The Tiananmen Papers - Foreign Affairs

January 8, 2003

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January 8, 2001, New York, NY – In its January/February issue, Foreign Affairs is publishing "The Tiananmen Papers," an extraordinary compilation of documents that illuminate how battling Chinese leaders ultimately decided to suppress the massive student demonstrations in 1989, then purged dissenters from the country’s leadership and put political reform in a deep freeze.

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"The Tiananmen Papers" --- adapted from a forthcoming book of the same title --- contains the minutes of meetings of the Politburo and its Standing Committee, reports from intelligence agencies to the leaders and even recordings of Deng Xiaoping phone calls, meetings at his home and gatherings of the Eight Elders, the extralegal group of senior revolutionaries that then constituted the ultimate authority in China.

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This unprecedented trove of hitherto secret documents was spirited out of China by a representative of reform elements within the Communist hierarchy who say they believe that opening the political process is essential to successfully continuing a difficult modernization of the Chinese economy.

They say they hope that airing the behind-the-scenes struggles of a decade ago will jump start consideration of political reform at a time when China is beginning to wrestle with party and government leadership changes scheduled for 2002 and 2003.

The compiler and his associates also say they believe that rekindling a spirit of political reform begins with reversing the official verdict of the Tiananmen demonstrations as being the work of a "small group of counter-revolutionaries" and instead acknowledging that the students were patriotic Chinese seeking to advance the modernization of their country.

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The minutes and reports show the unsuccessful efforts between protestors and rulers to find common ground for a peaceful resolution of the demonstrations that at their high point saw some 100 million people participating in one form or another in more than 50 Chinese cities. As the demonstrations wore on, the gap widened between officials counseling continued negotiations and those who came to favor repression as the only way to preserve public order and rule by the Communist party. The stand off culminated in the fatal clash of military forces and protestors in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, followed by the arrest and imprisonment of student leaders.

The documents also show how the Elders, all retired or semi-retired, extralegally imposed martial law and replaced the country’s top leader, Zhao Ziyang, with Jiang Zemin even though that authority belonged to the Politburo and the State Council.

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Three American scholars, Andrew Nathan, Perry Link and Orville Schell, spent months debriefing the compiler who brought the documents out of China. They also checked other sources where possible and matched the documents against other evidence, including their own knowledge from years of studying and traveling in China. They, and other China experts queried by them and by Foreign Affairs were unanimous in considering the documents authentic, while also recognizing that an absolute judgement is not possible given the closed nature of the Chinese regime.

After conferring at length with them and with the Chinese compiler, the editor of Foreign Affairs concurred that there are "convincing grounds" to assume the documents are credible and since they deal with important events are therefore, deserving of publication.

Following are excerpts from the 15,000-word Foreign Affairs article:

Party Central Office Secretariat,

"Important meeting minutes," April 25, 1989:

Li Peng (then Premier): Some of the protest posters and the slogans that students shout during the marches are anti-Party and anti-socialist. They’re clamoring for a reversal of the verdicts on bourgeois liberalization and spiritual pollution [Communist Party jargon for Western cultural influences].

The spear is now pointed directly at you and the others of the elder generation of proletarian revolutionaries.

Deng Xiaoping (most influential Elder): Saying I’m the mastermind behind the scenes, are they?

Li Peng: There are open calls for the government to step down, appeals for nonsense like "open investigations into and discussions of the question of China’s governance and power," and calls to institute broader elections and revise the Constitution, to lift restrictions on political parties and newspapers, and to get rid of the category of "counterrevolutionary" crimes. Illegal student organizations have already sprung up in Beijing and Tianjin...The small number of leaders of these illegal organizations have other people behind them calling the shots.

People’s Daily,

April 26, 1989, editorial:

This is a well-planned plot to confuse the people and throw the country into "turmoil." Its real aim is to reject the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system at the most fundamental level. This is a most serious political struggle that concerns the whole Party and nation.

Party Central Office Secretariat,

"Minutes of May 17th Politiburo

Standing Committee meeting":

Deng Xiaoping: After thinking long and hard about this, I’ve concluded that we should bring in the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] and declare martial law in Beijing— more precisely, in Beijing’s urban districts. The aim of martial law will be to suppress the turmoil once and for all and to return things quickly to normal. This is the unshirkable duty of the Party and the government.

Party Central Office Secretariat,

"Minutes of an important meeting on May 18th":

Yang Shangkun (then President of the People’s Republic of China): ...The problem we now face is that the two different voices within the party have been completely exposed; the students feel that someone at the Center supports them, so they’ve gotten more and more extreme. Their goals are to get the April 26 editorial repudiated and get official recognition for their autonomous federations [as opposed to the student organizations organized and controlled by the government].

Wang Zhen (an Elder): ...These people are really asking for it! They should be nabbed as soon as they pop out again. Give ’em no mercy! The students are nuts if they think this handful of people can overthrow our Party and our government! These kids don’t know how good they’ve got it! ...If the students don’t leave Tiananmen on their own, the PLA should go in and carry them out. This is ridiculous!

Bo Yibo (an Elder): The whole imperialist Western world wants to make socialist countries leave the socialist road and become satellites in the system of international monopoly capitalism. The people with ulterior motives who are behind this student movement have support from the United States and Europe and from the KMT [Kuomintang] reactionaries in Taiwan.

Excerpts from Party Central Office Secretariat,

"Minutes of important meeting, May 21, 1989":

Deng Xiaoping: ...In the recent turmoil Zhao Ziyang has exposed his position completely. He obviously stands on the side of the turmoil, and in practical terms he has been fomenting division, splitting the Party, and defending turmoil. It’s lucky we’re still here to keep a lid on things. Zhao Ziyang stimulated turmoil, and there’s no reason to keep him. Li Xiannian (an Elder): ...In political action and party loyalty, Jiang Zemin has been a constant. And of course, he’s got a good knack for economic work. Shanghai’s built a good economic foundation these last few years....I like the idea of him as general secretary.

"Minutes of the CCP Central Politburo

Standing Committee meeting,"

June 6:

Deng Xiaoping: If we hadn’t been firm with these counterrevolutionary riots— if we hadn’t come down hard— who knows what might have happened? The PLA has suffered a great deal; we owe them a lot, we really do. If the plots of the people who were pushing the riots had gotten anywhere, we’d have had civil war. And if there had been civil war— of course our side would have won, but just think of all the deaths!...We should mete out the necessary punishments, in varying degrees, to the ambitious handful who were trying to subvert the People’s Republic... Activities that break the law must be suppressed. We can’t just allow people to demonstrate whenever they want to. If people demonstrate 365 days a year and don’t want to do anything else, reform and opening will get nowhere....

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