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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

"One of the Most Extraordinary Letters In Chinese Modern History"


Tiananmen Square MassacreEarlier this year a Dr. Jiang Yanyong sent a letter to the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party calling on them to reassess the CCP's culpability over the 1989 July 4, Tiananmen Square Massacre

Dr Jiang is a well respected former Military Surgeon who came to prominence during the SARS epidemic in 2003 by coming out publicly and detailing just how serious the SARS problem was. In doing so he forced the government, that was in a state of in public denial, to come clean on the true extent of the epidemic.

At the time of the Tiananmen massacre Dr Jiang was a military surgeon serving in a hospital in Beijing that treated many of the casualties of the attack. His witnessing of the dead and wounded has apparently haunted him ever since.

His letter was widely applauded with the general consensus that here was an extremely brave man, one who dared so publicly, to call the present CCP leadership to task over probably the most sensitive incident in Chinese Communist Party history. And so he is.

So great was the public response to the leaked letter that it has been claimed that Internet discussion rooms and blog servers were closed down or heavily censored to stifle debate on the issue. Also, that the treatment of known dissidents, who normally come out to protest at National People's Congress time, was far more severe than has been the case in recent years.

This is by way of background to the main theme of this post.

Today I happened upon a post at China Digital News entitled "The 'Best' Period for Human Rights"". It was an article/letter translated from the Chinese and submitted by someone other than the author. The article carried no introduction and no biographical notes as to the background of who wrote it.

For someone not right up with recent Chinese history they could be forgiven for thinking that it was written by an man who, for whatever reason, was caught up in the Tiananmen Massacre in some way and served a jail term as a result. Now, apparently old and obviously frustrated, he has been prompted to right a fairly reasoned missive, though one laced with cynicism and a degree of pathos, questioning why the present leadership's is attempting to claim that now, 2004, is the best period for Human Rights in China’s history?

In the letter the author speaks of having his freedom of movement limited and having his phone and Internet disconnected during the recent National People’s Congress, nothing more or less than that which happened to a lot of known “dissidents” at the same time.

However like Dr Jiang whom I spoke of at the beginning of the post, this author also had written a previous letter of some consequence.


One of the Most Extraordinary Letters In Chinese Modern History

In March 1999 this very same author had written another letter that at the time was hailed as "one of the most extraordinary letters in modern Chinese history". (www.democracy.org.hk. March 27 1999)

Like Dr Jiang, the author in a letter to the Politburo of the CCP, called upon them to admit that the Party had made one of the most significant mistakes in it's history over the handling of Tiananmen and one that, no matter how long the passage of time, would haunt it and the people of China to the core.

The author wrote this letter to the Politburo and it's members not as a stranger but as one who personally knew each and every one of them and,who, in 1989, was the second highest Chinese government official to fall as a result of opposing the party's decision to forcibly break up the students in Tiananmen.

Bao TongThe author of these two letters is Bao Tong who in 1989 was an aid to Zhao Ziyang and prior to that in the mid 80's was the Deputy Director of the Chinese State Commission for Economic Reform for the CCP Central Committee. An original revolutionary and associate of Mao Zedong there was only one person higher than him to fall and that was his boss Zhao Ziyang.

As a result of his support of Zhao, Bao was arrested and was held for two years in jail before being formally charged and another five before his release in 1996. Following that he still was to endure a further 11 months under house arrest.

Since then he claims in his latest letter that he has been watched 24 hours a day by a rotating team of about 20 state security personnel who, to give him credit, he does not disparage for doing the job they were directed to.

He claims also that every year around the time of the annual National Peoples Congress his phone and Internet connection is cut off only to be restored at the end of the Congress. This year however, and rather ominously, the connection has not been restored and it is this that, at first impressions, seems to have prompted him to pen this letter in frustration.

In the now famous March 1999 letter to the politburo he, like Dr Jiang, called upon the then leaders to take the step of openly coming to terms with the CCP’s guilt over Tiananmen and admitting that the 1989 leadership had made a terrible mistake.

In the letter he likened the Tiananmen Square students to other young and impassioned men who were not without their mistakes in the 1940’s many of whom were sitting the Politburo in 1989.

He said also that at all times the students in Tiananmen were “orderly, their demonstrations constituted neither riot or rebellion” and inferred that they were no threat to national security as claimed after the massacre.

He spoke of how Mao Zedong had the courage to openly admit that the Cultural Revolution was the nadir of the CCP’s post 1949 history but that the admittance of the mistake was it's highest point. He stated that Tiananmen now had became the Party’s nadir, but, like Mao, the leadership of 1999 could make amends and raise the esteem of the CCP in the eyes of an unforgiving Chinese people by admiiting errors of judgement

History tells us that his plea to the Politburo went unheeded. Despite what has to be considered an incredibly heroic stance and one fraught with immense danger, Bao was not punished though he was warned that unless he kept his own counsel he would be charged with treason.

One can not help thinking that this current letter, given it’s timing in the lead up to the 15th anniversary of the massacre, is something a little more than just an old man venting his frustration over the loss of his phone and Internet connection.

May you live in Interesting Times...

There is a confluence of occurrences here that do not bode well for the Chinese Communist Party.

Firstly and obviously this is an important anniversary year being the 15th since 1989. Secondly we have the Dr Jiang letter that caused so much commotion and to a degree set an agenda. Then we have the Tiananmen Mothers obviously planning something that has the central government worried enough to have a couple of them arrested as a warning.

Now this article/letter, (which I might add at time of writing I have not seen any verification as to it’s authenticity) , from a former highly ranked party official, now old but still persecuted for his ideals and courage. A man who has suffered so greatly for his beliefs.

Lastly, on top of all this, we have another man who many call the "Hero of Tiananmen" , Zhao Ziyang, the penultimate casualty of the Student protest, old, frail and likely enough near death in this very important anniversary year.

If I were sitting in the Politburo now I might be thinking that perhaps someone has wished upon the CCP a variation of that wonderful old Chinese curse:

“May they live in interesting times.”


Must Read Articles

For the latest leter from Bao go to China Digital News


For further reading go to a copy of Bao’s original 1999 letter to the politburo

Recommended Reading

As well for a good analysis on the tenth anniversary of the massacre CNN had a special in 1999 that includes some interactive photos Why June 4 will be taboo in China for a long time.