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Chinese Authorities Plan Invitation-Only Service for Zhao

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page A21

BEIJING, Jan. 27 -- The Chinese government took control of memorial arrangements for Zhao Ziyang on Thursday, ending protracted and sensitive negotiations with his family about how to mark the death of the Communist Party chief ousted for opposing the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Ten days after Zhao's death at the age of 85, family members said the authorities had rejected their request to open the funeral service to the public and had instead scheduled a modest, invitation-only funeral for Saturday morning at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in western Beijing, the main resting ground for senior party officials.

Zhao's relatives said they were uncertain of the details of the arrangements even as the party began distributing hundreds of invitations to the service in the name of the "Comrade Zhao Ziyang Funeral Arrangements Small Work Group."

The Chinese leadership has handled Zhao's death with extreme caution, worried that stirring memories of the military assault on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square could prompt new protests. The authorities have imposed a virtual blackout on news of Zhao's death in state media and on the Internet, stepped up security at sensitive locations across Beijing and placed dozens of dissidents and others associated with the 1989 student movement under surveillance or house arrest.

Zhao's family appeared resigned to the party's decision to take control of his funeral. Some party elders had quietly backed their push to mark Zhao's death with the honors befitting his status as a former premier and party general secretary. But President Hu Jintao and the ruling Politburo were determined not to do anything that might suggest they were willing to reassess the party's position that the Tiananmen massacre was justified, party officials said.

One member of Zhao's family, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity, said the family was unsure whether the party would release an official obituary for Zhao and, if it did, what it would say. The family had objected to a draft that accused Zhao of making a "serious mistake" in 1989 and played down his role in promoting the market reforms that transformed China's economy.

The issue was a main point of contention in the talks between the family and the authorities, which were deadlocked for days. Party officials had refused to delete the reference to a "serious mistake," explain what the mistake was or note that it had resulted in Zhao's being placed under house arrest for the last 15 years of his life.

Members of Zhao's family said the party had accepted a long list of people they hoped to invite to the funeral service and was issuing invitations after screening the names. They said the party appeared to be clearing most of their guests, but that they were unsure how many people would be invited and who was being dropped from the list.

It was unclear, for example, whether Bao Tong, one of Zhao's top aides and the most senior party official jailed in the aftermath of the 1989 crackdown, would be permitted to attend the ceremony. A person familiar with the situation said officials had informed Bao he would be allowed to go, but had told Zhao's family the opposite.

The family was also unsure whether any of China's top leaders, including Premier Wen Jiabao, a former aide to Zhao, would attend the funeral.

"We don't know, and we don't care," one family member said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company