Diplomatic cable says 10,000 died in Tiananmen

Beijing residents gathering around the smoking remains of over 20 armoured personnel carriers burned by demonstrators during clashes with soldiers near Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Beijing residents gathering around the smoking remains of over 20 armoured personnel carriers burned by demonstrators during clashes with soldiers near Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Figure in British envoy's account of 1989 crackdown in China seems credible: Experts

BEIJING • At least 10,000 people were killed in the Chinese army's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989, according to a newly released British diplomatic cable that recounts the bloodshed in gruesome detail.

The document, made public more than 28 years after the event, describes injured girls being bayoneted, bodies being ground up by armoured vehicles and human remains flushed into the sewers.

"Minimum estimate of civilian dead 10,000," then British ambassador Alan Donald said in the secret telegram to London seen by AFP at Britain's National Archives.

The estimate, given on June 5, 1989, the day after the crackdown, is almost 10 times higher than the commonly accepted toll at the time, of several hundred to more than a thousand.

But experts said the 10,000 figure seemed credible. The ambassador's account gives horrific details of the violence unleashed on the night of June 3 to 4, when the army entered Beijing to end seven weeks of protests on Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of Communist power.

During their advance, armoured personnel carriers "opened fire on the crowd (both civilians and soldiers) before running over them in their APCs", wrote the ambassador.

He said his source was a person passing on information from a close friend who was a member of the State Council, the Chinese Cabinet.

Once the soldiers arrived in Tiananmen Square, "students understood they were given one hour to leave square but after five minutes APCs attacked", he wrote.

"Students linked arms but were mown down including soldiers. APCs then ran over bodies time and time again to make 'pie' and remains collected by bulldozer. Remains incinerated and then hosed down drains," said Mr Donald.

"Four wounded girl students begged for their lives but were bayoneted," he added.

China continues to forbid debate on the subject, which is censored on the Internet and banned from textbooks and the media.

There was no sign of reaction to the report on Chinese social media, where an army of online censors blocks any reference to the Tiananmen crackdown.

As to the credibility of the toll, former student protest leader Xiong Yan, now an American citizen, said it was "reliable".

Hong Kong Baptist University professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan called the figure credible, pointing out that recently declassified US documents gave a similar assessment.

The British ambassador's report was "not particularly astonishing considering how crowded it was in Beijing, the number of people mobilised" against the Chinese government, said Prof Cabestan, who was in the Chinese capital in the days leading up to the crackdown.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 24, 2017, with the headline 'Diplomatic cable says 10,000 died in Tiananmen'. Print Edition | Subscribe