given a free hand to press ahead with their bold and ambitious economic reform initiatives in the rural areas, thereby lifting tens of millions of peasants out of hunger and poverty.

Hu was also instrumental in successfully pushing for the official abolition of the evil commune system across the mainland in 1984, and the establishment of special economic regions in Guangdong and Fujian.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 23

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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