January 6, 2001

Who Wanted Troops in the Square, Who Didn't and What They Said About It

Following are excerpts from "The Tiananmen Papers," to be published Monday by PublicAffairs. Longer excerpts will appear in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs. (Explanations in boldface are by The New York Times.)

At first, China's student-led democracy movement seemed to elicit calls within the Communist Party leadership for deeper change. The documents describe the following exchange in a Politburo meeting on May 10, 1989:

Li Ruihuan [Politburo member]: We very much need real dialogue. We can't confront the students with inflammatory or antagonistic propaganda anymore . . . We should take a sober look at what has caused the strong rebellious streak in the popular mood in recent times. We said there would be no inflation, then in fact inflation came how could people not feel rebellious . . . ? It makes no sense just to arrest dissidents and hold them in prison. Instead, we should send them abroad and not let them come back for a certain amount of time.

Bo Yibo [party elder]: I agree with Comrade Ruihuan . . .

Tian Jiyun [Politburo member]: We need to take effective measures to clean up government and to accelerate our steps toward democracy.

Hu Qili [Politburo member]: Reform of our news media can play an important part in speeding democratization. A critical press will help maintain the vitality and longevity of our party and government.

On May 13 the Communist Party general secretary, Zhao Ziyang, pleads with Deng Xiaoping for restraint:

Zhao Ziyang: The party has to adjust to new times and situations. We have to do a good job with political education but then use the methods of democracy and law to solve actual problems. . . . When we allow some democracy, things might look "chaotic" on the surface, but these little "troubles" are normal inside a democratic and legal framework. They prevent major upheavals and actually make for stability and peace in the long run.

From a Politburo meeting on May 16:

Zhao Ziyang: The vast majority of student demonstrators are patriotic and sincerely concerned for our country. We may not approve of all of their methods, but their demands to promote democracy, to deepen the reforms and to root out corruption are quite reasonable, and I even think it's quite understandable when they sometimes go a bit overboard.

As the demonstrations continued, the mood began to change, particularly among the party elders. Distressed by the upheaval, they are quoted beginning to talk about a crackdown. From Politburo meetings on May 17:

Deng Xiaoping: We want to build a 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. You don't have to have guns and cannon to have a civil war; fists and clubs will do just fine. Democracy is our goal, but we'll never get there without national stability. . . . Beijing can't keep on going like this. We first have to settle the instability in Beijing, because if we don't we'll never be able to settle it in the other provinces, regions and cities. Lying down on railroad tracks, beating, smashing and robbing if these aren't turmoil then what are they? If things continue like this, we could even end up under house arrest. After thinking long and hard about this, I've concluded that we should bring in the People's Liberation Army and declare martial law in Beijing.

The highest decision-making body in China is the Politburo's Standing Committee. The documents indicate that its five members split on martial law. They voted two to two, with one abstention, in a meeting later that day. Their comments as they voted:

Li Peng: I support Comrade Xiaoping's views on martial law. . . .

Yao Yilin: I strongly support Comrade Xiaoping's proposal to impose martial law in Beijing's urban districts. Taking this powerful measure will help restore the city to normalcy, end the state of anarchy, and quickly and effectively stop the turmoil.

Zhao Ziyang: I'm against imposing martial law in Beijing. My reason is that, given the extreme feelings of the students at this juncture, to impose martial law will not help calm things down or solve problems. It will only make things more complicated and more sharply confrontational. . . . In the 40 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 remaining legitimacy.

Hu Qili: After much careful thought, I too have decided that I am against martial law in Beijing. . . .

Qiao Shi: On the question of martial law, I find it hard to express either support or opposition.

Real power lay with the party elders, especially Deng, and he convened a meeting on May 18 that reportedly included this exchange among the octogenarians:

Deng Xiaoping: We all feel Beijing can't go on like this; we have to have martial law. . . .

Chen Yun: We have to stick with our principles no matter what; we have to stay the course with no change. It seems to me that if we can't even hold to these principles, then what we're doing is destroying our People's Republic which we won from decades of battle, with the blood of thousands of revolutionary martyrs all in a single day. . . .

Deng Yingchao: Retreat means that we fall, that the People's Republic falls, that a capitalist restoration wins; it'll be what that American, [former Secretary of State John Foster] Dulles, hoped for, that our socialism would turn into capitalism after a few generations. The main point in implementing martial law is to get Beijing back to normal as soon as possible and to rescue the children from Tiananmen Square; to see them fasting breaks my heart.

Wang Zhen: 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! When we were their age we lived in a forest of rifles and a rain of bullets; we didn't know what a peaceful day was! So aren't they dandy now? Give them peace and they don't want it; they want to go starve themselves instead. . . . If the students don't leave Tiananmen on their own, the People's Liberation Army should go in and carry them out.

On June 2, the documents say, Li Peng gave a highly inflammatory report to the elders, suggesting that Americans and Taiwanese were infiltrating the democracy movement and using it to provoke bloodshed and destabilize China. This helped persuade the elders to order the army to crush the democracy movement:

Wang Zhen: Those goddamn bastards! Who do they think they are, trampling on sacred ground like Tiananmen so long? They're really asking for it! We should send the troops right now to grab those counterrevolutionaries, Comrade Xiaoping! What's the People's Liberation Army for anyway? What are martial law troops for? They're supposed to grab counterrevolutionaries. . . . Anybody who tries to overthrow the Communist Party deserves death and no burial. . . .

Li Peng: I strongly urge that we move immediately to clear Tiananmen Square and that we resolutely put an end to the turmoil and the ever-expanding trouble. . . .

Deng Xiaoping: I agree with all of you and suggest that martial law troops begin tonight to carry out the clearing plan and finish it within two days. . . .

The next day, June 3, Li Peng gave an even wilder presentation to the leaders, describing as a riot an incident in which civilians harassed soldiers:

Li Peng: Late last night a counter revolutionary riot broke out in Beijing. A small handful of counterrevolutionaries began spreading rumors and openly violating martial law. They were brazen and lawless, and their behavior has aroused extreme indignation among the masses. We must resolutely adopt decisive measures to put down this counterrevolutionary riot tonight. . . .

Chen Xitong: The lawless elements used all manner of despicable means to defame our soldiers, attack the martial law troops, and stir up trouble between the troops and the citizenry. The situation has become utterly intolerable. We have to take resolute measures at whatever cost to put down the counterrevolutionary riot. . . .

Li Peng: We have to be absolutely firm in putting down this counterrevolutionary riot in the capital. We must be merciless with the tiny minority of riot elements. The P.L.A. martial law troops, the People's Armed Police, and Public Security are authorized to use any means necessary to deal with people who interfere with the mission. Whatever happens will be the responsibility of those who do not heed warnings. . . .

Yang Shangkun: The Martial Law Command must make it quite clear to all units that they are to open fire only as a last resort. And let me repeat: No bloodshed within Tiananmen Square period.

That night, the troops forced their way into the center of Beijing from several directions. In accordance with Yang's directions, the troops held their fire in the central part of Tiananmen Square, but hundreds were killed and thousands injured in other parts of the city. A military bulletin to the leadership describes one of the first clashes:

Infantrymen led the way, firing into the air. Then the soldiers with the first two rows in a kneeling position and those in back standing pointed their weapons at the crowd. Approximately 10:30 p.m., under a barrage of rocks, the troops opened fire.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company