By the early 1980s the Communist Party was rapidly retreating from everyday social life. As the economy grew, Chinese people began to enjoy a degree of personal freedoms, but the essential norms of internal party politics remained unchanged. At crucial junctures there were no enforceable rules, no independent arbiters, only power.
In 1985, while most elders had been appointing each other or each other's children to important positions, Hu Yaobang recruited Wen Jiabao, the teacher's son, to run his Central Office -- a position akin to cabinet secretary. The following year Hu Yaobang's elder son, Hu Deping, spoke in terms uncannily similar to Wen Jiabao's of two weeks ago. "The Cultural Revolution was a tragedy," he said to the then propaganda minister, at a time when his father was at the height of his power. "It will not appear again in the same form, but a cultural revolution once or even twice removed cannot be ruled out from once again recurring."
Perhaps he had an inkling of what was coming. By 1986 the tensions between an increasingly market-oriented economy and more liberal social environment began to clash with Communist Party elders' demand for absolute political control. Hu Yaobang tried to limit corruption among the elders' children, studiously ignored conservative ideological campaigns, and tolerated student protests. By the end of that year the elders had had enough.
Then, as during the Cultural Revolution, and as remains the case today, no rules governed Hu Yaobang's downfall; just a group of backstage power brokers who judged that he had gone too far. In January 1987, 21 years after his purging in the Cultural Revolution, party elders subjected Hu to a torrid five-day criticism and humiliation session called a "Democratic Party Life meeting." The harshest of Hu's critics was Bo Xilai's father.
Hu Dehua, the youngest son, lives at home with his wife in the same large but rundown courtyard home, just west of Beijing's closed-off leadership district Zhongnanhai, where he has lived nearly all of his life. His recollections about what the Cultural Revolution meant to his family and his father, Hu Yaobang, informs the story that Wen Jiabao is telling today.