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The Tiananmen Papers

The Tiananmen Papers

5.0 2
by Andrew J. Nathan, Perry Link, Orville Schell, Liang Zhang
On the night of June 3-4, 1989, Chinese troops violently crushed the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the history of the communist regime. Although the story of the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement has been told before from the viewpoint of the student demonstrators and the foreign press corps, never before have we been privy to the view from Zhongnanhai, the


On the night of June 3-4, 1989, Chinese troops violently crushed the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the history of the communist regime. Although the story of the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement has been told before from the viewpoint of the student demonstrators and the foreign press corps, never before have we been privy to the view from Zhongnanhai, the parklike compound in the center of Beijing that is the seat of China's ruling Party and government offices. In The Tiananmen Papers, the story of the 1989 demonstrations is told for the first time in the words of the leaders who made the decision to crush it.

In this extraordinary collection of hundreds of internal government and Communist Party documents, we learn how the growing student movement of April and May 1989 split the ruling elite into factions that sought radically different solutions to the unrest that was spreading across the nation. The material also reveals how the most important decisions were made not by formal political institutions but by the eight "Elders," an extra-constitutional final court of appeal whose most important voice belonged to Deng Xiaoping, who was ostensibly retired from all government posts except one. The book includes the minutes of the crucial meetings at which the Elders decided to cashier the pro-reform Party secretary Zhao Ziyang and to replace him with Jiang Zemin, and to declare martial law and finally to send the troops to drive the students from the Square and off the streets.

The documents reveal that if left to their own preferences the three-man majority of China's highest formal decision-making body, the five-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, would have voted to persist in dialogue with the students instead of declaring martial law. Had they done so, China's recent history and its relations with the West would have been very different. Dialogue with the students would have tipped the balance toward political reform, and China today might well be an open society or even an electoral democracy, possibly under the rule of a reformed Communist Party. Instead, the divided Politburo Standing Committee honored a secret commitment to refer serious disagreements to the Elders, who chose stability over reform, dismissed Zhao, deployed force, "saved the revolution," and elevated Jiang, the man who rules China to this day. The result has been over a decade of political stasis at home and strained relations with the West.

The texts of the documents in this book were made available by individuals in China who wish to establish the truth of this historic incident and thereby restart the impetus toward political reform that was arrested by the tragic events of 1989. The compiler of this material, who uses the pseudonym Zhang Liang, has worked extensively with the respected scholars Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link to produce this landmark volume.

Just as the Pentagon Papers laid bare the secret American decision making behind the Vietnam War and changed forever our view of the nation's political leaders, so too will The Tiananmen Papers alter our perception of how and why the events of June 4 took the shape they did. Many of the most powerful leaders in China today owe their positions to the battles fought behind the scenes at Zhongnanhai in 1989, and this book will bring their actions under close scrutiny for the first time. Its publication is thus a landmark event not only for the history of China, but for its future as well.

About the Authors:
Andrew J. Nathan is a professor of political science and former director of the East Asian Institute at Columbia University. He is the author, most recently, of China's Transition and coauthor of The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress: China's Search for Security.

Perry Link is a professor of Chinese at Princeton University and the author of The Uses of Literature: Life in the Socialist Chinese Literary System.

Orville Schell is dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of numerous articles and books on Chinese affairs, the most recent of which is Virtual Tibet.

Editorial Reviews

The look of China today might be very different if the events of June 3rd and 4th in 1989 had turned out differently. Pro-democracy demonstrations had the Chinese leaders worried but hardly in agreement on what to do: talk to the demonstrators or simply declare martial law? Now, for the first time, we can get a look at the internal discussions and decision making that resulted in the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nathan, director of Columbia's East Asian Institute, terms this collection, "the richest record I have ever seen of political life in China at the top." Zhang Liang, a pseudonym, has provided Nathan and Link (a professor of Chinese at Princeton) with a voluminous number of transcripts of original materials, a portion of which appear in this volume (the entire collection of documents will be published in Chinese in the spring). They follow the deliberations and day-to-day conversations of China's most powerful leaders as they try to decide what to do about the increasingly vociferous and, to their minds, dangerous student-led demonstrations taking place in the spring of 1989, not only in Beijing but across the country. The major players here are the Politburo Standing Committee, a handful of officials at the top of the Party; a group of eight termed the "Elders," mostly retired officials of high standing to whom the Committee defers; and most importantly Deng Xiaoping, the now deceased "paramount leader" of China to whom all deferred. It is Deng who makes the final decision to use the military to clear Beijing's Tiananmen Square of demonstrators. We hear discussions in formal meetings, informal conversations, even telephone calls. We are also provided with documents from national and provincial security operations in China, as well as from the foreign press, which the leaders relied on to understand the situation with which they were dealing. The violent end of events was not a foregone conclusion--there were those who wished to placate the demonstrators, and we listen in on the factional struggle in which they lost out to more intolerant hard-liners. None seem to relish the prospect of violence, but that is what happens, and from this unique revelation of the use of power in China--one of the most significant works of scholarship on China in decades--we understand the road to the bloody d nouement of June 4, 1989. (Jan. 15) Forecast: As the importance of its contents deserves, this book, which is being released in a 30,000-copy first printing, is scheduled to receive major media attention: a front-page story in the New York Times and a segment on 60 Minutes (and first serialzation in Foreign Affairs). Still, despite the editors' efforts to make this material readable by adding a narrative context for the documents, it remains dry and dense, and is probably not for the general reader but for those with a deep interest in China or in human rights Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Jonathan Spence
. . . the Chinese Communist Party's side of the story. . . . Even if doubts remain in my mind about some items and their provenance, cumulatively these documents have immense impact . . . A gripping and coherent historical narrative.
New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.51(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.63(d)
1330L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction to The Tiananmen Papers

The present volume is unprecedented in the drama of the story it tells, the fullness of the record it reveals, and the potential explosiveness of its contents. It consists of full or partial transcripts from hundreds of documents detailing the highest-level processes of decision-making during the fateful events in Beijing in spring 1989. Not only was this one of the most important events in the history of Communist China, but the world -- and the Chinese people -- have no other such intimate account of top-level politics from any period in Chinese history....

Taken as a whole, these reports tell us in extraordinary detail what the central decision-makers saw as they looked out from their compound on the events unfolding around them and how they evaluated the threat to their rule.

Added to these are minutes of the leaders' formal and informal meetings and accounts of some of their private conversations. In these we observe the desperate conflict among a handful of strong-willed leaders, whose personalities emerge with unprecedented vividness. We learn what the ultimate decision-makers said among themselves as they discussed the unfolding events: how they debated the motives of the students, whom they identified as their main enemies, which considerations dominated their search for a solution, why they waited as long as they did and no longer before ordering the troops to move on the Square, and what they ordered the troops to do. Perhaps most dramatic of all, we have definitive evidence of who voted how on key issues and their reasons for those votes, in their own words.

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Tiananmen Papers 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand today's China. The 1989 massacre is one of the many dark secrets the Chinese communists still vehemently deny and hide. Truth, as history has shown again and again, has a way of coming out eventually. China will never be at peace with itself without the 1989 events being officially examined, re-evaluated, and accepted by its people. While the current rulers in Beijing may play up nationalism to hold on to their power, they can only gain true legitimacy by eventually listening to the Chinese people. Anyone who is celebrating China's economic development and success today needs to remember: a democratic China is the only China the world can be at ease with. China's worst nightmare was 1989. The world community's worst nightmare in the 21th century may yet be an economically strong, but undemocratic China tortured by its past.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a must for those interested in Asia. I enjoyed reading the inside persepctive.