Tiananmen Soldier Calls for Probe

Almost 20 years after the deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, a former PLA soldier calls for a full inquiry.

2009.03.18
Zhang Shijun Former PLA soldier Zhang Shijun.
Zhang Shijun
HONG KONGA former People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier drafted into Beijing in 1989 to enforce martial law during the pro-democracy movement has called for a full investigation into the crackdown.

In an open letter to President Hu Jintao dated March 6, former propaganda secretary for the 54th battalion Zhang Shijun said he had personally witnessed what he called the "tragedy of the Chinese people."
I saw some horrific scenes."
Zhang Shijun

"[In 1989,] security personnel illegally attacked and destroyed patriotic youth in the name of the country," wrote Zhang, who tried to resign from the PLA in protest at the crackdown.

"To this day, there isn't a single government department which has dared to face up to this, to take on the case, or to investigate it."

Zhang said he had heard no one talk publicly yet about some of the things he saw.

"I saw some horrific scenes," he said in an interview. "As far as I know, no one has spoken the truth to this day about some of the things that I saw."

Sent to labor camp

Zhang declined to say more, for fear of reprisals.

"I still can't talk about them. It's not that I'm weak. It's that we need some momentum and a correct method to bring about democratization in China," he said.

Zhang said he was detained by plainclothes police at the Litang cinema in Tengzhou in March 1992.

After conducting searches of all printed material in his home, including his diaries of the massacre, the authorities sentenced him on July 22 the same year to three years' "re-education through labor" for "overturning the Party and socialism."

"I think I see a lot of China's problems more clearly than a lot of people," said Zhang, who added that he believed democracy was now "further away" from China than in 1989.

Zhang said he had written 10 letters in total to President Hu over the last 19 years, accusing the Party of hypocrisy in its claim to serve the people, and of cold-blooded cruelty.

After joining the PLA's 54th battalion when he was 18, Zhang was assigned to 162 Division.

"I have been young, and I have had dreams. There have been some bad decisions, which could have been overturned in a very short space of time," Zhang said.

Call for debate

"Democracy is getting further and further away from us. But I think I'm more mature today," he said.

In his letter, Zhang called on the Party to make good its promise to "return power to the people."

But he said he has little hope of a response from Hu.

"If I were to get a real reply from people concerned with justice, then that would exceed my expectations. That would be the true voice of the people," he said.

"But if you are talking about a reply from them, I can say to you with no doubt at all that I have no hope at all of getting a response. I have never expected a response from them."

He said he shared the aspirations of overseas Chinese activists for democracy.

"We are just operating on a different stage," he said.

"There are differences in the methods we can use. I would very much like to get a genuine response and fair comment from [democracy activists] overseas."

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when PLA troops used tanks and machine guns to put an end to protests, mass encampments, and hunger strikes, which had brought Beijing to a near-standstill for several weeks in 1989.

In the 2001 Tiananmen Papers, which claimed to have been leaked from the highest echelons of the Communist Party, military accounts said hundreds died, including children, the elderly, and PLA soldiers, who met with ferocious resistance from Beijing residents with bricks and home-made explosives.

Some accounts said the soldiers disposed secretly of the dead and prevented those who were wounded from receiving medical attention.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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