Chinese human rights official says the crackdown 'completely correct'
(Zhu Muzhi, secretary-general of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, spoke in May with CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon. The following is a transcript of that interview)
REBECCA MACKINNON: As the 10th anniversary of June 4, 1989, approaches, there is great concern worldwide about how this anniversary will be handled in China. As head of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, what is your view of what happened ten years ago?
ZHU MUZHI: How should we view what happened ten years ago? We should use ten years of experience to judge. I think that looking back at these ten years from today's vantage point, the way that the June 4 turmoil was dealt with was completely correct. If it had not been dealt with in that way at that point, I think that China's situation would not be the same today. By the same token, if the way that it was handled had been completely incorrect, then the last ten years would not have been the same. Everyone would have been fighting, fighting the common people, fighting amongst the masses. Domestically China couldn't have quickly returned to peace and stability, and it would have been impossible for the economy to continue its fast pace of development. Today would be very different. So I think that time has shown that things at that time were handled correctly.
MACKINNON: Recently, some relatives of those students who were killed in the crackdown have written an open letter, and sent copies of it to overseas journalists. They are demanding a review of what happened during the June 4 crackdown and compensation for the families of those killed. They are also demanding that the central government allow public discussion of this issue and permit domestic media to openly discuss this issue. How do you view their demands?
ZHU: It's very possible that some people may have been shot by stray bullets. I think in that situation, it's possible that may have happened. But I've seen some reports that say the number of people killed by stray bullets was very high (laughs). That's not the case. I personally do not know the particulars of the deaths or injuries of wrongly accused people or of those who incited the chaos on the streets. I don't know any details. All I'm saying is that such a thing is possible; that under the conditions at that time, such a thing - a few people being shot by stray bullets - is entirely possible. As for the people who were killed or wounded at that time, I think that government has dealt correctly with them. I don't think that at this point we need to go back and again discuss this issue, or draw new conclusions regarding this issue. There are some people who talk about a so-called review (laughs). There's nothing to review (laughs).
MACKINNON: Some relatives of those killed - especially relatives of students and teachers who were killed at that time - say that their children, or husbands or relatives were killed by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) at that time. They have photos of the dead bodies of their relatives. And there are some relatives who have begun to collect various kinds of evidence and have made estimates about how many people were killed at that time by the PLA. While no one is entirely sure how many people died, they say that they estimate that many hundreds of people, over a thousand, were killed (Zhu shakes head). What's your response to this?
ZHU: At that time everything was in turmoil. It's difficult for me to talk about the specific situation of people's children and relatives at that time (laughs). I can only say that regarding their different opinions on this issue, they've already had ten years and must already understand themselves how they should deal with this problem.
MACKINNON: Some of these relatives of those killed have had problems. From what we understand, Ding Zilin is often followed by police, and is forced to leave Beijing every year during the anniversary of June 4. As the head of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, do you think that her freedom of speech should be denied in this way?
ZHU: I think China has Chinese law. We have seen that China is emphasizing the implementation of a legal system. She need only stop breaking the law, and she would no longer receive the law's punishment. As for her specific circumstances, you know more than me (laughs). I don't know her situation (laughs).
MACKINNON: If one could go back ten years, and deal with this problem over again, do you think there is any way to have avoided the killing of innocent people?
ZHU: I have also talked about this previously to journalists. No one wants to see that kind of situation. If the common people dread it, then the government dread it even more. But it did happen (laughs). And it was dealt with in that way. When speaking recently to the Foreign Correspondents Club I drew an analogy. I'll tell you now as well. When reform and opening up were first being introduced, I met a very famous English journalist named Jack Green. He asked me, "In opening up, do you not think there is any danger?" I replied, "Reform and opening up may bring us some problems, but this situation is like a sealed room. Now we are opening the door. After opening the door the fresh air has come in. Flies and mosquitoes have also come in. We shouldn't shut the door again just because we are afraid of flies and mosquitoes coming in. The most important thing is that fresh air is coming in. As for the flies and mosquitoes, we just need a fly swatter" (laughs). That's what I said to him. But while the flies and mosquitoes came in, we had not prepared our fly swatters well enough (laughs). Flies and mosquitoes will bite. After they bite, they leave a wound. What can you do once you have a wound? You can have an operation, open it up and release the pus, and also lose some blood. The operation is successful. How can you tell? Because the wound is healed. This shows that no matter how you put it, this bite, this wound, is healed through surgery. And now we can see that it isn't such a big problem, and continues to get better and better. Then some people say that we shouldn't have used surgery. They say that we should have used other means. I say, 'Of course its possible that there were other means. That's a possibility'. But there are two possibilities. In one situation we use these other means to heal the wound. But it's also possible that these means wouldn't solve the problem, and the wound would become infected (laughs), and turn into cancer. That's also a possibility. However you put it, the original means healed the wound. Healing the wound was correct. It is pointless for us to look back now and say were there any other means. This is all hypothetical(laughs).
