China Rewrites History, Purges Ousted Leader From Official Transcripts

Chinese censors purged the name of ousted former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang from official transcripts of the premier's annual news conference Friday, underscoring how sensitive his legacy remains even two years after his death.

In an unscripted moment of what is usually a highly formulaic ritual, a French reporter asked Premier Wen Jiabao if he had read a book recently published in the Chinese enclave of Hong Kong in which Zhao is quoted as calling for political reforms. Zhao was dismissed in 1989 for not backing the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.

"I have not read the book," Wen said at the news conference broadcast live on state television.

It was a rare mention of Zhao in public, and it was short-lived. References to Zhao and the book, as well as Wen's answer, were deleted from the official Xinhua News Agency's rendering of the reporter's question in a transcript posted on its Web site.

Xinhua is the government's authoritative source for political news in China and all other official Web sites followed its lead in deleting the comments.

A woman who answered the phone at Xinhua's editorial department said she was "unclear" about the transcript deletions. Like many Chinese bureaucrats, she refused to give her name.

Zhao, who also served as premier and initiated many of China's landmark economic reforms, has officially been a non-person since the 1989 crackdown. His last public appearance was a visit to the student protesters in Tiananmen Square just weeks before a military assault crushed the demonstrations, killing hundreds and possibly thousands.

China said the protests were an attempt to overthrow the government, and Zhao spent the rest of his life under house arrest in Beijing. The book, which purports to be recollections of conversations between Zhao and an elderly friend, has not been distributed in mainland China.

The issue of Zhao's fate is especially touchy for Wen because he had been a key aide to Zhao and appeared with him at the square visiting students. Wen is believed to have ensured his political survival by distancing himself from Zhao and his policies.