Tiananmen Spokesman Evades Comment

Despite calls for a reappraisal of the 1989 crackdown, China's former State Council spokesman denies knowledge of behind-the-scenes events.

tiananmen-spokesman-yuan-mu-305 State Council Spokesman Yuan Mu speaks at a press conference on the Tiananmen Square incident, June 1989, in an image from a video posted online.
Photo Courtesy of YouTube

Updated at 2:15 p.m. EST on 2012-05-30

A spokeswoman for the victims of the 1989 military crackdown in Tiananmen Square has called on a former spokesman for China's ruling Communist Party to "come clean" about what went on behind the scenes during the days of bloodshed in the capital.

Ding Zilin, who founded the victims' advocacy group Tiananmen Mothers after her own 17-year-old son died during the crackdown, urged former State Council Spokesman Yuan Mu to come out with the truth about the incident.

"It's not too late for him to speak the truth and absolve his past crimes, and I hope he will seize this opportunity," she said.

"Back then, they were good cop, bad cop; State Council Spokesman Yuan Mu and the head of the martial law troops Zhang Gong," Ding said, referring to a news conference given on June 6, 1989. "They were a pair of liars."

Watch video of Yuan Mu's 1989 press conference.

The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.

Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government, which labeled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a “counter-revolutionary uprising,” has not issued an official toll or list of casualties.

Counter-revolutionary rebellion

The crackdown, which Yuan styled in his news conference at the time as a necessary way to suppress a counter-revolutionary rebellion, sparked a wave of international condemnation, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah, as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.

"We have gained an ... initial victory, but the situation in the capital hasn't yet returned to normal," Yuan told reporters in Beijing on June 6, with Zhang Gong at his side. "The situation in the capital is still extremely serious."

"As for the number of deaths, including the military, the hoodlums, and bystanders, there were nearly 300," Yuan said at the time.

The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 deaths but quickly retracted its statement, while the Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, says it has confirmed 186 deaths, although not all at the hands of the army.

The group has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government.

Ding said that while Yuan wasn't in charge of events, he still bore "criminal responsibility" for his covering up of the deaths of innocent civilians.

'Don't ask me'

Yuan himself declined to comment on the events of June 1989 when contacted by RFA's Mandarin service on Wednesday.

"I don't know much about affairs at the highest level," Yuan, who is now 84, said by telephone from his Beijing home.

Asked his views of the events of that time, Yuan replied, "I can't express them clearly on the phone. They can't be explained in just a few words."

"I don't really know about [the leaders'] business. Don't ask me. Go and ask someone who really understands the situation," he said.

He said he hadn't read a recent book of interviews with Chen Xitong, who was Beijing mayor at the time of the crackdown, in which Chen said he hadn't masterminded the crackdown.

"I don't really know," Yuan said, when asked his reaction to Chen's claim, which was published recently in the Hong Kong media.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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