Courtesy Reuters

Appealing the Tiananmen Verdict: New Documents from China's Highest Leaders

In This Review

The Tiananmen Papers

Compiled By Zhang Liang (Pseudonym), edited by Andrew J. Nat
Public Affairs, 2001
560 pp. $30.00
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Excerpts from this extraordinary compilation of documents first appeared in the previous issue of this journal ("The Tiananmen Papers," January/February 2001). The papers detail the deliberations of the Chinese leadership in the spring of 1989, leading up to the Tiananmen Square tragedy on June 4. In so doing, The Tiananmen Papers grants the reader access to the innermost decision-making processes of one of the world's most secretive governments during an infamous moment in its history. The documents contain the minutes of meetings of the Politburo and its five-person Standing Committee, the highest body of formal political power in China. Even more astonishing are the intimate communications among the top leaders: the gatherings of the eight "elders," the extralegal group of senior communist revolutionaries who at the time constituted ultimate authority in China; some private meetings in the home of Deng Xiaoping, the most influential elder and the chair of the Central Military Commission; and even some of his phone conversations. The various conversations and meetings all dealt with one subject: what to do about the student demonstrators who had taken possession of Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989.

The huge collection of documents was secretly compiled by a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member (known to readers only by the pseudonym Zhang Liang) and some fellow collaborators, then handed over to Andrew Nathan of Columbia University; Nathan in turn sought the editorial help of Perry Link of Princeton University and Orville Schell of the University of California at Berkeley. The motive of the compilers was to advance political reform in China by forcing open discussion of a subject that has long been taboo. They hoped that the revelations in the documents would shock the CCP into reversing its official line -- that the Tiananmen demonstrations were the work of a "small group of counterrevolutionaries." A reversed verdict would acknowledge that the students were patriotic Chinese who sought to advance the modernization of their country through political reform.

The compilers believe that exiled dissidents alone

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