MACKINNON: You can only look forward?
ZHU: You can only look forward. If you are all right now, then that shows that the path that you took in the past was correct.
MACKINNON: When the student movement first started, their slogans were "democracy" and "anti-corruption." Did you mean that these students were flies and mosquitoes?
ZHU: No, no (laughs). As someone who lived in Beijing at that time, of course I understand this business. At that time, after reform and opening up had begun, I think there were many people who did not adjust to the reforms. When the fresh air came in, some people didn't adjust. They thought it was too cool, or there was too much wind (laughs). Because of that, they were unprepared for the problems that came with reform and opening up. The problems that came with reform and opening up were inflation, so-called bribery and corruption, and dishonesty. These are problems that can come along with reform and opening up. Why? Because old ways had been got rid of or changed, and the new ones hadn't been completely adopted. I remember that at that time there were a few people who said, "While the government is still confused we will take advantage" (laughs). Do you understand? So these problems can occur. Of course these problems are bad. But in the process of reform and opening up they are quite unavoidable. The masses were dissatisfied with this situation, I think that is understandable. They were dissastisfied with the problems of corruption, dishonesty and inflation . When many people expressed their dissatisfaction with these problems, I think at that time the government was on the side of the masses, as these were in fact the problems that the government hoped it could solve, the problems it hoped it could deal with. So when the student and other people first began to come out, the government was sympathetic. When they went to Tiananmen, the government was worried for them, so it gave them tents, clothes, food and medical care. This shows that the government didn't oppose the demands made by the masses. And the government thought that there was a process to what the masses were doing, so it was extremely patient with them. They talked sense to them for almost two months, more than 50 days (laughs). All along the government maintained a caring attitude, to the extent that when (then-Soviet President Mikhail) Gorbachev arrived and they wanted to hold a welcome ceremony at Tiananmen, and make the masses do some work, when they didn't agree the government held the welcoming ceremony at the airport instead. This shows that the government was not at all opposed to the masses.
But amongst them there were a few people who used the spirit of the masses to stir them up, and incite them to overthrow the government, to change the socialist system. These people were the flies and mosquitoes that I was talking about (laughs). It was this small group. Therefore, during this period the shape of things had already completely changed. At that time there were already calling for Deng Xiaoping to step down. The agitators on the streets said that Deng Xiaoping had 400 million U.S. dollars in an overseas bank account (laughs). The biggest case of corruption yet. After I heard this I thought it was very funny. There were many stories put about that had no basis. Did they know how much 400 million U.S. dollars is? (laughs) So at that point the shape of things had already changed. At that time they had total control over Tiananmen square, and at that point the flies and mosquitoes became violent, used violent measures. On the evening of June 3, I myself had a clear view, because I lived on the bottom floor of our building, near a main road. I saw a lot of what was happening on the streets. At that time, our army came in to tidy up the people on Tiananmen square, to make them leave. But before they got to Tiananmen Square they met a thug on the street who picked up a stone and struck the soldiers. The soldiers didn't strike back. I saw a military vehicle drive up - a covered truck. As it turned it hit the curb. It suddenly caught on fire, the thug used stones and Molotov cocktails to strike it. The people in the car didn't strike back. Afterwards I saw that there were lots of Molotov cocktails thrown. The soldiers in the vehicle, more than 12 people, got out of the vehicle. After they got out, many of these thugs pursued them. The PLA didn't strike back. Two of the soldiers ran to the top of the pedestrian walk bridge. The thugs chased them, caught one, and threw him off the bridge. They killed him. I saw this myself. So afterwards it was referred to as a rebellion. I only saw this one instance, but I saw much more on television. I don't know if you saw it or not.
In these circumstances, in the end the soldiers used their guns. I should also point out that at that time the Beijing police were limited in numbers. And they didn't have the equipment to deal with rioters, like the riot squads that they have in foreign countries (laughs). At that time China didn't have that equipment. Why not? This was also a case of failing to adapt to reform and opening up. In the past the room was shut. At that time there weren't flies and mosquitoes so we had no fly swatters (laughs). As soon as the door was opened the flies and mosquitoes came in and we had no weapons. As this was the case, at that time many police officers were killed. For example at Xinhuamen [a major intersection], a security guard who was guarding government offices was hit in the head. There were many who fell like this. So in these circumstances, with no rubber bullets or tear gas (laughs), in the end they used their guns. That was the situation. That was the result.
MACKINNON: So do you -
ZHU: So after this problem was solved society was quickly calmed down. If things had been as people in the West say, that the masses were rising up to fight for justice, if the government's methods were wrong at that time, then the masses would have remembered and rebelled again. Why were things calmed down so easily afterwards? It shows that the people did not support this riot.
