Hu Yaobang (20 November 1915 – 15 April 1989) was a leader of the People's Republic of China who supported economic and political reforms. In 1987, socialist hardliners forced him to resign for his "laxness" on "bourgeois liberalization" and he was humiliated with "self-criticism".
A day after his death, a small scale demonstration commemorated him and demanded that the government reassess his legacy. A week later, the day before Hu's funeral, some 100,000 students marched on Tiananmen Square, leading to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Hu Yaobang joined the communist revolution at an early age as a young teenager, and as a supporter of Mao Zedong. He was persecuted many times by the communist cadres of the faction returning from the Soviet Union, who controlled the communist leadership and had the real power. Once Mao was removed from power for good shortly before the beginning of the Fourth Encirclement Campaign, his supporters were persecuted once again, and Hu Yaobang was sentenced to death. Just before the beginning of the Long March, he and others were on their way to be beheaded. However, a powerful local communist commander named Tan Yubao (谭余保, 1899 - 10 January 1980) intervened at the last minute, saving Hu's life, but because of Hu's support of Mao, he was deemed as unreliable and ordered to join the Long March so that he could be placed under surveillance.
Despite distrust from top leadership, Hu remained loyal to the communist cause and attempted to prove himself at every opportunity when fighting their nationalist (KMT) enemy. Hu Yaobang was seriously wounded at the Campaign of Xiang River, where the Chinese Red Army was disastrously defeated. However, the communist field medic teams chose not to help Hu and left him in the battlefield to die on the side of the road. Luck was on Hu's side when a childhood friend of his, a Chinese Red Army commander, happened to pass by. Hu called out his friend's nickname to ask for help, and the friend helped him catch up with the retreating main force of the Chinese Red Army and get treatment for his wounds.
Hu Yaobang's luck seemed to have run out after the Long March when he was forced to march with the communist leader Zhang Guotao's 21,800+ strong forces to cross the Yellow River in a futile attempt to expand the communist base westward in Shaanxi and to link up with the Soviet Union, or at least with Xinjiang, which was controlled by the warlord Sheng Shicai, an ally of the communists and the Soviet Union. Zhang Guotao's forces were soundly defeated by the local nationalist warlords, the Ma clique. Hu Yaobang, along with Qin Jiwei, became two of the thousands of prisoners-of-war captured by Ma clique's forces. Hu was one of only 1,500 prisoners-of-war whom Ma Bufang decided to use as forced labor rather than execute. As Chiang Kai-shek pressured Ma Bufang to contribute more of his troops to fight Japanese invaders, Ma Bufang decided that instead of using his own troops, he would instead send the 1,500 Chinese Red Army prisoners-of-war as conscripts. Since the marching route had to pass the border of the communist base in Shaanxi, Hu Yaobang and Qin Jiwei seized this opportunity to return to the communists and organize a planned escape in secrecy. The escape took place as planned and was a success: out of the total (1,500), more than 1,300 had successfully returned to Yan'an. Mao personally welcomed these returning communists and Hu Yaobang was once again back in the communist camp, where he would remain for rest of his life. However, the political persecution continued, and from the very communist leader Hu Yaobang once firmly supported.
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