HONG KONG—The memoir of China’s late former leader Zhao Ziyang, who fell from power at the height of the student-led pro-democracy movement 20 years ago, went on sale Friday in Hong Kong, the only Chinese city where its publication wasn’t banned.
The book, titled in English Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang, was compiled from audio recordings made by Zhao, a former general secretary of China’s Communist Party who died under house arrest at his Beijing home in 2005.
Its release is timed to coincide with the sensitive anniversary of the deadly suppression of protests by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which Zhao opposed, in a move that cost him his political career and his freedom.
“On the night of June 3, while sitting in the courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire,” Zhao says in the audio tapes, now transcribed as Chapter 1.
It seems we can’t forget about this, because the Chinese government itself can’t forget about it."
“A tragedy to shock the world was taking place, in spite of attempts to avert it.”
Shortly before resigning on May 29, and being convicted of “splitting the Party” and “supporting rebellion,” Zhao was shown on national television addressing hunger striking students, crying, and begging them to take food.
“Your bodies are getting very weak,” he told them. “You have been refusing food for seven days now. You can’t carry on like this.”
“You may not have had a response yet, but the channels for dialogue are still open,” he said.
“Some problems take time to sort out because they are long-term problems, but I believe that we can solve them, and continue along the path to greater openness,” Zhao told the students.
In his book, Zhao outlines his political rise to power, and his attempts to bring ground-breaking economic reform to a China still reeling from the political turmoil and economic breakdown of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
Speaking from his family home on cassette tapes formerly used for Beijing opera performances, Zhao takes issue with the official verdict on the Tiananmen protests, that of “counter-revolutionary rebellion.”
“It was determined then that the student movement was “a planned conspiracy” of anti-Party, anti-socialist elements with leadership,” Zhao said.
“So now we must ask, who were these leaders? What was the plan? What was the conspiracy? What evidence exists to support this?”
The son of a former top Zhao aide meanwhile told a symposium on the Zhao memoirs in Hong Kong that he hoped the release of the book, which he help to produce, would put pressure on the Chinese government to revise its view of the Tiananmen protests of two decades agao, in which hundreds were killed.
Bao Pu, the Hong Kong-based son of Bao Tong, a former member of a top Communist Party think-tank, said the Communist Party’s main mistake in 1989 was to see the student-led pro-democracy movement as a “planned, organized counter-revolutionary rebellion.”
He said the government made the wrong choice in deciding how to handle the protests.
“It seems we can’t forget about this, because the Chinese government itself can’t forget about it,” he told the symposium.
“If they could, then Tiananmen Square wouldn’t have been under close guard for the past 20 years. And the fact that they can’t forget it affects all their policies, actions and attitudes. The people can’t forget because the government can’t forget.”
The relatives of those killed or injured on the night of June 3 and in the days that followed were either under house arrest or had been persuaded to leave Beijing, they said.
‘No political victory’
Ding Zilin, a retired university professor who lost her 17-year-old son in the crackdown, said her home was currently under 24-hour surveillance.
“They are allowing reporters to visit my house, but they are taking their names and reporting them as soon as they leave the building,” said Ding, who heads the Tiananmen Mothers advocacy group of victims’ relatives.
Bao Pu said the Chinese government might have won a military victory in 1989, but there was no political victory.
“To win a political victory, they would have had to convince the Chinese people, and the people of the world, that to send in the troops against the demonstrators was a reasonable and legal move,” Bao said.
“It’s the job of China’s leaders to solve political problems like this one, not the job of the security forces.”
Bao Pu called for the verdict on June 4, 1989 to be overturned.
“Even if there is a political motive for doing this, it’s a good motive,” he said. “I don’t deny in saying this that I hope this book will have the effect of promoting the reappraisal of the official verdict on June 4.”
Zhao’s memoir was published in Hong Kong earlier this month. The Chinese edition went on sale in Hong Kong a couple of weeks later.
Bao Tong has been escorted away from his Beijing house arrest by security personnel to “take a trip” to eastern China, his daughter said.
He was expected back in the capital a few days after the anniversary had passed.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Lee Yuk-ching and in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.