Tuesday, April 15, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Hu Yaobang Died

The passing of Hu Yaobang was reported in New York Times in a matter-of-fact manner on April 15, 1989:

"Hu Yaobang, who helped navigate China away from orthodox Marxism and led the world's largest Communist Party for six years until he was forced to resign in disgrace in January 1987, died today, the Government announced. He was 73 years old.

The official New China News Agency said Mr. Hu suffered a heart attack on April 8 from which he never recovered. Mr. Hu suffered the heart attack during a meeting last Saturday of the Politburo."

The NYT article was essentially an obituary for Hu, summarizing his life and career as a Communist and leader. Quite notably, it said:
Nothing was sacred to Mr. Hu, not the memory of Mao Zedong, not even chopsticks. On a trip to Inner Mongolia in 1984, he suggested that the Chinese might start using Western utensils.
''We should prepare more knives and forks, buy more plates and sit around the table to eat Chinese food in the Western style, that is, each from his own plate,'' he urged. ''By doing so, we can avoid contagious diseases.'' Mr. Hu dropped the idea after his startled colleagues reproached him for criticizing a Chinese way of life.
In a nation where caution is often prized, he was the exception. Mr. Hu was one of the first Chinese leaders to abandon the Mao suit in favor of jacket and tie. And when he was asked which of Mao's thoughts were applicable in China's efforts to modernize its economy, he is reported to have replied: ''I think, none.''
Of course, there was not a single trace of speculation or hint that Hu's death could have any immediate impact in the stability of the Chinese society. After his forced resignation from the Party's top post in 1987, Hu was by now almost the forgotten man in the leadership.

In the same pages of the NYT, meanwhile, was another report on the growing economic problems in China at the time: a desperate shortage of cash at local government level. Farmers were being forced to sell part of their crops to the government but could not get any cash in return. They received i.o.u.'s which they could neither spend nor redeem. There was wide-spread resentment in the countryside, but, as the article duely noted, no rebellion.

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