Ex-CCP boss' secret documents compiled in new book

Former CCP chief Mr Zhao, who died in 2005, remains a symbol of reformist rectitude to more liberal elements in the party.
Former CCP chief Mr Zhao, who died in 2005, remains a symbol of reformist rectitude to more liberal elements in the party.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • A collection of documents belonging to China's reformist former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief Zhao Ziyang, who was toppled in 1989 for opposing the Tiananmen crackdown, is being turned into a book and will be published in Hong Kong this month.

The documents, which were smuggled out of the country, will appear in a book called The Collected Works Of Zhao Ziyang, to be published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong Press.

It is expected to lift the veil on behind-the-scenes wrangling among top leaders from 1980 to 1989, said the publisher's director, Ms Gan Qi. "The information in these documents provides concrete first- hand evidence of the existence of such conflicts."

It is unclear if the documents still come under China's state secret laws. If they are classified, it could provide a test of Beijing's commitment to academic and publishing freedom in the former British colony.

The territory was rocked recently by allegations that China had abducted and illegally detained five Hong Kong booksellers.

China's State Council Information Office, the Cabinet spokes- man's office, did not respond to requests for comment. The Communist Party History Research Office, when reached by telephone, declined to comment.

Mr Zhao, who was China's premier from 1980 to 1987 and became CCP general-secretary in 1987, engaged in a dialogue with student groups leading the Tiananmen Square protests. He even went to the square in central Beijing to appeal for them to end a hunger strike in May 1989, about two weeks before the crackdown.

Mr Zhao, who died in 2005 after spending more than 15 years under house arrest for opposing the crackdown on June 4, 1989, remains a symbol of reformist rectitude to more liberal elements in the party.

His plain-speaking reformist stance is indicated in some of the documents. For example, in a transcript of a closed-door party meeting in February 1987, Mr Zhao, on the question of political reform, said: "Past elections were elections without choices and would be difficult to call them real democracy."

In the transcript of a speech in April 1981, he said it is best to "use scientific methods" and not to engage in political movements.

Ms Gan declined to say how the documents were smuggled out of China, and she declined to identify the sources of the documents, other than to say they included Mr Zhao's former aides.

She said experts were brought in to authenticate the documents, including Mr Zhao's handwriting, and that they passed a review by a committee of academics.

Asked if they involved state secrets, Ms Gan said: "What an academic publishing institution can and should do is abide by local laws and the publication process."

The four-volume collection contains 498 documents - most of them previously unpublished - including party and government reports, speeches, transcripts, letters and handwritten instructions by Mr Zhao, when he served as premier and party chief, she added.

It does not include official documents about the 1989 protests.

Experts said the documents would help to restore Mr Zhao to his proper place in history after attempts by the Chinese government to erase him from the history books.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-CCP boss' secret documents compiled in new book'. Print Edition | Subscribe