The Tiananmen Papers: the Chinese leadership’s decision to use force against their own people – in their own words
Edited by Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link
Ch.2: April 24-30: The April 26 Editoral
The student demonstration in Beijing on April 27 was the largest since the protests began, and it was echoed in other cities around the country. It put Li Peng in an awkward position. he had expected the April 26 editorial to pacify the students, but obviously it had only added fuel to the fire… After talking with Yang Shangkun and others, Li Peng decided to hold an enlarged meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo on the afternoon of April 28 to revisit the question of how to put down the student movement. There were no differences on fundamental principle at the meeting, but the speakers revealed different opinions on how to deal with the student movement. Without contradicting one another directly, some members stressed the good intentions of the students and their popular support, others their links with dissidents and hostile foreign forces…the meeting concluded that dialogue with the students should be pursued. It was decided that the official All-china Students’ Federation and Beijing Municipal Students’ Federation would arrange for a roundtable dialogue between representatives of Beijing Students and State Council Spokesman Yuan Mu; He Dongchang, vice minister of the SEC; Yuan Liben general secretary of the Municiapl Committee, among others, on the Afternoon of April 29…At the same time, officials in all departments of the Stat council as well as Party and government leaders at the province level were to begin multilevel, multichannel with students.
April 29 – Jiang Zemin rectifies the World Economic Herald
Jiang zemin’s purge of the Shanghai newspaper World Economic Herald was a seminal event in the 1989 democracy movement. It led to extensive protests by journalists across China and strengthened Zhao ziyang’s determination to pursue press reform. On the other hand, it also became political capital for Jiang Zemin, whose credit in the eyes of Deng Xiaoping and the older Elders for quashing the Herald was a factor propelling him into position as the new general secretary of the Party.
Excerpts from Shanghai Municipal Party Committee, “Report on the situation in rectifying the World Economic Herald," report to the CCP Central Committee, April 29
On April 20 the Propaganda Dept of the Shanghai Party Committee learned from the April 17 issue of the Hong Kong newspaper Overseas Chinese Daily that the World Economic Herald (henceforth Herald) was planning to establish a column to memorialize Comrade Hu Yaobang. On the afternoon of April 21 Zeng Qinghong, deputy secretary of the Shanghai Party Committee, and Chen Zhili, director of the Propaganda Dept, met with Qin Benli, editor-in-chief of the Herald in order to understand recent events of thought and how they related to the Herald. Comrade Qin Benli said that the Herald did indeed intend to devote several pages in a coming issue to memorial symposium that the Herald and the magazine New Observations had convened in Beijing on April 19. Comrade Zeng and Chen asked to see the proofs as soon as possible…[they] received the proofs at 4:30 P.M., April 22, and after reading the proofs they had their office called Qin to arrange a meeting.
At 8:30 that evening, Zeng and other comrades met with Qin to discuss issue 439 of the Herald. They patiently pointed out that in the long Herald article, which ran to about 20,000 Chinese characters, some sensitive parts seemed unfit for publication. At the time, students were still on the streets and holding meetings, and extremist individuals were shouting improper, even reactionary, slogans. Teachers and officials at universities had been working hard, day and night, to keep the students in check and to ensure that mourning activities for Comrade Yaobang moved ahead properly. At such a time, one must consider the social effects of propaganda work.Therefore they suggested the deletion of remarks by Yan Jiaqi, Dai Qing, and others blaming comrade Deng Xiaoping, urging that comrade Hu Yaobang’s ‘mistakes’ be reconsidered, and demanding that the verdicton bourgeois liberalization be “reversed"…Comrade Qin replied, “I’ll take full responsibility if anything goes wrong…"Comrade Zeng Qinghong said, “this isn’t about who takes responsibility; it’s about the overall effects on society…"
On the afternoon of April 23 the Party Committee again demanded that the Herald redo its editing…But that very evening comrade Qin held an editorial meeting at his home at which he said, “I don’t think we ever did anything wrong. Those deleted parts are what we wanted to say."
On the twenty-sixth the Party Committee convened a meeting of its secretariat at 1 A.M. and a meeting of the Party Standing Committee at 10 A.M. to discuss the Herald problem. These meetings reaffirmed that the uncorrected version of issue 439 could not be distributed. Since comrade Qin Benli was in serious violation of discipline, he would be dismissed as editor-in-chief and as a member of the Party group in Shanghai, and the Herald would be “rectified".
The Shanghai student movement had not been very active before the Herald incident. Jiang Zemin knew, though, that rectifying the Herald would elicit a strong reaction from students as well as journalists. Moving quickly, he met on April 27 with the heads of all institutions of higher learning in Shanghai to study and analyze recent trends on the campuses. Speaking for the Party Committee, Jiang presented educators with six demands, the last one of which was:
“Be prepared for a long struggle – Each campus should have two working groups: one to focus on the daily work of education and the other to deal with unforseen incidents and to concentrate on keeping things stable."
As Jiang was spelling the countermeasures, a storm of protest over the Shanghai Party Committee rectification of the Herald was brewing in the news media in Shanghai. Eventually it spread to the whole country.