June 4th Crackdown Mayor Chen Xitong Dies

Former mayor of Beijing Chen Xitong died on Sunday morning, but news of his death did not emerge until two days later, on the 24th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown which he oversaw. From South China Morning Post:

Chen – whose name is forever associated with the massacre 24 years ago – was known to be in the final stages of terminal colon cancer. He was released from jail on medical parole in 2006 and died just three months before his jail sentence would have ended.

Chen, who was Beijing mayor at the time of the crackdown, was later promoted to Beijing Party Secretary and made a Politburo member.

He was sentenced to jail in 1998 for corruption, making him one of the three highest-ranking party officials – together with Chen Liangyu and Bo Xilai – to be brought down by such charges.

Chen was widely believed to be one of the masterminds behind the crackdown. Former party secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was put under house arrest for sympathising with the students, in his memoir blamed Chen for the tragedy. [Source]

Chen apologized for his role in the crackdown last year, saying that deaths could have been avoided, but maintained that he personally had been powerless to stop them. Following his death, some others have also played down his importance. These include Wang Fandi, whose son was killed on June 4th and who nevertheless says he views Chen’s death as “retribution”. From Gary Cheung and Minnie Chan at South China Morning Post:

“He was just a small potato and a tool manipulated by others,” Wang said of the mayor who was one of the officials blamed for the military crackdown on the movement. “He just said and did what he was instructed to by people in the top echelon.”

[…] “Chen’s death won’t have any bearing on whether Beijing’s official verdict will be reversed,” Wang said. “Li Peng [premier during the crackdown] and [former president] Jiang Zemin are the people who really make the difference.”

[…] Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu, who was sacked by pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po shortly after the 1989 crackdown, said he did not have any feelings about Chen’s death as he was just a pawn during the incident.

[…] “His death won’t have any impact in the political arena on the mainland,” Lau said. [Source]

Less weighty aspects of Chen’s legacy include the concept of patriotic cabbages and an infusion of mock-traditional flavoring into Beijing’s early-1990s public architecture.