Former General Secretary Hu Yaobang passed away at 7:53 in the morning of April 15, 1989. The news was officially broadcast to the nation in the evening news hour, accompanied by the usual funeral music and superlative praises for his life's work. Although he had been disposed a couple of years earlier, the official obituary still referred to him as "a loyal Communist soldier who had withstood many tests, a great proletarian revolutionary and politician, an outstanding political worker in the Chinese army, a marvelous leader who had held important Party leadership positions for many years." -- although it did omit the highest praise of "a great Marxist."
The news had already been leaked out throughout the day. There were immediate, but tentative, reactions in some of the college campuses. In the afternoon, Big Posters and banners started to show up in public places in, at least, Peking University, People's University, and Tsinghua University. Some people were observed as delivering wreaths to the residence of Hu Yaobang.
In that evening, as the news was officially confirmed, the first sign of memorial at Tiananmen Square appeared. It was a small white flower at the base of the Monument to People's Heroes, reportedly placed by a soldier. The number of Big Posters at the Triangle of Peking University ballooned to close to 100. Hundreds of students started to gather there in their usual mode of discussion when there was a significant news.
April 15 was also the birthday of Chai Ling. Her husband Feng Congde bought a cake for the occasion. They watched the news but did not think too much of it other than, like most students, feeling sorry for Hu Yaobang who was known for losing his job trying to protect students involved in previous student movements.
Wang Dan was at home when he got the news around noon. Anticipating something was going to happen, he rode his bike to Peking University in the afternoon. That evening, he was interviewed by the New York Times at the Triangle in the school.
The U. S. Ambassador Winston Lord was scheduled to finish his tour in China. His wife Bettie Bao Lord invited many prominent intellectuals for a farewell party in their residence that night. News of Hu Yaobang's death was whispered from person to person. The author Lao Gui and Dai Qing briefly exchanged views. Both of them were thinking of the possibility of a repeat of April 5, 1976.
Days of 1989
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