Anything for Power: The Real Story of China’s Jiang Zemin—Chapter 5

Anything for Power: The Real Story of China’s Jiang Zemin—Chapter 5
(Luis Novaes/Epoch Times)

Jiang Zemin’s days are numbered. It is only a question of when, not if, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party will be arrested. Jiang officially ran the Chinese regime for more than a decade, and for another decade he was the puppet master behind the scenes who often controlled events. During those decades Jiang did incalculable damage to China. At this moment when Jiang’s era is about to end, Epoch Times here republishes in serial form “Anything for Power: The Real Story of Jiang Zemin,” first published in English in 2011. The reader can come to understand better the career of this pivotal figure in today’s China.

The full series is available here

Chapter 5: Shutting Down the Herald Prior to the Tiananmen Massacre, Jiang Stumbles Upon the Fast Track to Beijing (1989–1990)

Out of everyone, Jiang Zemin was the one who benefited the most from the Tiananmen Massacre. Yet, opinions vary as to how Jiang, who was about to retire as Party Secretary of Shanghai City, became the CCP’s “core,” controlling the three powers—the Party, the government, and the army. Answers to this puzzle can be found in Robert Kuhn’s fawning biography of Jiang, The Man Who Changed China. The “biography” is, of course, more political fiction than anything, given that all of Kuhn’s interviewees were carefully selected. Fortunately, for Chinese people who have lived under tyranny for so many years, distinguishing fact from fantasy is not that hard. One could say that it is an ability born of life amidst China’s “Communist Party culture,” and thus a trait unique to that setting.

1. The Fuse—Hu Yaobang’s Death

When Jiang Zemin shut down the liberal Shanghai-based newspaper World Economic Herald, he was laying, knowingly or not, the groundwork for gaining the highest authority possible within the Chinese Communist Party. It was thus that Kuhn wrote heavily about the Herald event.

Early in 1989, the economic reforms pushed forward by Deng Xiaoping breathed new life into China, but created, at the same time, some disturbing phenomena. Although the national economy had continually grown and ever more products had appeared on the market, the central government’s tax revenue from China’s provinces had reduced by a third. The inflation rate began approaching 20 percent. The rising prices and attendant fear-born purchases became a part of urban life. More and more of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) suffered losses and bankruptcy, leaving thousands of SOE workers jobless. Conflicts between the vested interests of the new economic system and those of the old grew more pronounced. Everyone was aware of the fact that some businessmen were getting rich while many an SOE worker and technician had lost his worker benefits and pensions. The number of jobless became huge—so huge that one could say a new class came about. The income gap between rich and poor was widening rapidly.

During that time period, what people hated most was official profiteering. Around 1985 China began adopting a “dual pricing system” for the purchase prices of farming products, wholesale prices of major industrial products, and goods that were in short supply. That is, products that were within the state’s plan were purchased at state-stipulated prices, while products that went beyond the state’s plan were purchased at market prices that were much higher than state prices. The goal was to solve the problem of enormous excess demand for material products and to ensure that mandatory state plans would be carried out at low cost. Yet “official profiteers,” as they became known, who possessed “official documents” bought goods that were in short supply—such as steel—at state prices and then sold them at market prices. Market prices could be as much as several times higher than state prices.

With increasing frequency CCP government officials were using their positions and power to line their own pockets and enhance their prestige. And this was done, no less, without involvement in doing actual business. Rather, they gave profitable business projects and recommendations in areas that required quotas to their relatives and friends. Many of the Beijing representative offices and first-class hotels, for example, have a unique group of individuals. These individuals, who have millions of yuan in hand, fix their eyes on Beijing officials from various ministries. Their goal is to spend money on them in exchange for import permits and various quotas. Once they obtain such documents, they use them to make tens of millions of yuan or even hundreds of millions. The CCP’s one-dimensional reform thus created a rather deformed system, one which fostered an excellent environment for government officials to collude with businessmen. These dirty officials, being all about profit, would do anything imaginable at the expense of the public, for in the end the margins would be born by the people all the same. In 1988, a stunning 356.9 billion yuan were generated by the price difference created by the dual-pricing system, which accounted for 30 percent of the GDP that year. Abusing their positions and power, children and relatives of the ruling elite grew rich overnight by selling their official documents.

The term “official profiteering” itself reflects the CCP’s corruption. The people’s wish for comprehensive reform, like a hidden undercurrent, was rippling through society. At any moment a spark could have set off a series of explosions.

