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`The Tiananmen Papers' Compiler Discusses His Actions

Aired June 3, 2001 - 09:35   ET


LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: Twelve years ago the world was riveted by the images of China's emerging pro-democracy demonstrations and the brutal government crack down in Tiananmen's Square. Well, on the eve of that anniversary, we have the first interview now with a man who compiled controversial documents on the historic event.

He contends that the papers contain secret conversations on how China's hard-line rulers ordered the crack down. Well, the so-called "Tiananmen Papers" were published in the United States earlier this year. CNN's senior Asian Correspondent, Mike Chinoy, has this story.


MIKE CHINOY, CNN SENIOR ASIAN CORRESPONDENT: Twelve years ago I stood and watched as the Chinese Army shot it's way into Tiananmen Square, crushing the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the country's history. Today the events and images of that time continue to haunt the Chinese political system and to shape international perceptions of China.

(voice-over): The Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989 marked the defeat of China's reformers and the triumph of hard-liners like Lee Pong (ph), now the country's No. 2, and then paramount leader, Deng Xiao Ping. And it set the stage for the rise of Jiang Zemin, China's current president.

Yet the Chinese political system is so secretive that little was known about how the decision to send in the troops was made until this year, when a collection of what was described as top secret Communist Party documents smuggled out of China was published in the United States.

The goal of the compiler, an exiled former official who uses the pseudo name Zhang Liang was to reopen to date on the Tiananmen tragedy and discredit Lee Pong and Jiang Zemin in the hope of jump starting political reform in China.

(on camera): Now Zhang Liang has given his first interview since the publication of the documents. Fearful of Chinese security agents, he wore a wig, insisted his face be disguised and that his actual voice not be broadcast.

Tell me what it's like to be in exile, to have to be careful of your movements, to have to appear on television in disguise. How concerned are you for your own safety here? Do you feel there are Chinese security agents watching you? What's it like, this kind of life that you've now ended up living?

ZHANG LIANG, COMPILER OF "THE TIANANMEN PAPERS" (through translator): This question, of course, arouses emotions that are hard to express. But in the end my heart is in China. Whatever is valuable for Chinese democracy, is for the cause of justice is worth doing and the personal price is not important.

Before the nation and before the party I am proud of what I did. I am certainly sorry for what this may have brought to some of my friends and to my family, but I sincerely hope they will understand me.

CHINOY: How scared were you doing this? How scared were you leaving the country with this package of material that would have lead to terrible consequences to you if you were caught?

LIANG (through translator): As a perfectly ordinary person, I certainly would not want to bear a responsibility like this if I could have avoided it. But as one who went through these advances, one who saw these events unfold before my very eyes, I felt pressed by historical responsibility to do what I did.

China has many people of conscience. Sometimes facing history, a person of conscience has to chose to make a sacrifice. If a society hasn't got people who seek for the truth, it's not going to advance. Sometimes you have to make a personal sacrifice.

Of course, it is true that had I not done this thing I could have passed an extremely comfortable life in China. I had a certain status there. But what I did, I did for history and for the people.

CHINOY (voice-over): Beijing has denounced "The Tiananmen Papers" as fake. Others have also questioned the authenticity of the documents, especially in light of Zhang Liang's refusal to reveal his real name or disclose how he put the material together.

LIANG (through translator): I can tell you frankly all of these materials have a solid basis -- they are all reliable. The best answer to question of authenticity is that time will tell. The people will decide and time will tells us whether these documents are authentic.

Since the book came out in January, the reaction in Beijing has been to exert enormous efforts to try to control the response to this book. That's the best evidence that the documents are authentic.

CHINOY (on camera): When did you first become aware of these documents, and when did the idea of pulling them altogether in getting them out of China crystallize?

LIANG (through translator): On your first question, I'm terribly sorry, but it's so sensitive that I can't give you an answer.

On the question on why we decided to publish these in the United States, for a long period of time we sought within the party to resolve the issue of getting the truth of June 4 told. We placed great hopes in the new generation of leaders, in Jiang Zemin, that he would have the courage and the ability to take the initiative to reverse the verdict on June 4. Many of the people in the party made this demand in a variety of settings, hoping for the new leadership to set the record straight.

But in every case the suggestions were not accepted and we were disappointed. Finally when we were sure that there was hope of getting the incident reevaluated within China and that the conditions were not right within the country, we felt we had no other choice but to go outside of the country to publish the material.

CHINOY: I want to ask you about the events of 1989 themselves. Specifically, a broad question -- what in these papers is really fundamentally new? That changes are understanding of history rather than simply filling in some interesting detail?

LIANG (through translator): There are three main points. The first one is that the blood shed was completely avoidable. It was not necessary to have killing. The second point is this movement was not limited to Beijing or the Beijing college students -- it was all over the country, it was in all of the major cities of the country. It included all of the college campuses in the entire country.

The third point is that the conclusion that the authorities drew on the tragedy -- that this was an intentional plot -- a counter revolutionary riot -- is completely false. Indeed, had there been an intentional plot behind this, things would not have ended as they did.

CHINOY: You obviously had collaborators with you in China. I know that you're not prepared to talk in detail about how this all came to be but can you give me some sense -- was the process of pulling this together, did it take months? Did it take years? What would have happened to you if the authorities had discovered what you were doing before you finished and left the country?

LIANG (through translator): I want to tell you that since the publication of the book, the power holders in Beijing have undertaken a series of vicious and inhumane attempts to find out who was involved with this event. They have tapped telephones, followed people. They have collected secret dossiers on people. They have carried out secret searches of people's homes. Those who have been detained, interrogated and mistreated because the authorities think they have some relationship to this project, in fact, have no relationship to it at all.

The leaders in power should be clear that they should not carry out this kind of illegal plot. I alone, Zhang Liang, take full responsibility for this book.

CHINOY: Your stated goal has been to help those who want to promote political reform in China. And yet, since the papers have come out, the government has taken very, very harsh measures in response. Are you concerned that the publication of these papers is having the opposite effect as to what you intended? LIANG (through translator): The reaction that you mentioned -- we expected it. And that's precisely because the material was not false. Simply because it is true the government has had to respond this strongly to try to suppress it even though these materials are authentic, it's expected that the power holders will try to refute the thrust f the book and they have two main arguments.

One is that the verdict on June 4 cannot be overturned because it will lead to disorder. The other one is that the suppression that they carried out in 1989 was correct and necessary because that created the condition for social stability and for China to advance. In fact, both of these views are false.

First of all, after the suppression of June 4, democracy in China retrogressed and political reform made no advance. Economic and social issues have accumulated and gotten worse. We've seen demonstrations -- farmers, urban workers, gangs are springing up. The government is unable to control it. There isn't any real what they call unity and stability -- that's just superficial. Underneath, elements of instability have grown and this is all because of the mistake that was made in suppressing democracy in 1989.

The fact is that whether the conclusion on June 4 is going to be changed or not, this will be decided by the people. It will happen sooner or later and those who have tried to suppress the truth will pay the price before the borrower of history.

CHINOY: For a dozen years public debate over the Tiananmen Square crackdown has been forbidden in China. On this anniversary that is still the case. But "The Tiananmen Papers," for all the questions, appear to have breached the wall of silence, putting the battle over the verdict of history back on the Chinese political agenda.

Mike Chinoy, CNN, Hong Kong.




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