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China’s leaders blamed US ‘incitement,’ conspiracy theory for Tiananmen protests

Beijing, Tiananmen Square, Monument to the People's Heroes and the Mao Zedong Mausoleum. (Arian Zwegers/Flickr)
June 05, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Three decades ago this week, a top ruling Chinese Communist Party aide to ousted liberal premier Zhao Ziyang was taken into custody, as then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping began the first stages of a crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.

After People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops quelled the weeks of student-led protests with machine guns and tanks on the night of June 3 and 4, 1989, Bao Tong was detained and given a brief show trial before serving seven years in Beijing’s Qincheng Prison for his association with the disgraced Zhao, who died under house arrest at his Beijing home in 2005.

Bao’s son Bao Pu remains one of Hong Kong’s last independent book publishers, and has just published a book of documents apparently leaked from the highest echelons of Chinese politics in the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen massacre.

According to Bao Pu, “The Last Secret” is based on previously undisclosed secret Communist Party documents that give the reader a fly-on-the-wall view of what happened in the corridors of power in the immediate aftermath of the crackdown.

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The documents show leader after leader rallying behind Deng following the massacre, in which hundreds, possibly thousands, died.

Bao Pu told RFA that such top-level documentation is very hard to find, and adds a new source to the historical record around the events of June 4, 1989.

“It’s been 30 years, and there is still a huge blackout around June 4, 1989,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to add: I just wanted to put the material out there, and let others draw their own conclusions.”

“I can’t wait another 10 years, and I have no obligation to keep the secrets of the Chinese Communist Party,” Bao Pu said.

Zhang Lun, a former participant in the 1989 student movement who is now working as a lecturer at the Université de Cergy-Pontoise in France, said the documents would help establish the truth about who was ultimately responsible for the massacre.

“As someone who lived through the events of 1989, I’d like to express my deep respect for the publisher,” Zhang told RFA. “We know a bit more about the June 4 massacre from the people on the ground, but there are a number of black holes in the official account.”

“There will only be a true reckoning with the 1989 democracy movement and massacre if more documents are leaked,” he said. “There will be a better understanding of who was responsible, too.”

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‘No interest whatsoever in the evidence’

Veteran political journalist Gao Yu tweeted that a June 9, 1989 Politburo meeting during which top leaders pledged loyalty to Deng and the decisions that led to the massacre was likely where the official verdict that the protests were “incited by a small clique of people” and were the result of “an organized conspiracy” was born.

“Those who spoke had no interest whatsoever in the evidence; to a man, they expressed their loyalty to Deng,” she wrote.

Peng Zhen, the former chairman of the National People’s Congress standing committee, echoed the conspiracy theme in extracts from the book translated and analyzed by Columbia University professor Andrew J. Nathan for Foreign Affairs magazine.

“For some time, an extremely small group of people who stubbornly promoted bourgeois liberalization cooperated with foreign hostile forces to call for revising our constitution,” Peng told the meeting in rhetoric that would later be repeated throughout state media for decades to come.

“They schemed to change . . . our country’s basic political system and to promote in its place an American-style separation of three powers; they schemed to change our People’s Republic of democratic centralism … into a totally westernized state of capitalist dictatorship,” he said.

According to Nathan, the speakers at the Politburo meeting believed that most of the people who had joined in the demonstrations were misguided but not hostile to the regime.

Some claimed that Zhao and his allies had plotted to split the party, overthrow Deng, and democratize China, Nathan wrote, adding that several other speakers supported this idea without showing any evidence for the claim.

Song Renqiong, the vice chair of the party’s Central Advisory Commission, blamed the United States in general and the Voice of America in particular for “sticking its hands in” and “spreading rumors and incitement every day.”

“Many speakers contended that ideological rot had set in under Hu, Zhao’s predecessor,” Nathan wrote, adding that the party elders had ousted Hu Yaobang in the hope of stemming a rising tide of liberal thinking, but that Zhao had failed to impose any kind of ideological discipline.

Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are still largely banned in China, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained, with veteran dissidents placed under police surveillance or detention ahead of each anniversary.

The Tiananmen Mothers victims’ group have been writing to China’sNational People’s Congress (NPC) with demands for a change in the official verdict, compensation to victims’ families and a public inquiry into the massacre annually for more than 20 years, but have never received any kind of reply, only police restrictions on their movements.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Lee Wang-yam for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Wu Jing for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.