The Tiananmen Papers

INSIDE CHINA'S POLITBURO

For the first time ever, reports and minutes have surfaced that provide a revealing and potentially explosive view of decision-making at the highest levels of the government and party in the People's Republic of China (PRC). The materials paint a vivid picture of the battles between hard-liners and reformers on how to handle the student protests that swept China in the spring of 1989. The protests were ultimately ended by force, including the bloody clearing of Beijing streets by troops using live ammunition. The tragic event was one of the most important in the history of communist China, and its consequences are still being felt.

The materials were spirited out of China by a sympathizer of Communist Party members who are seeking a resumption of political reform. They believe that challenging the official picture of Tiananmen as a legitimate suppression of a violent antigovernment riot will help unfreeze the political process. The extensive and dramatic documentary picture of how China's leaders reacted to the student protests is revealed in The Tiananmen Papers: The Chinese Leadership's Decision to Use Force Against Their Own People-In Their Own Words. This article is adapted from the extensive narrative and documents in that book.

THE STUDENTS' CHALLENGE

The 1989 demonstrations were begun by Beijing students to encourage continued economic reform and liberalization. The students did not set out to pose a mortal challenge to what they knew was a dangerous regime. Nor did the regime relish the use of force against the students. The two sides shared many goals and much common language. Yet, through miscommunication and misjudgment, they pushed one another into positions where options for compromise became less and less available.

The spark for the student movement was a desire to commemorate the reformer Hu Yaobang, who had died on April 15. He had been replaced two years earlier as general secretary (party leader) by another moderate, Zhao Ziyang, after student demonstrations in December 1986.

Although there was a provocative edge to the behavior of students in the spring of 1989, most of them stayed within the bounds of certain pieties, acknowledging party leadership and positioning themselves as respectful, if disappointed, supporters of the party's long-term reform project.

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