Wang Bei tried to attend former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang's
funeral on Saturday. He even got an invitation from the Zhao family.
But professor Wang, not a dissident and not even very well known,
was stopped at his door by Chinese security, taken to a distant
suburb - and only let go hours after the funeral.
China continues to treat former premier Zhao Ziyang, who sided
with pro-democracy students at Tiananmen Square, as irrelevant to
modern China. For the first time ever, no eulogy was given at the
funeral of a former No. 1 leader. Yet the massive size of the
largely invisible security campaign to minimize Zhao's unpublicized
funeral, involving thousands of police and security, and a similar
phalanx of Web and news censors, and informers - suggests that the
Communist Party of China remains fearful of the popular memory of
After two weeks of a virtual blackout on Zhao's death and
wrangling between family members and officials over his legacy,
Zhao's service took place on a unusually clear and cold morning at
Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in west Beijing. Some 1,500 Chinese
braved the weather and police to walk around a bier and bow three
times in honor of Zhao. No foreign reporters were allowed. Many
attendees said on the way out that they had come secretly to avoid
retribution by employers.
The service coincided with a celebrated and nationally televised
departure of the first Chinese airliner to fly directly to Taiwan.
Front pages of most Beijing newspapers heralded the flights. Papers
ran on inside pages the state news agency's brief report on Zhao's
Zhao was arrested just prior to the infamous June 4, 1989,
massacre of students and workers here. An innovativereformer, Zhao
had been a thorn in the side of Chinese leaders ever since, living
under strict house arrest and allowed no interviews since '89.
Now, the message offered by public intellectuals, dissidents, and
from many ordinary Chinese is that the handling of Zhao's death and
his service on Saturday indicates the kind of society China has
become in the past five years.
"The handling of Zhao's funeral speaks loudly about China. In our
post-totalitarian system, you are allowed to choose from many brands
of washing machines and refrigerators. It is a consumer paradise.
But there are fewer and fewer choices about what can be said in
public," says one well-known intellectual who was warned by a
supervisor not to attend Zhao's funeral. The individual decided to
go anyway. But out on the street at 7:30 a.m., he was confronted by
his immediate boss and politely told to go home and stay home.
"Many people hoped for some reconciliation by our leaders after
Zhao died, but this did not happen," says the high-profile
In a way, argue some of these thinkers, China has become a
successful version of a future that Zhao opposed - since he felt
civic and political reforms could take place in tandem with economic
As the drama of Zhao's memory and passing unfolded for two weeks
of indecision and tensions, many Chinese pointed to the dynamics
around the little courtyard home of Zhao itself as representing
The home sits in an old hutong neighborhood of gray one-story
homes of the type now being rapidly torn down. …