On April 15, 1989, Hu Yaobang, an open-minded reformer who had been virtually ousted from the post of General Secretary of the CCP, suffered a sudden heart-attack at a meeting of the Party’s politburo. One week later Hu passed away. His death filled the people’s hearts with sorrow and loss. Many harbored deep resentment even, feeling that the prospects of democratic reform would now be severely impacted.

On that very night in April, students at Peking University began making wreaths on campus in commemoration of his death; large lettered posters could be seen everywhere, including on walls and trees. Between April 15–17, commemorative poetry appearing on large lettered posters bespeckled the campuses of Peking University, Qinghua University, the People’s University, Beijing Normal University, China University of Political Science and Law, and many other schools, each wishing to mark Hu’s passing. On Monday, April 17, several thousand students left their campuses and walked to Tiananmen Square. They laid down wreaths at the foot of the People’s Memorial Monument, held banners reading “In Memory of Hu Yaobang,” and shouted slogans such as, “Eliminate Corruption,” “Rule the Country by Law,” and “Down with Bureaucracy!” Meanwhile, students around the country echoed their actions with large-scale demonstrations, assemblies, and petitioning activities. Within days the student movement grew still broader, calling for a dialogue between leaders of the country and the students. The goal was now to promote political reform and have the country foster democracy and rule of law.

On the evening of April 25, China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast several times on its National TV News Program an editorial from the People’s Daily, titled “We Must Unequivocally Oppose the Turmoil.” The editorial condemned the students’ actions and stated they had “disturbed social order.” They also alleged that the nature of the students’ actions was “illegal” and called for an end to the commotion. The next day the actual editorial was published in the People’s Daily.

The editorial declared that, “This is a plot,” “Its purpose is to demoralize the people and disrupt the entire country,” and that “Its ultimate goal is to fundamentally negate the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, to negate the entire socialist system,” among other outlandish claims.

The April 26 editorial depicted the student movement as one of “turmoil,” a designation the students found terribly irksome. As May 4—a date which usually memorialized the historic student protests (of 1919) that galvanized Chinese patriotism shortly after the Treaty of Versailles—approached, the student movement once again expanded. Several days earlier there had been a march led by several older professors. They held a white banner with words from a well-known author saying, “Having Kneeled Down for So Long, Get up and Walk Around.” Many of the seniors began to reflect on the last few decades, times full of tumult. It had been a time when Chinese intellectuals were indeed down on their knees, kneeling before the Party, forced to sing its praises. They had no chance to stand up and project an independent voice of conscience. It was in fact the senior professors who were at the front of the march. As something like this had never happened during the CCP’s entire reign, it was perceived as ominous.

On May 13, the students went on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square to call for a dialogue on equal grounds between the government and the students. Their hope was that the government would take concrete measures to solve the country’s problems. Meanwhile thousands of Beijing civilians, government officials, and journalists poured into the streets to support the students.

Parallel to the April 26 People’s Daily editorial was a “cleansing” campaign against the World Economic Herald, led by Jiang Zemin. The action added fuel to the fire. Jiang, as Party Secretary of Shanghai, pushed many of the Party elders to use force and bloodshed to achieve “stability.”

2. The Herald Event

The CCP regime lacks any legitimacy, and as such is perpetually worried over how to maintain power. The behavior, thoughts, and actions of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang—who were seen as “unsatisfactory” by the Central Committee of the Party—only exacerbated those worries. It became critical for the CCP to find a qualified general secretary for the Party. Jiang Zemin’s handling of the entire Herald closing won the confidence of senior CCP members, and soon they believed he should be Hu’s successor.

At the beginning of the 1989 student movement, participation was limited to students and a few professors. The turning point that morphed a small student movement into a broader national one was Jiang’s campaign to “clean up,” as he saw it, the World Economic Herald in Shanghai.

As many may know, Hu Yaobang’s death triggered the Herald event. The founder and chief editor of the World Economic Herald was Qin Benli, an intellectual in his seventies who news editors held in the highest regard. His publication promoted democratic ideas and won the trust of over 300,000 highly-educated readers. It even had significant weight in setting the tone of national-level discussions.

On the fourth day after Hu Yaobang passed away (April 19), the editors of the Herald held a forum. Qin thought the forum should hit upon pertinent social and political issues, rather than just go through the usual motions of memorializing the late leader. Qin’s suggestion was agreed upon by all participants. At the forum another figure, Dai Qing, talked about the CCP’s 70-year history and the fate of its past general secretaries. She argued that not one Party general secretary had met with a good ending; all had been replaced through a non-procedural “power transition.”

