Secret Papers: Deng Feared Arrest

During 1989 Protests, Leader Feared House Arrest

Deng Xiaoping believed the situation was so serious during the Tiananmen Square student uprising that it could have led to his own house arrest.

Deng's thoughts and those of other Chinese leaders debating the 1989 use of force against student protesters appear in secret documents that confirm a power struggle between China's hardliners and reformers that persists today.

The documents were smuggled into the U.S. by a civil servant in the Chinese government who speaks to Mike Wallace for a 60 Minutes report.

The civil servant says he is a loyal member of the Communist Party and requests anonymity because he wants to return to China. He hopes the documents spur debate on reform by embarrassing hardliners who favored the violent crackdown on the students in 1989.

"I saw corpses. I saw a depressed mood," says the official, who is disguised on camera. "I saw a split in the top leadership. There's been no way to raise the question - and I want, through this publication, to try to open up this question in China," he tells Wallace. The official is publishing the documents - mostly transcripts from meticulous notes taken at high government meetings during the crisis - in a book called The Tiananmen Papers, under the pseudonym Zhang Liang.

China experts who have read the documents believe them to be authentic and proof of what they long have speculated: Hardliners like Li Peng, currently number two in the Chinese government, and retired general Wang Zhen urged Deng to suppress the students, while others, such as former Communist Party Chairman Zhao Ziyang - now under house arrest - pushed for a more democratic solution. And those two factions still must be battling today if such sensitive documents were leaked, says Professor Andrew Nathan of Columbia University.

"This is the sign of an intense power struggle - much more intense than the outside world appreciates," says Nathan. "Somebody very high in the Chinese government wants documents to come out that are the crown-jewel secrets of the Chinese political system," he tells Wallace.

The experts say the documents' release is a strategic move by reform-minded officials trying to influence the choosing of the next Chinese president;

President Jiang Zemin has said he will step down next year. But, says former U.S. Ambassador to Beijing James Lilley, the hardliners, namely Li, have their own strategy. "Li Peng knows this is coming," says Lilly, "and he is arming himself against it with documents - docudramas that defend his position that he saved China," he tells Wallace.

The documents show that people in Deng's inner circle, including Li, convinced him that the students should get no sympathy and their protests could topple the government, leading him to warn top leaders.

"Anarchy gets worse every day. If this continues, we could even end up under house arrest," the documents quote Deng as saying. Thealso quote Zhang arguing the other side: "We need to accelerate the reform of our political system, make it more democratic. If the Communist Party doesn't hold up the banner of reform, someone else will and the Party will lose out."

Professor Nathan sees the documents as a crucial revival of the issues and ideas of Tiananmen that could determine the future of China.

"Do we go back to what Zhao Ziyang advocated and which he failed to carry out in 1989? Do we get back onto the track of evolution? That's the really big struggle over the future of China," he tells Wallace. "That is what these papers are about."


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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