Communist Crowd Control

The secretly constructed record of the Communist Party decision to crack down on Tiananmen protesters rings true to an old China hand.

Issue: Summer 2001

George Walden, Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link, eds., The Tiananmen Papers (New York: Public Affairs, 2001), 510 pp., $30.

In the midst of the Cultural Revolution I once drafted a telegram from the British Mission in Peking, or what remained after the Red Guards burned it, suggesting that Deng Xiaoping was dead. It seemed a reasonable conjecture. The no-neck monster, as we diplomatic juveniles called him, had not been seen in public for some time, was portrayed in the wall posters we read as a leading capitalist-roader, and had begun featuring in caricatures at the wrong end of a rope. Plus we had procured a Red Guard newspaper containing a celebratory account of his actual death by hara-kiri. Getting hold of those newspapers was an operation in itself, so there was a tendency to overplay what was inside them. I suppose I was infected by a scoop mentality, and there were scarcely any pressmen left in Peking to confirm or contradict my words. Meeting Deng some years later, as principal assistant to British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, I inspected him for signs of simulation, but he seemed the genuine thing. No one else could smoke that much, or hawk and spit with such vigor.

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