On April 20, the Shanghai Municipal Propaganda Department was informed that the Herald would run a special column mourning Comrade Hu Yaobang. Chen Zhili, who was Head of the Propaganda Department (now Minister of Education), immediately reported this to Jiang Zemin. (This angered Jiang and other officials because Hu Yaobang had fallen out of favor with the Party.) On the afternoon of April 21, Jiang sent Zeng Qinghong, Municipal Deputy Party Secretary, along with Chen Zhili to speak with Qin Benli, the editor-in-chief. Qin Benli informed them that the Herald would indeed publish in its next issue several pages on the April 19 forum that took place in Beijing; the forum had been jointly held by the Herald and the New Observation Press in commemoration of Comrade Hu Yaobang. Zeng and Chen asked Qin to promptly send them a proof version of the forthcoming Herald issue so that they could examine it before publication. At 8:30 the next evening during a discussion about the proof version of issue 439 of the Herald, Zeng demanded that Qin cut the column by some 500 words. The contents to be discarded were mainly speeches by Yan Jiaqi and Dai Qing.

Qin Benli held his ground, however, stressing that the government had approved implementation of a system that gave a chief editor final say as to the content of his newspaper. He went on to say, “If anything goes wrong, I will take responsibility for it. In any case, Comrade Jiang Zemin hasn’t read the proof version yet, and neither the municipality nor the Propaganda Department should bear responsibility for any consequences stemming from its publication. ”

Zeng Qinghong angrily replied, “Now, the issue isn’t who is going to be responsible for it, but how it will impact society as a whole.” Qin insisted that the decision be left to him, and in the end didn’t agree to cut anything. Unable to persuade Qin, Zeng reported back to Jiang Zemin what had taken place.

Jiang hadn’t imagined that Qin Benli would be so stubborn, nor that even Zeng Qinghong would fail to persuade him. So he told Wang Daohan, the chairman of the Herald, about the matter. With Wang now behind him, Jiang demanded of Qin, in severe terms, that he make changes to the final version. Wang further employed Party logic to persuade Qin. Jiang and Wang went beyond pressuring Qin for revisions to, by way of sugarcoated words, attempting to sway him into removing the final version altogether. By that point, however, over 100,000 copies of the newspaper had already been printed, with 400 having been delivered to private retailers. The same volume of papers had been sent directly to Beijing. Though 20,000 copies were thereafter pulled from circulation, the impact had already been made. The article had been printed in full.

On the morning of April 22, the funeral for Hu Yaobang was held in the Great Hall of the People. President Yang Shangkun hosted the funeral, which was attended by top officials. While Jiang Zemin, who was in Shanghai, was opposed to the funeral, he nevertheless sent a wreath to Beijing as a sign of “mourning.”

The evening after the People’s Daily published its editorial, “We Must Unequivocally Oppose the Turmoil,” Jiang hosted an emergency meeting of the municipal Party secretaries that lasted until 1 a.m. He urged that quick and drastic measures be taken. Earlier that day, at a large meeting attended by 14,000 CCP members Jiang had announced the dismissal of Qin Benli from his position and the restructuring of the World Economic Herald.

On April 27, Jiang sent Liu Ji and Chen Zhili, the leaders of the Shanghai City Restructuring Leadership Group, to take charge of the Herald. Chen, every bit as relentless as Jiang, followed Jiang’s every order. Chen fired all Herald employees and barred all of its editors from further media work of any type.

Chen, a loyal associate of Jiang, went to visit Qin during Qin’s last days of life. At the time Qin had been suffering from cancer and was bedridden. Chen initially came across as kind and agreeable. While people initially thought that she must have had at least a trace or two of human feeling, to their surprise, what did Chen do but proceed to read aloud to the dying Qin a CCP disciplinary note against him. Her goal couldn’t have been clearer: she wanted Qin to not only pass away but to do so without any peace.

