- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

BEIJING (AP) — Zhao Ziyang, the former Chinese Communist Party leader who helped pioneer reforms that launched China’s economic boom but was ousted after the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, died today at a Beijing hospital. He was 85.

The cause of death wasn’t disclosed, but the official announcement of Mr. Zhao’s passing said he suffered from multiple ailments of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The official Xinhua News Agency said he died “after failing to respond to all emergency treatment.”

“He was very peaceful,” said Frank Lu, a prominent Chinese human rights activist who said he had spoken to Mr. Zhao’s daughter, Wang Yannan. “He was surrounded by all his family.”

Mr. Lu spoke by phone from Hong Kong.

Mr. Zhao had lived under house arrest for 15 years. A premature report of his death last week prompted China to break its long silence about him and disclose that he had been hospitalized.

Mr. Zhao, a former premier, was a dapper, articulate protege of the late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping. He helped to forge bold economic reforms in the 1980s that brought China new prosperity and flung open its doors to the outside world.

In the end, he fell out of favor with Mr. Deng and was purged on June 24, 1989, after the military crushed the student-led pro-democracy protests. He was accused of “splitting the party” by supporting demonstrators who wanted a faster pace of democratic reform. Mr. Zhao had lived under house arrest since then.

During the Tiananmen protests, Mr. Zhao called for compromise and expressed sympathy for some of the students’ demands. But his adversaries, led by Premier Li Peng, overruled him, called in the military and used the turmoil to attack Mr. Zhao and his supporters.

Mr. Zhao was last seen in public on May 19, 1989, the day before martial law was declared in Beijing, when he made a tearful visit to Tiananmen Square to talk with student hunger strikers. He apologized to the students, saying, “I have come too late.”

Usually seen dressed in tailored Western suits, Mr. Zhao served as premier in 1980 to 1987, then took over as general secretary of the Communist Party, the most powerful post in China.

He helped initiate sweeping changes that invigorated an economy mired in the ruins of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Socialist central planning gave way to material incentives and market forces that made China the world’s fastest-growing economy.

Mr. Zhao’s 1989 downfall was not his first. Mao’s youthful Red Guards dragged him from his home in Guangzhou in 1967 and paraded him through the streets with a dunce cap on his head before sending him off for years of internal exile.

The son of a landlord, he was born in 1919 in Henan Province. He joined the Communist Youth League in 1932 and became a full-fledged party member in 1938. An agriculture specialist in a country in which 80 percent of the people are rural, Mr. Zhao spent most of his career in regional government and party posts.

After four years in disgrace during the Cultural Revolution, he resurfaced in 1971 as a party secretary in Inner Mongolia. Mr. Zhao was named party secretary and governor of Sichuan, China’s most populous province, in 1975. With Mr. Deng’s backing, he dismantled the communist commune system, restored private plots and sideline rural businesses, raised farm prices and revived bonuses for extra work.

He was known to have been married twice and had four sons and a daughter. His second wife was Liang Boqi.

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