The Tiananmen Papers, Part II
By the spring of 1989, it wasn''t just the students who were
increasingly disgruntled over the pace of reform in China. While
they desired more press freedoms, the workers and citizens also
demanded an end to the corruption, inflation and disruptions that
had accompanied economic reforms.
There is no doubt that China was in the midst of a boom. Deng
Xiaoping had coined slogans like "to get rich is glorious" in
order to encourage the development of the rural economy. But
with inflation running at about 30% and anger increasing over
the corruption, all that was needed was an event to spark massive
By almost all accounts, that one spark was the death on April 8,
1989 of former general party secretary Hu Yaobang. Along with
Zhao Ziyang (who had replaced Hu in the Party secretary role in
1987), the two were the leading reformers in the Chinese
government and were favorites of the students. Though details
are a bit sketchy (like just about everything else in China), it was
reported that Hu succumbed to a heart attack at the Politboro
(where he had been allowed to maintain a seat), supposedly
while arguing with hard-liners. Hu Yaobang thus became a
convenient martyr and one week later, 200,000 gathered at his
state funeral in Tiananmen Square to demand more democracy.
Many of them didn''t leave until they were forcibly and violently
removed about six weeks later, on June 4.
The protests spread beyond Tiananmen Square into other urban
and rural areas. Following are some comments from the key
decision makers in the Chinese government, excerpted from what
is now known as "The Tiananmen Papers," the documents
smuggled out by a high-ranking Party official.
April 26, Deng Xiaoping, still the ultimate leader in China
though he was without an official title:
"The students have been raising a ruckus for ten days now, and
we''ve been tolerant and restrained. But things haven''t gone our
way. A tiny minority is exploiting the students; they want to
confuse the people and throw the country into chaos...We must
explain to the whole Party and nation that we are facing a most
serious political struggle."
The People''s Daily released an editorial that same day:
"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
This was to be the theme throughout. And Deng wouldn''t let go.
But the editorial re-ignited what had then been a waning student
movement. The protests spread anew.
On May 13, General Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang (#2 to Deng in
power and influence) spoke to Deng at the latter''s residence.
Zhao: "(The student movement) has two particular features we
need to pay attention to: First, the student slogans all support the
Constitution; they favor democracy and oppose corruption.
These (are) basically in line with what the Party and government
advocate, so we cannot reject them out of hand. Second, the number
of demonstrators and supporters is enormous, and they include people
from all parts of society." Lastly, Zhao urged Deng to listen to the
demonstrators if they sought to calm tensions.
Deng reiterated that the whole student movement had been
stirred up from outside. And he was worried about the Party
elders. "The senior comrades are getting worried...We have to
Ironically, Mikhail Gorbachev was to be arriving in town for a
full summit, just a few days later. Word was out that the students
were going to announce a hunger strike and that they would
continue to block Tiananmen Square, thus significantly altering
the pomp and circumstance for Gorbachev''s appearance.
Deng: "The Square has to be in order...We have to maintain our
international image. What do we look like if the Square''s a
Zhao Ziayng replied to Deng''s inquiry as to what the ordinary
people were thinking: "The protests are widespread but limited
to cities that have universities." [The farmers were deemed to be
docile.] "The (urban) workers are unhappy about certain social
conditions and like to let off steam from time to time, so they
sympathize with the protesters (students)."
Deng: "We must not give an inch on the basic principle of
upholding Communist Party rule and rejecting a Western
multiparty system. At the same time, the Party must resolve the
issue of democracy and address the problems that arise when
corruption pops up in the Party or government."
Zhao tried to reassure Deng that "these little ''troubles'' are
normal inside a democratic and legal framework."
The student movement was beginning to fracture. Many
returned to their classes, while others stayed the course. 100,000
began a hunger strike on May 13.
On May 16, Gorbachev arrived, a symbol that at long last
normalization of Sino-Soviet relations was at hand. But as he
met with Chinese leaders in the Great Hall of the People, the
cries of the protesters in the square were clearly audible.
Meanwhile, that same day the all-important Politboro Standing
Committee met separately. Zhao Ziyang reiterated that the
leadership should find a way to dispel the sense of confrontation
with the students. Premier Li Peng (#3 behind Deng and Zhao)
explained to Zhao that Comrade Xiaoping''s original words could
not be changed. The nation was facing a most serious struggle.
The split between the reformer Zhao and many of the others in
the Party hierarchy was widening.
The next day Li Peng confronted Zhao again at Deng''s
"I think Comrade Ziyang must bear the main responsibility for
the escalation of the student movement, as well as for the fact
that the situation has gotten so hard to control."
Deng then blasted Zhao for a speech that Zhao had given earlier
in May to the Asian Development Bank meeting. In it, Zhao
adopted a highly reformist tone.
"Comrade Ziyang...of course we want to build socialist
democracy, but we can''t possibly do it in a hurry, and still less
do we want that Western-style stuff. If our one billion people
jumped into multiparty elections, we''d get chaos like the ''all-out
civil war'' we saw during the Cultural Revolution."
Deng then explained that Beijing couldn''t continue to deal with
the chaos created by the protests.
"I''ve concluded that we should bring in the People''s Liberation
Army (PLA) and declare martial law in Beijing...The aim of
martial law will be to suppress the turmoil once and for all and to
return things quickly to normal."
Zhao replied, "Comrade Xiaoping, it will be hard for me to carry
out this plan. I have difficulties with it."
Deng: "The minority yields to the majority!"
Zhao: "I will submit to Party discipline; the minority does yield
to the majority."
Later that same day, the Politboro Standing Committee resumed
their meeting without Deng. Premier Li Peng was adamant that
Deng''s orders on martial law be carried out. Committee member
Yao Yilin echoed these sentiments.
"Taking this powerful measure will help restore the city to
normalcy, end the state of anarchy, and quickly and effectively
stop the turmoil."
Zhao said again, "I''m against imposing martial law in Beijing."
Zhao was worried that a crackdown would only make things
"In the forty years of the People''s Republic, our Party has
learned many lessons from its political and economic mistakes.
Given the crisis we now face at home and abroad, I think that
one more big political mistake might well cost us all our
Next week the tragic finale.
J.M. Roberts, "Twentieth Century"
Henry Graff, "The Presidents"
Fairbank and Goldman, "China: A New History"
David Reynolds, "One World Divisible"
Andrew Nathan, January / February issue of Foreign Affairs
[Nathan was one of the three translators who have vouched for
the authenticity of The Tiananmen Papers, along with the
editors of Foreign Affairs magazine.]