The Tiananmen Papers

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On the night of June 3-4, 1989, Chinese troops violently crushed the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the history of the communist regime. In this extraordinary collection of hundreds of internal government and Communist Party documents, secretly smuggled out of China, we learn how these events came to pass from behind the scenes. The material reveals how the most important decisions were made; and how the turmoil split the ruling elite into radically opposed factions. 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, to declare martial law, and finally to send the troops to drive the students from the Square.

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 has The Tiananmen Papers altered our perception of how and why the events of June 4 took the shape they did. Its publication has proven to be a landmark event in Chinese and world history.

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Editorial Reviews

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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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586481223
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 6/6/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 580
  • Product dimensions: 1.19 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew J. Nathan is professor of politics at Columbia University and the author of numerous books, including China's Transition (Columbia). He is a frequent contributor to The New Republic. Perry Link is professor of Chinese language and literature at Princeton University. In 1988-89 he served as Beijing director of a subcommittee of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of many books, including Evening Chats in Beijing: Probing China's Predicament(Norton). Orville Schell, dean of graduate studies in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, is considered one of America's foremost experts on China. His most recent book on contemporary China is The China Reader: the Reform Era (Vintage).

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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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Table of Contents

Preface: Reflections on June Fourth xi
Introduction: The Documents and Their Significance xv
Prologue: 1986-Spring 1989: Seeds of Crisis 3
Chapter 1 April 8-23: The Student Movement Begins 19
Chapter 2 April 24-30: The April 26 Editorial 56
Chapter 3 May 1-6: Signs of Compromise 100
Chapter 4 May 6-16: Hunger Strike 121
Chapter 5 May 16-19: The Fall of Zhao Ziyang 175
Chapter 6 May 19-22: Martial Law 223
Chapter 7 May 23-25: The Conflict Intensifies 277
Chapter 8 May 26-28: The Elders Choose Jiang Zemin 297
Chapter 9 May 29-June 3: Preparing to Clear the Square 318
Chapter 10 June Fourth 365
Epilogue: June 1989 and After: Renewed Struggle over China's Future 419
Afterword: Reflections on Authentication 459
Abbreviations 475
Who Was Who: One Hundred Brief Biographies 477
Index 491
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