China disputes account of bloody '89

Documents relate Tiananmen turmoil

January 09, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING - The Chinese government branded as fake today secret government transcripts said to detail the Communist Party's decision to crack down on the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising.

"Any attempt to play up the matter again and disrupt China by the despicable means of fabricating materials and distorting facts will be futile," said Zhu Bangzao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a statement reported this morning by the government's Xinhua News Agency. The crackdown was "highly necessary to the stability and development of China," Zhu added.

The documents portray a Communist Party leadership deeply divided over the decision to send in troops to crush pro-democracy demonstrators who had occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square for weeks. They also include graphic government intelligence reports of the carnage which followed.

A government employee using the pseudonym, Zhang Liang, says he smuggled the documents out of the country. He has said he hopes their publication will spark a debate among China's leadership about political reform.

Excerpts from the material were published last weekend in a book called, "The Tiananmen Papers: The Chinese Leadership's Decision to Use Force Against Their Own People."

Respected Sinologists Andrew Nathan of Columbia University and Perry Link of Princeton University translated the documents, which include what are purported to be minutes of secret meetings by the Communist Party's politburo and standing committee.

Both scholars said they interviewed Zhang for hours and believe the papers are authentic, in part, because they agree with the accounts of other former Chinese officials who have fled.

As material from the documents filtered onto the Internet yesterday, observers were divided over what impact they might have on public opinion in this authoritarian state. A few postings to the Internet appeared to question the material's authenticity as well.

Because of the party's tight control over the media here, most Chinese still know very little about the June 4, 1989, crackdown in which soldiers killed at least hundreds of unarmed civilians. In recent years, though, growing Internet use has made it harder for the Communist Party to control information reaching its people.

Yesterday, some here said they thought the documents - which quote the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as saying he feared being arrested and overthrown - might rekindle the long-suppressed debate over the decision to send in soldiers.

"It will make them [the Chinese people] think about their society and the system and why the Tiananmen incident happened," Bao Tong , a former party official, said in a phone interview. "The significance is for the people to know the truth." Bao served as secretary to Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party chief who was sacked after opposing a declaration of martial law.

Others, though, were more skeptical.

Only a tiny fraction of China's 1.3 billion people have access to the Internet, and many just use it for sending e-mail and getting news reports, said Eric Sautede, who studies the Internet at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China in Hong Kong. In addition, many young Chinese today seem more interested in improving their livelihoods than delving into a divisive and bloody political event which occurred nearly 12 years ago.

"Most Chinese are more concerned about the bottom line than the ideological line," said Dali Yang, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

While the material contains no major revelations, if genuine, it provides a remarkable "fly-on-the-wall" perspective on the mindset and inner workings of the Communist Party leadership as it faced down student protesters.

"Anarchy gets worse every day," Deng Xiaoping is quoted as saying on May 13. "If this continues, we could even end up under house arrest."

The documents also contain detailed descriptions of the massacre, which have been reported by Western news agencies but never by the party itself. One excerpt from the regime's Martial Law Command on June 3, 1989, describes soldiers armed with high-powered rifles lining up to mow down protesters.

"Then the soldiers - with the first two rows in a kneeling position and those in back standing - pointed their weapons at the crowd," the report reads. "Approximately 10:30 p.m., under a barrage of rocks, the troops opened fire."

"Some soldiers who were hit by rocks lost their self-control and began firing wildly at anyone who shouted, `Fascists!' or threw rocks or bricks."

Critics of the regime and Chinese-language newspapers began posting sections of the material on the Internet yesterday. Richard Long, a Washington-based Chinese dissident, sent out 15 pages worth of excerpts as a part of his electronic newsletter, "Big Reference News," which he says reaches hundreds of thousands of China's Internet users.

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