His death sparked mass protests in Beijing 25 years ago, but Hu Yaobang is also remembered for his role in opening up Australia’s mineral exports.
Next week, June 4th marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the mass pro-democracy protests led by students in Beijing in 1989 that resulted in a bloody crackdown by the army.
Two months earlier the protests had begun not in support of democracy but in commemoration of the death of one the Communist Party's top leaders, former chairman Hu Yaobang.
One of the most liberal politicians of his era, many people considered Hu Yaobang as the architect of China's modern free market economy.
A look back at the legacy of Hu Yaobang
Student activists saw him as the man to deliver political reform as well. A day after his death on April 16, 1989 thousands poured into Tiananmen Square unfurling democracy banners along with portraits of Hu.
Two years earlier Hu Yaobang was among China's top three leaders, but his liberal attitudes and constant criticism of Chairman Mao made party hardliners nervous; he was stripped of power and demoted to a largely ceremonial position.
China's political leadership felt students were using his death as a pretext for mass protests, martial law was declared on May 20, 1989 and armed troops were mobilised. The rest is history.
For more than two decades after Tiananmen Square there was no official mention of Hu Yaobang, until 2010 when then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao wrote a glowing tribute to Hu in China's People's Daily newspaper.
Sydney University academic and author Professor Kerry Brown, says that was the turning point that made it acceptable for the Communist Party to once again discuss Hu Yaobang.
"I think people will look back at him and what he did and they will remember an amazingly courageous man," he says.
"A man who was incredibly good with the people around him and got their loyalty,” says Professor Brown. “And I suppose like in the Soviet Union, like the sort of Chinese socialism with a human face. I think that's an enormous legacy and if I were [current Chinese President] Xi Jinping I would be looking very hard at Hu Yaobang and thinking how can I copy him."
Hu Yaobang's legacy is also felt in Australia. In 1985 he travelled to Western Australia with Prime Minister Bob Hawke, where they toured the iron-ore rich Pilbara region.
It was one the earliest pieces of top-level dialogue that would eventually open the door to Australia biggest ever export market.