BEIJING, Jan. 20 -- The Chinese government said Thursday it would hold a scaled-down funeral service for Zhao Ziyang, easing its efforts to restrict public mourning for the deposed Communist Party chief after criticism from party elders and others.
But it refrained from setting a date or releasing any details, and continued to prohibit state television and radio from reporting Zhao's death. Family members said they were still negotiating with the authorities about what, if any, public honors would be granted the former prime minister and party general secretary.
An altar set up by democracy activists in Hong Kong honors former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang. Chinese state television and radio have been forbidden to report his death.
(Bobby Yip -- Reuters)
The matter is sensitive because Zhao was purged for opposing the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, and the government is worried that a memorial service for him might stir memories of the massacre and set off protests. He died Monday at 85 after spending 15 years under house arrest.
In its first comments on memorial plans, the government issued a brief statement saying the country had been simplifying state funerals for years and now held "only activities to bid farewell to remains."
"Comrade Zhao Ziyang was a veteran member of our party, and his funeral arrangements will be also be handled in this way," it said. "The relevant departments will consult with Zhao Ziyang's family, and handle arrangements appropriately."
The announcement followed behind-the-scenes appeals in Zhao's behalf by several veteran party members, including Wan Li, 88, a former Politburo member and chairman of the People's National Congress, according to two party sources. Wan was a close ally of Zhao's during the 1980s, but abandoned him at a critical moment during the Tiananmen protests and endorsed the party's decision to declare martial law, reportedly while being held under house arrest in Shanghai.
Wan has asked at least one retired party leader outside Beijing to return to the capital to show support, party sources said. Another former Politburo member, Tian Jiyun, has spoken in Zhao's behalf as well, the sources said. Tian, 75, served as vice premier under Zhao and retired from the Politburo in 2002.
The views of party elders such as Wan and Tian carry less weight in Chinese politics than they did a decade ago, when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ruled the country without holding any official posts. But the relatively new government of President Hu Jintao may not want to alienate them by ignoring their appeals completely.
The party sources said at least 20 other party veterans had also called on the leadership to grant Zhao a state funeral. Jiang Zemin, the former president who came to power after Zhao's ouster, and Li Peng, the former prime minister who was Zhao's chief rival in 1989, are presumed to oppose any posthumous rehabilitation for Zhao.
Hundreds of people have already paid respects to Zhao at his home, and an Internet petition set up in his behalf Thursday gathered more than 130 signatures before police shut it down.
Zhao's funeral is expected to take place at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, which is reserved for senior party officials. But it is unclear whether the party will offer an official eulogy, whether state media will cover the funeral and whether Hu or other senior leaders will attend.
"We're engaged in consultations with the government about everything," said one of Zhao's daughters-in-law, Li Juanjuan. "Nothing is settled yet."
Party officials said the leadership wants to avoid appearing coldhearted, while making clear it will not tolerate protests about the Tiananmen massacre. Vice President Zeng Qinghong is said to be managing the arrangements, and one plan under discussion would have Wang Gang, an alternate member of the Politburo, represent the party at the memorial.
The authorities have indicated they will allow Bao Tong, Zhao's closest aide and the most senior official jailed in 1989 crackdown, to attend the funeral, a relative said. Security agents blocked and injured Bao and his wife when they attempted to visit Zhao's home Tuesday.