Selections From an Interview With Du Daozheng

Roundup: Talking About History

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  • On the making of Zhao Ziyang’s memoir:

    The English title is ‘Prisoner of the State.’ I wrote the preface for the Chinese version...The book was written based on the narration recorded by Zhao. It involved two parts, first was recording his remarks, the second was taking transcription from the tape. I was not familiar with the transcription part of it. [Later] his family members sought my advice. I agreed to publish the book, but I wished to publish the book after [the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations on] June 4th, to find a more suitable time to publish the book. His family members and I are on very good terms, but they didn’t take my advice. His family members believed that since Zhao has been dead for four years, and June 4th happened 20 years ago, to publish the book at this time is good for the party and good for the country, and with its historic and political value, would have a big impact. It is a very big, good thing to have this book published on China’s modern history. It is good of [Zhao’s former top aide] Bao Tong and his son to publish the book, to take the responsibility to the history, responsibility to our nation. It is a good thing.

    It took about eight or nine years from the very beginning to the end, and involved five people....Of the five of them, three of them died.

    ...There were several sets of the tapes, either 16 or 32 in all, there were different versions. The person who provided the tape recorder was my good friend. He told me that I have the best recorder and I have the best tapes. I’ll give both of them to you. Go back to Beijing....At the beginning I used my pen to take down Zhao’s narration.........but in the 1990-something he got the tape-recorder. We kept it very secret. Before June 4th all of us were minister-level officials, and are old aides to Zhao. So before June 4th we kept close contact, but after June 4th until 1992, all contact was cut off. Zhao moved out of Zhongnanhai in 1992 and we resumed the contact. From 1992 up to his death, I saw him around 40 times. Most of these 40 times I was working on this taping. We reached a consensus among the five of us, that June 4th was a historic event. It was a milestone, a turning point in Chinese history and party history. The slogan of June 4th was anti-corruption and calling for democracy and political reform. This was a patriotic democratic movement. Students rose up, and ordinary people rose up. Whatever the slogan was, it had profound meaning.

    On the years leading up to June 4th:

    Deng has his own position in China’s history but unfortunately he failed to carry out political reform with his big influence...In retrospect, in terms of political reform and construction, Hu [Yaobang] and Zhao were far ahead of Deng. History will prove that Deng was wrong. Hu and Zhao were right. Deng was wavering on political reform, he was not like Li Xiannian, who was always a hardliner against reform...

    [The protests that culminated in] June 4th were initiated by intellectuals calling for political reform and opposing the income gap and corruption to promote democratic movement. If the party was wise enough it should have made better use out of the civil rights momentum to promote democratic reform. People were extremely angry at corrupt officials. But the government at that time made a mistake to crack down with military force. June 4th should be considered as great a democratic mass movement as the May 4th Movement in China’s history. Our party should have followed the historic tide. But unfortunately the party at that time used military force to crack down. It went against the momentum of history.

    On listening to Zhao talk on tape about June 4th:

    Other old cadres and I, we had a lot of thoughts on June 4th. So we shed a lot of tears. We were crying our eyes out. It was really painful. We were old. Sometimes we wept for the whole night. Because the situation had forced a whole group of people to give a lot of thought, in-depth thought.

    My wife and I and some of my friends were sitting in our living room on the night of June 3, and cried from our hearts. We received a lot of phone calls. All of us shared one feeling: the Communist Party was over, the Communist Party was over. How can we shoot our own people?

    I joined the party in 1937 when I was 14. There were many young communist party members in our generation. I shouldered a gun when I was 14. I had four grenades. I was even the youth league secretary...when I was only 15. I went to the Central Party School...after the Japanese party school. As I wrote in my book, the Communist Party did have some great achievements, and I was part of it. The CPC made big mistakes and had failures and I was also part of that.

    For example, during the Anti-Rightist Movement, I was the [Xinhua News Agency] bureau chief. I labeled four people as ‘rightists’. I used to be a believer in Maoism. I was cultivated by the Communist Party, I persecuted other people, and I was also persecuted several times. I was labeled as a ‘rightist opportunist’ just because I wrote a 5000-character letter telling the central government that people in Guangdong were starving, for criticizing the party’s policy. Thirty million people starved to death during that period of time...

    Not only Zhao but all of us old cadres had a lot of deep thoughts on the success and the failure of our party. [But] Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were ahead of us in terms of in-depth thinking...

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