The reformist Mr Zhao was formally removed from his posts three weeks after the crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. His last public appearance had been on 19 May when, close to tears, he told the hunger strikers in the square: "We have come too late. I am sorry." For his hardline opponents, this was the last straw. Accused of splitting the party and of supporting "turmoil", Mr Zhao was placed under house arrest.
He was forced to move out of his home in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound and put in a party-owned house in a lane in the centre of Peking. Since then, he has lived there with his wife, his daughter, now a manager of an international hotel in Peking, and his son-in-law, an officer in the army. In April 1990, the Prime Minister, Li Peng, reported that Mr Zhao "was a free man, now living in his home in Peking", in "quite good living conditions".
The first public sighting came in September 1990, when Japanese diplomats spotted Mr Zhao and his wife playing a round of golf at the Peking International Golf Club. A club employee quoted Mr Zhao as saying: "I haven't played in more than a year, so if I miss a few shots, please forgive me." His next appearance came in September, when, reportedly, he was seen on the beach at Beidaihe, a popular Chinese holiday resort.
Internal party arguments raged over his "mistakes". The final judgement, passed in October 1992, damned him for supporting the Tiananmen "turmoil" but allowed him to stay a party member. Crucially, no criminal charges were pressed.
After that, sightings became more regular, as did golfing. In April 1993, a photograph was published in local newspapers of a laughing Mr Zhao on a visit to Hunan province. In September, the managing director of the Hong Kong-based International Golf & Yacht Club, Edmund Lee, claimed to have played nine holes with Mr Zhao and said he had agreed to be the honorary chairman of his golf club.
Prior to his downfall, Mr Zhao was the heir presumptive to Deng Xiaoping. He remains popular. As one Western diplomat observed: "Leaders are never totally out in China until they are led out feet first."Reuse content