The reform-minded efforts of the Herald editors ultimately won the support and admiration of many people both in China and beyond. Yet in Kuhn’s biography of Jiang the Herald incident was completely reworked and repackaged in keeping with Jiang’s agenda. Qin and the other editors are described by Kuhn as “duplicitous,” [1] as “finally dispensing with pretense,” [2] as having made “an argument that challenged logic” [3] and having perpetrated an “explicit act of defiance” [4] against Jiang. In Kuhn’s version of the story Jiang, in the most unlikely of spins, is portrayed as the victim, his group having been somehow “deceived.” [5]

3. Composing a Prelude to the Massacre

The strong-arm handling of the Herald incident by Jiang Zemin and his cohorts triggered media protests that shook Shanghai and quickly spread throughout the entire nation, breeding, almost overnight, a firestorm. The next day large-scale demonstrations took place in the streets of Shanghai. The banners used read, “Return Our Herald,” and called for restoration of Qin Benli’s position and freedom of speech. Famous members of the Shanghai Writers’ Association participated in the demonstrations. Notable members of Beijing’s intellectual elite and news media called on Jiang to retract his decisions against Qin and the Herald.

The students sitting in front of the Shanghai government building, meanwhile, proceeded to shout slogans. Bystanders seemed sympathetic, as suggested by one observer’s remark that, “I agree with their slogans. The biggest mistake now would be to not move toward democracy.” Others said, “We should value the student outpouring of patriotism” and that “This is not so-called ‘turmoil’!” An estimated 8,000 students gathered at the Bund [6] that night. It was the largest student demonstration in Shanghai since the democracy movement had begun. The students didn’t disperse from the city government building until 10:05 that evening.

Jiang grew frightened. As Kuhn tells it, Jiang claims, “We tried to estimate the probable fallout over the rectification [sic] of the World Economic Herald,” though the former ruler admits, “it turned out to be worse than our estimate.” [7] Kuhn also writes of Jiang that “his actions had triggered the ‘big demonstration in Shanghai'” [8] Such terms, however, grossly understate not only the intensity and nature of the reaction, but its scope as well—mass demonstrations took place in Beijing too.

In Beijing two reporters submitted a petition with the signatures of 1,013 Beijing reporters to the Pan-China Journalists Association, requesting a dialogue between government officials in charge of the media and reporters. When Li Datong, Director of the Division of Education and Science at the China Youth Daily, submitted the petition he told the Chinese and foreign media that the petitioners were from over 30 news media, of which were included the People’s Daily, the Xinhua News Agency, Economic DailyChina Youth DailyBeijing Daily, and Beijing Evening News. The petition quoted a May 4 speech by Zhao Ziyang so as to argue that it was necessary for government officials overseeing the media to meet with media reporters regarding an unusual event occurring in the press. The petition listed three topics for dialogue, the first of which was the controversial dismissal of Qin Benli as editor-in-chief of the Herald. Qin was, in that role, in principle responsible for the content of the newspaper, but what unfolded proved otherwise. The discrepancy was of primary concern to those calling for media reform.

On the evening of April 27, Jiang Zemin, in a state of panic, called Li Rui, who was former Executive Vice Minister of the CCP Central Organization Ministry and a member of the CCP Central Advisory Commission. The call lasted for more than 40 minutes. Jiang begged Li to speak to Li’s connections in Beijing on Jiang’s behalf, and inquire about the state of things in Beijing. Jiang told Li that he could “hardly bear it.”

Zhao Ziyang, then General Secretary of the CCP, returned from North Korea on April 30. That evening Jiang along with Zeng Qinghong flew to Beijing to report to Zhao. Zhao met with them immediately. After the briefing, Jiang asked Zhao, “What do you think of the way I handled the Herald incident?” Zhao deferred for the moment and instead asked Jiang, “What do you think?”

Jiang was ambiguous. He knew the chasm between himself and Zhao had by then grown wide. Zhao glanced at Jiang and said, “We don’t have time to talk about this issue right now.” Jiang then pleaded, “If Comrade Ziyang doesn’t give an opinion, Qinghong and I won’t be able to do our jobs well or know what to tell others in Shanghai.”

Zhao was forced to speak his mind. “The City Council of Shanghai handled the World Economic Herald issue too hastily,” Zhao said. “A small problem was made big, forcing the city government down a dead end path.” He then turned and left. Those who were present say that Jiang was stunned. He stared at Zhao’s back, dazed. For nearly 10 minutes he was speechless.

Zhao was apparently quite dissatisfied with Jiang’s handling of the issue and the massive protests it spawned. His sharp words scared Jiang deeply. Jiang’s closest associate, Chen Zhili, told Jiang, “If the central government asks who is responsible, I will say it was all me. You won’t be implicated.” Although that gave Jiang some sense of ease, he still called around to his connections, hoping to know what the Party elders thought. He found that opinions in the central government were split and that what Zhao said didn’t represent the entire central government.

