Authorities in Beijing have begun moving large numbers of items out of the former residence of late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang ahead of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s centenary celebrations on July 1, RFA has learned.
A relative of the late premier, who was forced from office for a too-lenient attitude to the 1989 student-led protests on Tiananmen Square to spend the rest of his life under house arrest, confirmed the move.
Removal company staff entered the traditional Beijing courtyard home at No. 6 Fuqiang Alley in Beijing’s Dongcheng district on Thursday morning, packing a large number of items into a vehicle.
The Zhao family member confirmed by phone that the family — which has been given notice to leave the state-owned property — is in the process of removing his belongings.
But they declined to elaborate on which items were being moved, or their personal or political significance.
“We had been planning to move out anyway, and this is happening gradually,” the family member said. “We don’t know exactly when we will complete the move.”
“As to the value of the items, it depends on your point of view,” they said. “This is an entirely personal matter.”
Since Zhao’s death at the age of 85 in January 2005, the house has been occupied by his daughter Wang Yannan and her family.
They were served notice to leave by the CCP General Office, which manages practical arrangements for Chinese leaders, last year.
The move is unlikely to have been completed by the July 1 centenary, however, according to former 1989 student protester Ji Feng, who is acquainted with the family.
“The original plan was to get them to move out by July 1, but the authorities didn’t force them,” Ji said. “They just let them do it in their own time.”
The house had become a focus for memorials to Zhao and events by dissidents and petitioners marking his death, with hundreds paying their respects on the anniversary and on the traditional grave-tending festival of Qing Ming in April.
The insistence that the family move was likely a bid to ensure that it wouldn’t provide any kind of focal point for dissent during the centenary celebrations, Ji said.
“While only Wang Yannan and her husband actually lived there, a lot of people would go there to pay their respects, often in connection with the Tiananmen massacre,” he said.
“They are worried that if more people start going, it could lead to unrest,” Ji said.
“The place has become a pilgrimage site, just like the grave of Lin Zhao,” he said, in a reference to the Mao-era dissident executed by the CCP. “So they have to get rid of it.”
Ji said the items currently being moved mostly came from Zhao’s study and bedroom, and included desks, tables and chairs, upholstered furniture, and other items, which have now been taken for storage in a warehouse on the outskirts of Beijing.
Among Zhao’s belongings were large numbers of books and other gifts he received from world leaders during his overseas trips while in office, as well as commemorative photo albums, he said.
Sources said the family may donate some items to a museum in Zhao’s hometown in the central province of Henan.
“The family will likely donate some things to make a dedicated memorial hall … all of the things he used while carrying out his work,” Ji said.
According to a tweet from Beijing-based political journalist Gao Yu, Wang Yannan’s plan is to create a replica of her father’s study in her new home.
Politically sensitive items
Feng Chongyi, associate professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, said he was concerned that some items could be taken away by the authorities if they are considered politically sensitive.
“This is kind of a gray area, items belonging to former Chinese leaders,” Feng said. “If [the CCP] sees you as one of them, they will take steps to protect them, and they will take the views of the family into account when making arrangements.”
“But they view Zhao Ziyang as their enemy, even though he has never been publicly denounced as a traitor, so they won’t be protecting his belongings, nor allowing his family to take away or dispose of them,” he said.
Prior to his ouster for showing sympathy with the student protesters, Zhao was a liberal-minded and well-loved leader who rose to the top of the ruling party at the 13th Party Congress in 1987.
His name rarely appears in the official record, although he has a loyal following of former officials seeking to rehabilitate him as a figurehead of the reform era that began in 1979.
In a conclusive break with the reformist thinking of the 1980s, China’s current supreme leader Xi Jinping is now serving an indefinite term as president following constitutional changes nodded through in March 2018 by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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