Rarely has the timing of an ousted leader’s death been so consequential. In 1989, Hu Yaobang, a former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, was attending a meeting of the Politburo when he became pale and shaky, asked to be excused and crumpled with a heart attack. Twenty-five years ago, on April 15, he died after a week in the hospital, an event that unleashed a cascade of demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square, which culminated in the armed crackdown of June 3-4.
[...] In life, and even more so in death, Mr. Hu was seen by many as embodying more lenient tendencies in the Communist Party that were open to some political liberalization. Deng Xiaoping and other party elders had dismissed Mr. Hu as general secretary in January 1987, after accusing him of being too soft on student protests and dissenting intellectuals. In 1989, grieving for Mr. Hu became a vehicle for voicing public discontent about corruption and political fetters on a rapidly changing society.
“In fact, this was the spark that lit the fire, but we can’t know how different things would have turned out without it,” Zhou Duo, a scholar in Beijing who took part in a hunger strike on Tiananmen Square in the days before June 4, said in a telephone interview. On that day, he and others negotiated with troops for the remaining students to leave the square without a blood bath. [...] [Source]
Tiananmen Massacre Presentation