Chen Xitong: Disgraced former mayor of Beijing

'A regrettable tragedy that could have been avoided,' he later said of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre

Chen Xitong was the disgraced former mayor of Beijing who died two days short of the 24th anniversary of the brutal 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre by the Chinese military which he had promoted and publicly supported. He was reportedly suffering from cancer of the colon.

Shortly after his promotion to party secretary of Beijing and a seat on the Party’s elite Politburo in 1992, in recognition for his support during the crisis, Chen was purged and sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty. He was accused of accepting bribes and the misappropriation of $2 billion of public funds to build luxury villas, where he threw lavish parties and took his mistresses, who were also showered with gifts and properties.

In sentencing him in 1998, a Beijing court ruled that Chen pursued a “corrupt and decadent life”. Chen’s fall from power and that of another convicted official, former Shanghai party Chief Chen Liangyu, marked two of the highest-level political scandals and prosecutions since Communist China’s founding in 1949, until last year’s revelation of the widespread corruption of former Chongqing party boss and leading Politburo member Bo Xilai.

The Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations, which had crippled the Chinese capital for weeks, were triggered in April 1989 by the death of former Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer, who was deposed after losing a power struggle with hardliners over the direction of political and economic reform. University students marched and gathered in Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu, but also voiced grievances against inflation, limited career prospects and corruption within the party elite. They called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the restoration of workers’ control over industry. At the height of the protests, about a million people assembled.

Support for the students spread throughout China and by mid-May there were protests in 400 cities. The Chinese government condemned the protests as a “counter-revolutionary riot”. In his 2009 memoir Prisoner of the State the late Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang wrote that the decision to use the military against peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square could have been avoided but for the scheming of die-hard conservatives such as Chen, Prime Minister Li Peng and vice-premier Yao Yilin, and Deng Xiaoping’s paranoia about losing power. They convinced him that the protests were a plot that would jeopardise his position and that of the party.

Zhao believed that Chen and other party hardliners disregarded the fact that the protests had started to calm down, and by promoting a ruthless hard-line response Chen played a critical role in prompting Deng’s harsh response. Martial law was declared on 20 May and nearly 300,000 troops were mobilised.

On 3-4 June, tanks and troops with assault rifles were sent in to clear the square and caused thousands of casualties among the unarmed protesters trying to block their advance. Beijing defended its decision to send in the military, but due to the lack of information from the authorities, many aspects of the events, including the official death toll, remain unconfirmed; estimates of the dead range from several hundred to many thousands. In the aftermath the government conducted widespread arrests of protesters and their supporters.

In an official report, Chen defended the military action and blamed former Premier Zhao, a moderate, for splitting the party and supporting the protests. In 2011, however, a book entitled Conversations with Chen Xitong by Yao Jianfu, attempted to rewrite history and shift blame from Chen, who claimed that the crackdown was “a regrettable tragedy that could have been avoided… Nobody would have died if it had been handled properly.” He claimed to have been simply the mouthpiece for the government when he was forced to read aloud the official account of the incident for public consumption.

Chen Xitong was born in south-west Sichuan province in 1930 and raised by his widowed mother. A diligent student, Chen won a scholarship to study Chinese literature at Peking University, joining the Communist Party in 1949 months after the People’s Republic of China was founded. He married his university professor’s daughter and had two sons.

Chen rose through Party ranks, serving as vice-party secretary of Beijing’s Changping County and becoming the city’s mayor in 1983. He was widely viewed as an effective administrator in a time of rapid growth. The troubles he encountered next had more to do with power politics than with his corrupt ways; his corruption was nothing new and was viewed as typical of high-level officials.

Chen’s demise started in 1992 when he criticised Jiang Zemin, who had been installed as Zhao’s replacement as General Secretary of the Communist Party in the aftermath of Tiananmen. Jiang decided to destroy Chen; corruption charges served as a handy cudgel.

By May 2006 Chen had reportedly been released from prison on medical parole for cancer treatment. He looked set to fade into the annals of Chinese political history but for the publication of his interviews. The events that took place on Tiananmen Square and its surrounding streets remain as taboo as ever, a reminder that there has been little, if any, political reform over the past 24 years.

Chen Xitong, politician: born Sichuan Province, China 10 June 1930; married (two sons); died Beijing 2 June 2013.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam