HU QIAOMU was what counted for a leading theoretician on the Chinese Communist Party's Neanderthal wing. He was a former private secretary to Mao Tse-tung, and continued to preach the Chinese equivalent of Victorian values - thrift, austerity, intellectual tyranny and socialist orthodoxy - almost until the day of his death. In so doing he became a bogyman for China's liberals. Few Chinese leaders were so disliked in intellectual circles.
His power was at its zenith in 1987, a year of intense political struggle in China between supporters of radical economic and political reform and their more orthodox Marxist opponents. Hu was at the forefront of a campaign to counter so-called 'bourgeois liberalisation', the spread of Western-style ideas of democracy and individual freedom. A limited purge was carried out, including at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Peking, a hotbed of dissidence, of which Hu, ironically, was honorary president.
By the autumn of 1987, however, that 'campaign agaist bourgeois liberalisation' which had been sparked by student demonstrations the previous winter, had petered out. The Communist Party's 13th National Congress seemed a triumph for the reformist wing of the party. One strong piece of evidence supporting this analysis was the result of the elections for the party's new 175-member Central Committee. Hu, who had been a member of the committee's elite, decision-making politburo since 1982, and had been in effect the party's top ideologist, was not re-elected to the committee.
The humiliation appeared to mark the end of a long career at the heart of the Communist Party's policy-making and propaganda apparatus. Born in the central coastal province of Jiangsu in 1912, Hu joined the party in 1932, the year Japan completed the annexation of Manchuria, in North- east China. By now, Hu was living in Peking, and his official biography credits him with 'a leading role' in the movement among students and intellectuals to resist government concessions to Japan.
In 1941, he was catapulted to the heart of Communist power, when he became Mao Tse-tung's personal secretary, a post that carried with it the job of secretary of the politburo. He began to make his name as a consummate rewriter of history, taking part in drafting a resolution on party history, in 1945, which made sure Mao's role was central. In 1948, he became director of the official news agency, and two years later deputy head of of the party's propaganda department. In 1954, he was one of the authors of Communist China's first constitution.
Like many others branded 'leftists' by their political opponents in the 1980s, Hu had already suffered as a 'rightist', during the Cultural Revolution, when he was purged, to be rehabilitated in 1975.
As the time came for history again to be rewritten, Hu found himself penning, in 1981, much of the party's reassessment of its own history and of Mao now officially given seven out of ten as a great leader. But by now Hu, like his side-kick Deng Liqun, was out of step with the reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping. At times, seeing the reforms in difficulty, they would launch propaganda campaigns for the old certainties of ideological rigidity and economic orthodoxy. In 1983, he was a driving force behind the 'Campaign Against Spiritual Pollution', an abortive onslaught on lipstick, sun-glasses, long hair, pornography and cheek-to-cheek dancing.
In 1987, Hu was compensated for his demotion with a seat on the party's Advisory Commission, devised by Deng as a toothless sinecure for geriatric conservatives. But in China, hardliners die late, and refuse to fade away. After the bloody suppression of anti-government protests in Peking in 1989, Hu used the Advisory Commission as a base to join in yet another irredentist campaign for socialist values. He called for intensive ideological indoctrination, and in one of his most recent public statements derided 'bourgeois politicians' who have declared the death of Communism.
But Hu was again a rather lonely figure. Earlier this year, he was reportedly singled out by Deng Xiaoping as one of the 'ultra-leftists' trying to thwart Deng's latest reform drive. Hu died just a fortnight before the CCP's 14th National Congress, which like its predecessor in 1987, will probably be interpreted as a reformist triumph.