‘A Tragedy to Shock the World’: Secret Zhao Memoirs Acknowledge Tiananmen Massacre

The private memoirs of former Chinese Communist party (CCP) leader Zhao Ziyang are to be published, as we near the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and the massacre that ended them. The diaries will be published this month, under the title Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang.

Zhao was secretary general of the central committee of the CCP from 1987 until he was deposed due to his opposition to the government’s hardline crackdown on student demonstrators gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, in June 1989. Zhao was subjected to 16 years of house arrest, and died in 2005. But the journals were so secret, their existence has not been confirmed until now.

According to The Times newspaper of London:

So sensitive is this document, the first memoir ever to be made public by such a senior Chinese party official, that even its existence had been kept a closely guarded secret. Speculation had been rife during his nearly 16 years of house arrest and after his death in 2005 as to whether the man with the most intimate knowledge of the events of June 3-4 1989, had provided his own account of those dramatic days.

Zhao reportedly describes how on 17 May 1989, in a top-level secret meeting with party “elders”, like Deng Xiaoping, a decision was made without even a vote by the politburo to declare martial law. Despite objections from Zhao Ziyang, the nation’s leaders planned a violent, military-based crackdown to end pro-democracy demonstrations. Zhao resigned his office.

He writes of those troubled days, “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 the students.” On 19 May, he went to Tiananmen Square and with then aide (now Chinese premier) Wen Jiabao at his side, delivered a tearful plea to students to end their demonstrations peacefully and disperse.

What Zhao wrote of the events of 3 June 1989 is the first known account acknowledging the government’s massacre of innocents. He wrote of the dark emotion at witnessing the crackdown, knowing it had been planned, observing: “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.”

A top aide to Zhao Ziyang, Bao Tong, says there is no doubt as to the authenticity of the memoirs, but that he was unaware of their existence until after Zhao’s death. Bao had been jailed for 7 years as part of the government’s effort to eliminate all history of dissent as to the events leading up to and taking place at Tiananmen Square. Bao says Zhao’s family had no knowledge of the existence of the memoirs, because the former party leader had sought to protect all of those close to him.

The Times reports:

The recordings include conversations in which he answers questions as well as sections that are apparently dictated from a now-vanished written document. The tapes took Mr Zhao about two years to make and he then found a way to pass them to several trusted friends. The materials were hidden and gathered together after his death, but much of the process remains a secret.

The former aide said the memoirs will serve as “an extremely valuable historical document both for China and for the West”.

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Originally published May 14, 2009, at CafeSentido.com

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