On May 13, 600 students, mostly from universities in Beijing, began a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. Other students and citizens came to Tiananmen to support them. Reporters from other countries began to focus their lenses and attention there. Journalists accused the Shanghai Party Secretary, Jiang Zemin, of dealing the democratic movement a major blow. Meanwhile some 4,000 students in Shanghai gathered in front of the Municipal Party Committee building to support the students on hunger strike in Beijing. The students urged the Municipal Party Secretary, Jiang, to state his position. Jiang was now aware of the situation in the central government, and because of that refused to show himself. The students, in turn, were enraged. To calm the situation Jiang went to a hospital to visit one of the student demonstrators and said a few nice words. Kuhn reveals, however, that, “At the same time, he sent a telegram to the Party Central Committee fully supporting its decision to impose martial law.” [9]

4. Party Elders Find a Reliable Successor

Tension within the CCP escalated during the Politburo meeting in mid-May. Some felt that Jiang didn’t handle the students’ legitimate requests well, and thus asked Jiang to talk directly to the students and to declare their movement patriotic and legal. Zhao Ziyang frankly offered that since the Herald incident “was started by the Shanghai City Council, it should also be ended by the Shanghai City Council.” Zhao’s open criticism of Jiang—who was by then favored by Chen Yun and Li Xiannian—angered a number of senior Party members.

In Beijing the hunger strikes continued. Students demanded that the government retract the April 26 editorial published by the People’s Daily and that the meeting between the central leadership and the students be broadcast live on television. To an autocratic government, however, the requests were out of the question.

To the CCP, more embarrassing still was the arrival of President Mikhail Gorbachev, visiting from the former Soviet Union. The hundreds of reporters who came to Beijing for the visit knew there was bigger news in town to capture. The spotlight was shone where the Beijing government least wanted it.

The Politburo meeting ended in conflict, no solution at hand. Lacking any real power at that point, Zhao Ziyang knew what he would face. Early in the morning on May 19, Zhao went to Tiananmen Square to meet with the students who were on hunger strike. He was in tears. He had not asked for approval from the Politburo to go, nor did he feel he needed to ask the Party elders. He represented only himself, doing something he wanted to do. At 10 p.m. that evening, Li Peng reiterated the central government’s position that “the disturbance must be sternly terminated.” Two hours later, around midnight, a loudspeaker in Tiananmen Square declared martial law.

On May 19, after Li Peng’s speech, Jiang quickly expressed firm support of the central government’s decision. The timely gesture was made before any other provincial or city leaders had responded, making for an effect similar to when Jiang delivered the cake to Li Xiannian. Jiang’s declaration, to be sure, gave Party elders the sense that they had found a reliable successor. Or as Kuhn documents it, “Senior Party officials state that at this time, on May 20, the decision was made to ‘nominate Jiang Zemin to become the new general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPC.'” [10]

5. Another Critical Step Before the Massacre

There was another critical step that took place before the massacre—a step which, if absent, might have made for a dramatically different situation in China. Although on May 20 the Party elders decided to nominate Jiang for the new General Secretary of the CCP, Jiang still had to take this step and clear several obstacles prior to the massacre before he could become General Secretary. Only then, once he was successful, would the Party elders finally entrust Jiang with the position of General Secretary of the CCP.

Deng Xiaoping secretly called Jiang to Beijing on May 21. Not knowing what to expect, Jiang anxiously went to meet with Deng in Xishan, a part of Beijing. To his surprise, Deng praised Jiang’s handling of the Herald, and said that Shanghai did a much better job than Beijing at receiving Gorbachev. Jiang was quite relieved. He felt content, now, with not having listened to Zhao Ziyang; the consequences would have been grave.

Deng observed the sudden change in Jiang’s expression, and told him that there was another critical task to be handled. Deng asked Jiang to detain Wan Li, Chairman of the People’s Congress, in Shanghai. Wan was on a state visit to Canada at the time and would return to China earlier than scheduled. Deng had changed Wan’s flight route in order for Wan to land in Shanghai rather than Beijing. Jiang’s task was to convince Wan to support the decision of the Party elders; failure to do so would mean that Wan couldn’t return to Beijing. Deng explained to Jiang that 57 standing members of the People’s Congress had requested a meeting to discuss the legality of Li Peng’s declaration of martial law in Beijing. Were Wan to return to Beijing to host the meeting, the situation could quickly take a turn for the worst and spiral out of control. Jiang, who had just a moment before felt relieved, again grew anxious. He knew it would not be an easy task. If anything went wrong his future would be ruined.

