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
Yuan Mu’s dialogue
Li Peng assigned Yuan Mu and He Dongchang to conduct a dialogue with the students…[Li] instructed them to make a strong defense of the April 26 editorial to protect the prestige of the Party and the state.
At 2.30 P.M. Yuan, He, and two other government representatives received 45 students. Yuan took a hard line through out. There was no serious problem of corruption inside the Party, he said, and Party leaders were reducing expenditures by cancelling the annual Beidaihe meeting at the beach and banning the import of expensive cars. He also denied the existence of a censorship system even though the editor-in-chief of the World Economic Herald had just been fired. Demonstrators in Beijing, Yuan claimed, were manipulated by persons behind the scenes who presented a serious threat. He and his colleagues evaded many of the students’ questions by changing the subject.
The tape of the Yuan Mu dialogue, broadcast on CCTV on the evening of April 29, was not well received. Students took to the streets in protest or demonstrated on their campuses in 23 cities, including Shanghai, Tianjin, Wuhan, Lanzhou, Changchun, Shenyang, Hangzhou, Changsha, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Xi’an.
The State Security Ministry reported that two-thirds of the students on five major Beijing campuses were upset by the dialogue. They complained that the participating students were primarily from the official student groups rather than real representatives of student interests, that the dialogue was not equal, and that Yuan Mu and his colleagues avoided some substantive issues. At a press conference Wang Dan and Wuerkaixi announced on behalf of the Autonomous Federation of Students in the Capital that they rejected the dialogue as phony.
On APril 30 the State Security Ministry filed a report with Zhongnanhai summarizing three main themes in foreign reporting on the events of late April:
- The student movement had become the int’l issue of greatest concern to the Western media. From 16 to 30 April the New York Times carried 18 articles or editorials on China; the Washing post, 16; the Baltimore Sun, 13. The three major TV networks in the U.S.A. each gave the April 27 demonstration two minutes of air time. The press in other Western countries behaved similarly. The slant of the coverage was pro-student, and the media noted the Party’s “loss of control." Images of smiling policemen, students climbing on military vehicles to explain democracy to the soldiers, and citizens donating cash to the demonstrators created a favorable impression. The foreign press portrayed the government’s acceptance of dialogue as a student victory.
- The Western media exaggerated the significance of the movement, treating it as a result of deep popular dissatisfaction with the government.
- Westerners urged the government to avoid repression, to accept the students’ criticisms, and to undertake democratic reforms. ABC television called the Chinese government a paper tiger. The negative Western press response to the APril 26 editorial helped mobilize Chinese students abroad to go to Chinese embassies to protest the editorial. A Washington Post editorial expressed hope for the collapse of communism in China.