Chinese Web users skirted the country's tough Internet censors to pay homage to former communist party leader and popular reformer Hu Yaobang, whose death 24 years ago sparked the Tiananmen Square protests.
Hu's support for free market reforms and more government transparency during his time as the Chinese Communist Party’s General Secretary from 1982 to 1987 were welcomed by many Chinese, but made him the enemy of some powerful party leaders.
Since his death, Hu, who was purged from the communist party, has remained a taboo subject in China. Despite his official rehabilitation by the Chinese government in 2005, Hu's name is still blocked on China’s most popular microblogging site Sina Weibo.
A search his name on Weibo returned no results on April 15, it says:
According to related laws and policies, search results for “Hu Yaobang” cannot be relayed.
However, Web users tried to circumvent the censors by adding a space or candle symbols amid the three Chinese characters of his name. Some web users simply quote Hu or light virtual candles without mentioning him by name.
And some state media unexpectedly joined in the remembrance. China’s state-controlled Liberation Daily ran a eulogy [zh] of Hu, which was shared thousands of times on Weibo:
Commemorating Yaobang is of great practical significance at a time when China needs to take further steps in reform and venture into another chapter in history. As we remember Hu Yaobang, we should, just like him, have the determination to reform and the courage to innovate.
Lawyer Xu Xin quoted [zh] Hu:
I remember he said: “Whether corruption and abuse of power can be stopped is essential to the life and death of the party; we should try the greatest determination perseverance and toughness to deal with this issue, until the end; To deal with this issue, we cannot please people, or be afraid of offending people.
Cartoonist “Jiao Yantian” created a cartoon of Hu and commented [zh]:
Speak the truth and you earn the friendship of the people, do real things and you are great for a generation.
Even Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times, weighed in [zh]:
We should have the courage to restore history. We should learn from the past, and walk towards the future with strength and wisdom. The anniversary of Hu Yaobang's death, we commemorate and reflect.
Some users used his comment as a springboard for comparisons between Hu’s era and today’s China.
Web user “Tan Feizi” wrote [zh]:
Hu Yaobang’s time was a relatively tolerant and liberal era in the history of China when young people were very concerned about national affairs and keen to discuss philosophical questions. Chinese society as a whole was thriving then. It was much better than today in terms of ideology and social tolerance.
Another web user “0931_Lee” pointed out [zh] the lack of great leaders in China since Hu's death:
二十四年了 你为之奋斗了一生的国家 变的越来越差 到目前为止再也没有出现过像你和赵公那样伟大的人物 你像灯塔一样在指引着我们 永远怀念您。
Twenty-four years. The country you fought a lifelong for is getting worse. So far there have not been any great man like you and Zhao Ziyang. You guide us like a lighthouse, we will always remember you.