Deng Xiaoping seemed to know what was on Jiang’s mind, and said in a light tone that yesterday the inner circle had already decided to give Jiang the position of General Secretary. Some, Deng indicated, had merely expressed a wish to wait a little longer. This removed any hesitation on Jiang’s part and replaced it with elation. For this position, the acme of power in the CCP, Jiang would have even knifed Wan were he asked to.

On May 23, Jiang returned to Shanghai. When Wan’s plane landed at the Shanghai Airport on May 25 at 3 p.m., Jiang welcomed him with what was said to be “Deng’s personal letter to him [Wan].” Wan and Deng were friends who had played bridge together, and so it was that Deng beseeched Wan, writing, “Please give me a hand at this critical moment, for the sake of our decades of friendship.”

Wan did stay in Shanghai for six days, ultimately—days that were agonizing for Wan. Jiang had been instructed to keep Wan in Shanghai until he expressed support for Deng. On May 27, days later, Wan finally announced publicly that he agreed with the Central Committee’s order to enact martial law. Jiang’s coercive handling of Wan was akin to severing Zhao Ziyang’s right hand.

Jiang Zemin had cleared away the last obstacle in advance of the Tiananmen massacre.

On that same day, May 27, Deng organized a meeting with eight senior Central Committee members meant to decide upon the candidate for the position of General Secretary. Earlier on Deng had nominated Qiao Shi and Li Ruihuan, but Chen Yun had advocated strongly for Jiang Zemin. Li Xiannian and Bo Yibo played a pivotal role in Deng’s switching to Jiang Zemin. Li Xiannian had argued that, “Although he lacks experience in the Central Committee, Jiang Zemin has a political mind, is in the prime of his life, and can be trusted.”

Thus it was history’s designs, it would seem, that thrust Jiang to the apex of power. And it was Jiang who became the greatest beneficiary of the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4.

6. Climbing to the Apex of Power

In mid-May, Jiang was again ordered, knowing not what fate awaited him, to Beijing.

Shortly after Jiang arrived there, Chen Yun’s secretary came to notify Jiang, stating, “Comrade Chen Yun is waiting for you.” Chen and Jiang talked very openly. Chen spoke directly, saying, “[Deng] Xiaoping asked me to inform you that you will be coming to work in the Central Committee, replacing Comrade Zhao Ziyang.” Jiang said not a word, knowing that at the critical moment a single wrong word could cost him everything he had worked for. Before he had come to Beijing Jiang heard that a group of powerful senior Central Committee members had met twice at Deng Xiaoping’s home. He had also heard that it was Chen Yun who first proposed to have Jiang be Zhao’s successor. Chen had listened to Li Xiannian’s view that the Shanghai-based Jiang had a strong sense of Party discipline and stood his ground on martial law. But Jiang really couldn’t make out what Chen Yun’s own opinion of him was, and it was on this account that Jiang was all ears, but not his usual chatting self, at the meeting with Chen.

Jiang was much more relaxed when he met with Li Xiannian. After inquiring about the situation in Shanghai, Li Xiannian said, “You don’t need to see [Deng] Xiaoping right now, since the decision was made based on his wishes. He will surely ask to talk to you again.” Jiang knew then that his efforts to win over Li Xiannian hadn’t been in vain. He remembered then Zeng Qinghong’s suggestion to listen more and talk less. Jiang thus responded with only brief answers, preferring to give merely a slight bow, lowering his head in a gesture of acknowledgement.

Returning to his room, Jiang promptly made three phone calls. The first was to Zeng Qinghong, to whom he said, “It doesn’t look like I will be returning [to Shanghai].”

Zeng asked nervously, “Didn’t you plan on returning in a couple of days?”

To which Jiang responded, “I am going to be working here. You should come here right away… tomorrow.”

The second phone call was to the former Shanghai mayor Wang Daohan, to whom Jiang said, “I’d like to have your support in the future.”

The third call was made to his wife Wang Yeping, asking her to make preparations for a move to Beijing. His wife, however, uttered not a word.

Now that the final decision had been made, at eight o’clock in the evening Li Peng, Yao Yilin, and others waited at the Great Hall of the People for Jiang, wishing to treat him to dinner. Jiang felt like he was dreaming.

The appointed time at which the army was to enter Beijing had been delayed several times. It wasn’t until June 1 that a new plan was settled upon; the army was now to enter on the night of June 3. As the newly appointed General Secretary, Jiang from the time of late May begun reading and approving official documents.

