- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2005

BEIJING — China cremated Zhao Ziyang yesterday after a heavily guarded farewell ceremony and issued its first official obituary on the deposed Communist Party leader, accusing him of making “serious mistakes” during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Thousands of mourners, many of them weeping, filed through a memorial hall at Beijing’s Babaoshan Cemetery, the main burial site for revolutionary heroes. They stood in rows and bowed before Mr. Zhao’s body, which lay on a bier without a coffin and was surrounded by evergreen leaves. He wore a blue, high-collared Chinese jacket and was covered in the Communist Party flag.

“People still feel very strongly about him,” said Shi Yijun, a family friend. Lu Tongjing, another attendee, said Mr. Zhao looked “so pale.”

“Even some policemen were crying,” Mr. Lu said.

Mr. Zhao died Jan. 17 at age 85.

He helped to launch reforms in the 1980s as prime minister and then party leader under then-supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, opening China to the world and letting millions lift themselves out of poverty.

Mr. Zhao spent his last 15 years under house arrest after being ousted for sympathizing with the Tiananmen Square protesters — an action that made him a symbol of democratic change.

The government has said little about Mr. Zhao since his death, apparently in an attempt to avoid stirring up memories of the leader who helped to launch China’s economic boom but later was accused of “splitting the party.”

Following the memorial, the government issued the first official obituary for Mr. Zhao, praising him as an economic reformer even as it criticized him. The obituary released by the Xinhua news agency was read on state television and was the first mention of Mr. Zhao’s death by a Chinese broadcaster.

“During the political disturbance, which occurred in the spring and summer period of 1989, Comrade Zhao Ziyang made serious mistakes,” Xinhua said, without elaborating.

A member of the party’s ruling Standing Committee, Jia Qinglin, attended and expressed condolences on behalf of President Hu Jintao and other leaders, Xinhua said.

Inside the hall, mourners walked around the body, bowing three times in line with Chinese tradition. A photo above it showed Mr. Zhao dressed casually in a blue denim shirt. Photos and filming were banned during the ceremony, which lasted about two hours.

Mr. Zhao’s children — four sons and a daughter — shook hands with passing mourners. The family also issued a card with an autographed photo of Mr. Zhao on the front and “Thank you everyone” written inside.

Xinhua said Mr. Zhao’s body was cremated after the ceremony.

Dissidents — kept under tight watch — were barred from the event, whose timing was uncertain until two days before. Security was even more severe yesterday, with about 10 miles of the main road leading up to the cemetery lined with hundreds of policemen and plainclothes officers at regular intervals.

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