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Revealed: the inside story of the Tiananmen massacre

May 17, 2009

Secret memoir of Communist party leader who
opposed crackdown is finally published
By Clifford Coonan in Beijing
The Independent (UK)
May 15, 2009

The secret memoirs of Zhao Ziyang, the Communist
Party leader ousted for opposing the military
crackdown on student protesters in Tiananmen
Square, exploded into the open yesterday, four years after his death.

Dictated during his years of house arrest and
smuggled out on cassettes disguised as children's
music or Peking opera, the book will be pored
over for clues about the workings of the
secretive group of men who make up the inner core
of China's Communist Party. The decisions made in
Beijing's Zhongnanhai compound have global impact
as China is an emerging superpower, but little is
known about how it functions. Prisoner of the
State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang may change all that.

The publishers, Simon and Schuster, were so
worried about news of the Zhao book leaking that
they listed it as Untitled by Anonymous in their
catalogue. It was not supposed to go on sale
until next Tuesday but several stores in Hong
Kong broke the embargo and put it on the shelves.
And the clamour – just ahead of the 20th
anniversary of the 4 June Tiananmen Square
massacre, when tensions are high about political
dissent in China – was intense.

Mr Zhao was a powerful figure within China's
opaque apparatus of power, but his decision to
back the student protesters in Tiananmen Square
cost him his career, and earned him 16 years
under arrest in his Beijing home. His last public
appearance was on 19 May, 1989, when he visited
the young demonstrators in front of the Forbidden
City and urged them to leave Tiananmen Square,
warning that police would use force if they did
not. Standing beside him was his aide, Wen
Jiabao, who escaped the taint of his allegiance
to Mr Zhao to become the current premier.

As the tanks rolled into central Beijing on 3
June Mr Zhao writes: "While sitting in the
courtyard with my family, I heard intense
gunfire. A tragedy to shock the world had not
been averted, and was happening after all."

The current Chinese leadership says the crackdown
was a "disturbance" by "hooligans" and says
crushing the revolt was essential to ensure a
stable foundation for the country's economic
growth. Mr Zhao takes the opposite view. "I had
said at the time that most people were only
asking us to correct our flaws, not attempting to
overthrow our political system," he wrote.

There are lively examples of his rivalry with the
veteran revolutionary and former supreme leader
Deng Xiaoping. Mr Deng is hailed in China as the
architect of the last 30 years of reform and
economic liberalisation. However, Mr Zhao paints
a very different picture, one of a
double-crossing and cunning political leader at
odds with the official hagiography.

Mr Zhao -- who was the general secretary of the
Communist Party from 1987 to 1989 -- says by
removing him from power, Mr Deng and others had
simply ignored their own rules meant to prevent a
return to the cult of personality that
characterised the Mao years. The decision was
made without a vote in the Politburo and the
memoir describes in gripping detail how Mr Deng
summoned the Standing Committee to his house to purge Mr Zhao.

"Reading Zhao's unadorned and unboastful account
of his stewardship, it becomes apparent that it
was he rather than Deng who was the actual
architect of reform," writes Roderick
MacFarquhar, professor of Chinese history at Harvard University.

Mr Zhao -- the son of wealthy landowner who was
purged as a capitalist sympathiser during the
Cultural Revolution before being rehabilitated –
believed the cure for China's problems lay in
gradual but unceasing movement towards
Western-style democracy, something the current leadership has ruled out.

The book is being published in Chinese by New
Century Press, which is run by Bao Pu, the son of
Mr Zhao's most trusted aide Bao Tong who remains
under police surveillance. Bao Tong yesterday
shrugged off suggestions that the leaked memoirs
could split the Communist Party but said senior
leaders were likely to read the book. "It will
give them a lot to think about, and cause them to
think about the Party's basic survival," he told Reuters.

In a review of the book, Perry Link, a leading
commentator on Chinese politics, noted how
incarceration had given Mr Zhao time to reflect
on China's place in history. "At the end, we see
Zhao arrive at positions more radical than any he
had taken before – positions that the Chinese
government had long been calling 'dissident'...
The Communist Party will have to release its
monopoly on power. Ultimately, China will need
parliamentary democracy," Mr Link writes.

Mr Zhao died a lonely old man in his Beijing
house in 2005. "The entrance to my home is a
cold, desolate place." But his astonishing memoir
may mean his life takes on a whole new significance.

China 20 years ago: Students vs the party

The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was described
as "a tragedy to shock the world" by Zhao Ziyang,
and a "disturbance" instigated by "hooligans" by
the Chinese regime. The image of a lone man
standing in front of a row of tanks remains an
enduring image of the incident, which sprang from
protests over the government's refusal to allow
public mourning upon the death of pro-democracy official, Hu Yaobang.

The protest became a proxy for more generalised
anger at the government's authoritarianism. Over
seven weeks, the crowd swelled to over 100,000
students and workers. A hunger strike led
authorities to take brutal steps to suppress the
protests, and tanks drove the students from the
square – killing 2 to 3,000 people in the process.

Prisoner of State: Extracts from the book

On the 17 May meeting "I walked out as soon as
the meeting adjourned. At that moment, I was
extremely upset. I told myself that no matter
what, I refused to become the General Secretary
who mobilised the military to crack down on students."

On the Tiananmen crackdown "On the night of June
3rd, while sitting in the courtyard with my
family, I heard intense gunfire. A tragedy to
shock the world had not been averted, and was
happening after all... First, it was determined
then that the student movement was a planned
conspiracy of anti-Party, anti-socialist elements
with leadership. So now we must ask, who were
these leaders? What was the plan? What was the
conspiracy? What evidence exists to support this?
Second, it was said that this event was aimed at
overthrowing the People's Republic and the
Communist Party. Where is the evidence? I had
said at the time that most people were only
asking us to correct our flaws, not attempting to
overthrow our political system."

On democracy "It would be wrong if our Party
never makes the transition from a state that was
suitable in a time of war to a state more
suitable to a democracy society... The ruling
Party must achieve two breakthroughs. One is to
allow other political parties and a free press to
exist. The second... is, the Party needs to adopt
democratic procedures and use democratic means to
reform itself... Different opinions must be
allowed to exist, and different factions should be made legitimate."

The last word "Whether the Communist Party
persists should be determined by the consequences
of society's political openness and the
competition between the Communist Party and other
political powers (...) The trend is irrefutable,
that the fittest will survive."
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