The day that shocked the world, June 4, 1989, [11] finally came and passed. It has now been over 16 years since that fateful day, and Jiang still wishes the date could be fully erased from people’s minds. But every year around that date people still use pictures and speeches to commemorate those who died in the massacre on Tiananmen Square. This, more than anything, is what Jiang doesn’t want to see happen. When Jiang departed from his post as General Secretary and President of state in 2002, he left the Standing Committee of the Politburo with several rules. One, tellingly, was to never reverse the judgment passed by the Party on the nature of the Tiananmen Massacre. The reason for this, of course, is that Jiang was a key figure in the tragedy and the one who benefited most.

7. A Never-Ending Nightmare

After the Massacre the days grew long and challenging for Jiang. Life, to this day, has been filled with worry that someone might redress the victims or Zhao Ziyang. The scene of Zhao visiting the students on the Square, now well known, stands as evidence of Zhao’s reluctance to harm the students. Little is more annoying to Jiang, thus, than the replaying of such footage around the date of June 4; it is a most poignant reminder of Jiang’s shameful road to power. And it was on these grounds that Jiang, gripped by resentment and unable to forget Zhao’s criticism, began to have Zhao’s living quarters in Beijing monitored and controlled even more than before. So strict were the measures that even security staff were left baffled.

After the Massacre most every major media operation the world over carried the picture of a young man who blocked with his own body, unarmed, the path of a moving tank. The man’s name was Wang Weilin. International media praised, with sincere respect, the courage with which Wang peacefully protested; some called him the hero of the century. Wang’s very existence itself became a reminder of the Massacre. Jiang was terribly upset over the matter and issued a secret order to find the young man; at the time he had not yet been identified. Wang was captured and executed in secret at Jiang’s orders.

In 2000 Jiang was interviewed by Mike Wallace, the veteran CBS “60 Minutes” reporter in the United States. Wallace took out Wang Weilin’s picture and asked Jiang, “Do you admire this young man’s courage?” Jiang offered a surprising reply, “He absolutely was not arrested. I don’t know his whereabouts.” To the experienced reporter, it was telling that Jiang had answered an unasked question.

Another hero of the Tiananmen protests was Xu Qinxian, the army commander of battalion No.38. Xu Qinxian was respected by Chinese everywhere for his refusal to carry out orders to fire at the students. Yet Jiang, as Chairman of the Military Committee, ordered a secret “trial” of Xu and imprisoned him for five years.

At a press conference soon after the Massacre, a French reporter asked Jiang about a female graduate student who was arrested for participating in the demonstrations and later gang-raped in a Sichuan Province prison. Jiang’s reply couldn’t have been more alarming. He declared, “She deserved it!”

Important to Jiang is that memory of the Massacre be weakened, blurred, and distorted over time such that the event will not be redressed or the government’s power challenged. Jiang went about effecting this with utmost skill. In his youth Jiang had seen firsthand his biological father, Jiang Shijun, employ propaganda to disguise the Nanjing massacre; indeed, with time, collective memory of the massacre faded. This time around, Jiang Zemin had at his disposal far more sophisticated technologies from which to draw. He ordered the production of television programs that would play up so-called “acts of savagery” by the student demonstrators. Military vehicles were purposely incinerated to create shocking footage for the program. The idea was to convince China that the army had no alternative but to fire at the students. Before long, sure enough, many who had not themselves been present at the Massacre started to believe the lies. Many came to think that there had indeed been a rebellious “uprising” in Beijing.

Along with this, Jiang gave orders that persons from all walks of life who had participated in the demonstrations and supported the students, or who had resisted the suppression or abetted the civilians, all be exposed and punished, barring none. And so it is that discussion and memory of the Massacre have been, through a formula of lies and intimidation, basically snuffed out inside China. Many simple, historical facts related to the Tiananmen events are unknown to China’s people. And they will, it seems, continue to be, so long as nobody who participated in the events dares to revisit them. For example, Chinese people debate about whether the CCP’s tanks did in fact crush demonstrators on that fateful night, though to those outside of China who have access to free information, the answer is quite clear.

