BEIJING — President Xi Jinping and other top Chinese leaders gathered Friday to commemorate reformist leader Hu Yaobang, whose death catalyzed the 1989 pro-democracy protest movement that was brutally crushed on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Xi presided over a symposium marking the centenary of Hu's birth to discuss the former Communist Party general secretary's achievements.
Stressing Hu's exploratory spirit and insistence on practical solutions, Xi said Hu had devoted his life to the party and people of China.
"It was a life of glory. It was a life of struggle," Xi told participants at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of the legislature in central Beijing.
The ceremony demonstrated enduring respect for Hu and his pro-reform agenda among Chinese leaders, even while they suppress discussion of the protests that were crushed by the army on the night of June 3-4, 1989.
Many consider the protests the biggest threat to Communist rule since the party seized power in 1949.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, were believed killed in the military action, although the government has rejected calls for an independent inquiry.
In the years since, China has pressed ahead with capitalist-style economic reforms while squelching calls for changes to the authoritarian one-party political system.
Scrubbed from party histories and state media for years, Hu's memory was revived in 2005 on the 90th anniversary of his birth. Then-President Hu Jintao, a former protege, later visited Hu's Beijing home and state media praised him as a man devoted to the people.
The iconoclastic Hu was one of the pivotal figures in the 1980s movement to restore China's government and economy after the ideological excesses of Mao Zedong's radical 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
However, when students' protests demanding greater political liberalization emerged in 1986, Hu was made the scapegoat by former close political ally Deng Xiaoping.
In January 1987, Hu resigned as party secretary general and was forced to issue a humiliating self-criticism, although he retained his position on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
His death from a heart attack on April 15, 1989, sparked a movement to mourn his memory that quickly snowballed into demands from students, workers and others for sped-up economic and political reforms that met stiff opposition from Deng and others in the party's old guard.
In their remarks, Xi and other leaders made no mention of the Tiananmen protests, a reflection of their desire to bury them in history.
In a further commemoration, the official People's Publishing House issued a collection of Hu's speeches and other writings spanning the period from 1952 to 1986, some of which had never before been published.