BEIJING - More than 100 mourners gathered on Saturday at the Beijing home of Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese Communist party chief purged in 1989 for opposing a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death.
Chinese liberals have clung to Zhao as a symbol of democratic change in a country whose leaders have rejected a reassessment of the 1989 protests.
Groups of mourners shuffled into Zhao's courtyard home, which was crammed with wreaths. Saturday's memorial attracted more than in previous years as ten-year anniversaries are considered particularly significant in China.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has stamped out the legacy of the man who pleaded with students to leave Tiananmen Square before the violent crackdown on June 4, 1989, but was also instrumental in initiating economic reforms.
At the heart of that anxiety is a wariness of Zhao's enduring influence and the divisions that remain over political reform in China.
"If he can be vindicated, then our country will be able to go on the path of democracy," said Ruan Jizhong, who travels from central Hubei province to Zhao's home every January 17.
"Everyone thinks this way. It's just that they don't dare to speak up." Police tried to block foreign journalists from entering Zhao's home, where he spent more than 15 years under house arrest before his death.
"In order to maintain their vested interests, (China's leaders) must maintain a political system of despotism and try to exclude the democratic influence that Zhao Ziyang has on the public," said Du Guang, the former head of a think-tank that advises the government on political reform.
Zhao's ashes remain at his home because the family and the authorities cannot reach agreement on a final resting place, a source close to the family told Reuters. "He has no cemetery and no tombstone, but in the hearts of Chinese people he is a monument," Wu Wei, a former Chinese official, said at Zhao's home.
Bao Tong, Zhao's former aide, said his boss "would go to factories and villages" and ask them whether they had any problems. "He focused on these problems, not on how you can help develop Marxism," Bao told Reuters earlier this month.
As a sign of the unease surrounding Zhao's commemoration, a private symposium on Zhao's death planned for this week in Beijing was cancelled after its organiser was pressured by authorities, according to Wang Debang, a Beijing-based writer.