Gao Wenqian—the former Administrative Commissioner of the Party Literature Research Center of the CCP Central Committee, team leader of the Zhou Enlai Biography Research Team, and author of The Later Years of Zhou Enlai—has, however, answered that question in unequivocal terms. He has stated that:

The question of whether tanks ran over the demonstrators at Liubukou was the most controversial of questions taken up by government agencies. It was later proven that the tanks actually did. When I traveled outside of China, many people that were there [on Tiananmen] at the scene talked with me about it. At Xinhuamen and Liubukou tanks chased after students who had withdrawn from Tiananmen Square. Many people were crushed on the spot. Although the scene wasn’t as major, news of it still traveled quickly. I do know that a doctoral student who was in the Ministry of Propaganda witnessed it. His dormitory was close to Liubukou, he was one of the promising young leaders in training at the Ministry of Propaganda, and was well trusted. [12]

Gao has further explained that:

At the time, the account that tanks ran over people was made out to be big-time “slander.” If this were spread, the consequences would be… No matter what the explanation, it was wrong for the tanks to chase people and crush them. That’s why the Party needed to “clear up the rumor.” In my work unit the people in charge of investigations acted pretty tough. They kept asking, ‘Who did you hear it from? Who told you that?’ Eventually it was traced back to the doctoral student at the Ministry of Propaganda. They dragged him to the martial law military unit, where he was interrogated and tortured. ‘Did you see it yourself?’ they asked. He replied, ‘Yes, I did. I am a member of the Party, and I have to be honest with the Party. I will admit to what I actually saw. I did see it.’ Then they threatened him with a 1,000-volt electric baton, asking again, ‘Did you see it?’ The doctoral student insisted, and was shocked by the baton. He passed out right there. When he regained consciousness they asked him again, ‘Did you see it?’ His replay was still, ‘Yes, I saw it.’ He was again electrocuted and again passed out. This was repeated several times. At last, after several rounds, the student said, ‘No, I didn’t see it.’… I heard that his physical health was badly damaged from the torture. And he became mentally unstable. This wasn’t just a matter of electric shocks—it was a mental torture, too… The CCP claims that they speak the truth, and that honesty is important. It turns out that the CCP totally prohibits people from speaking the truth. It sometimes reminds me of a saying, ‘How can lies written with ink hide truth written with blood?’ [13]

The story of Fang Zheng is every bit as telling as it is chilling. Fang was a graduate student from Beijing University of Physical Education whose legs were run over by a tank and severed.

Sixteen years after the massacre, during an interview with The Epoch Times, Fang shared the following about the incident:

I didn’t have time to dodge [the tank], and was knocked to the ground. The tank then ran over my legs. Tank treads have many chains and wheel gears turning in them, and I felt my pants getting pulled into the tread gears by the chains, and there was tremendous force. I was slightly conscious, and could tell that my body was being dragged on the ground for a ways. Later the doctors at the hospital told me that my head, back, and shoulders had been bruised and lacerated. After the chains on the treads shredded my pants and macerated my legs, I fell to the ground and rolled to the side of the street near the sidewalk fence… I saw the scene later by coincidence when I was browsing the Internet using Dynamic Web. I saw what had happened to me that night. I think it’s available on websites hosted by some countries outside of China. You can see a person lying on the ground by the fence, his legs gone. That person is me. Both my legs were partially torn off. My right leg was severed at the upper thigh, the left leg at the knee. [14]

*   *   *

In the process of hiding the truth, shifting the blame, and purging those who spoke the truth, Jiang Zemin came to have decisive control over the government’s propaganda machinery and the use of violence. Later Jiang would employ similar tactics to persecute the practitioners of Falun Gong.

Much is the blood that stains Jiang’s hands. Try as he may to erase the past, every year there will be a June 4 to remind Jiang of his crimes.



[1] Robert Lawrence Kuhn, The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin (New York: Crown, 2004), 151.
[2] Kuhn, The Man Who Changed China, 152.
[3] Ibid., 152.
[4] Ibid., 152.
[5] Ibid., 153.
[6] A popular Shanghai tourist attraction.
[7] Kuhn, The Man Who Changed China, 156.
[8] Ibid., 156.
[9] Ibid., 161.
[10] Ibid., 162. “CPC” and “CCP” are interchangeable, though the Chinese government generally uses the former, while those outside use the latter.
[11] That is, the date of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which as many as three thousand student demonstrators were killed at the hands of the army by gunfire and tanks.
[12] Gao Wenqian, interview by Lin Dan, Inside China, June 7, 2004. A video recording of the interview and its transcription (in Chinese) are available online at:
[13] Ibid.
[14] Fang Zheng, interview by Feng Changle, Da Jiyuan, May 31, 2005. An audio recording of the interview and its transcription (in Chinese) are available online at:

From The Epoch Times

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