MACKINNON: So do you think that in suppressing this movement, the government -
ZHU: Rebellion. You should say it was a rebellion.
MACKINNON: Right. You're saying that the correctness of the government's reaction is shown by society's reaction afterwards?
ZHU: Yes. The masses were opposed to the rebellion. I'll repeat myself again. If the people had supported this rebellion then the government couldn't have calmed things down. They couldn't have quickly returned to peace and stability. If you look at China's entire society, after June 4 it was completely peaceful and calm. This is an objective fact. If it was a mistake, you would have had to suppress them even more forcefully, and the people's resistance would also be greater.
MACKINNON: Do you think there is any chance that this sort of thing could happen again?
ZHU: I don't think it could. Why? The most basic reason is that the government's policies are correct. That is to say that the government's policies have benefitted the people. Since the government's policies are correct the masses support them. As the masses support them, the scope for those who want to create turmoil and rebellion is limited. Secondly, the people also have experience. The government also has experience, so it can put a stop to things before they happen again. I said that the people have gained experience. That's because the people have been through two big lessons. The first was the Cultural Revolution. The people were very dissatisfied with what happened during that turmoil. The second was June 4 when turmoil again occurred. The people have experience. It's not that easy to cheat and incite people to flare up . So I don't think it could happen again.
The most basic issue is whether the government's policies are correct or not. If the government's policies are incorrect then they will inevitably attract the opposition of the people. Then you can't avoid the flies and mosquitoes coming in and biting you, wounding you. So I don't think it could happen again. I am quite confident about that. Currently, although there are many internal and outside factors influencing our country - for instance, outside factors like natural disasters, floods, and the financial crisis - the people haven't caused any problems. Internally we still have problems with lack of honesty, as well as bribery and corruption. Right? But the masses recognise the government's attitude to these things and the measures it has taken against them, and they understand. This thing couldn't happen so suddenly again, because the people understand.
MACKINNON: In the 1930s you yourself participated in a student movement, the May 4 Movement. So you have a long-term, comparative, historical perspective. What do you think are the differences between the student movement that you participated in and the student movement of 1989?
ZHU: I think there's a big difference. In the student movement in the 1930s, the students were demanding resistance to Japanese invasion. The entire nation was under threat. The people wanted to resist Japan, but the government was opposed to resisting Japan. The two were completely opposed to each other. At that time we held protests. What was the result? We were cut with knives and sprayed with water. I was injured by a policeman. That was the situation. When things started out in 1989 the government was on the side of the masses. The government didn't use violence to oppose the people. As I just said, the government gave them clothes, shelter, food and medical care. It was completely on their side. But afterwards it was completely different. This is a very big difference (laughs). In one situation the government was on the side of the people, in the other it was opposed to them.
MACKINNON: So what do you think the key thing is in avoiding such a thing happening again?
ZHU: As I just said, I think the biggest problem is building good policy. I think the most important things at the moment fall into two areas. The first is continuing to reform the economy. The second is to continue to strengthen the building of a socialist democratic legal system. We need to strengthen things in both areas. The economic issue is the core, because China is too poor and too backward. For many years the people have hoped to ensure that everyone can dress warmly and have enough to eat. That is, that the people are wealthy and the nation is strong. That's their hope. Only when you have these things can you bring up the others. We are talking about production rights, development rights. If you can't produce and you can't develop economically, then what other rights can you bring up? If you can't live, what rights can you bring up? (laughs) This is a conceptual problem. But if you want economic development, then at the same time you must make progress towards democracy and building a complete legal system . This ensures that the economy can develop more smoothly, and in particular can increase the initiative of the people. Only when you develop democracy do the people have initiative. Because that's doing things according to the people's will. And so the people are happy, and willing to give their all.
MACKINNON: So, for example the recent grass roots elections could be expanded in future. These are all a result of the people's demands?
ZHU: Yes. Overseas there is a groundless belief that China has sacrificed political democracy to develop its economy. They think that China is developing its economy, but has sacrificed its political democracy. This opinion is incorrect. If you don't develop democracy, don't respect people's rights, then the economy can't develop. If you can't satisfy the people's demands, don't do things according to their will, and do things contrary to their will, then how can they have initiative? Right? There is an opinion which does not represent China's actual situation - that political democracy and economic development are opposites, that developing the economy is not related to democracy, and on the contrary has been sacrificed to the economy. That is to say, they think that the people are not demanding economic development, but something else instead. This shows a lack of understanding of the Chinese people's demands and way of thinking. The greatest demand of the Chinese people is to speed up the improvement of their living standards - as I just said, 'wealthy people and a strong nation'. Economic development is really the Chinese people's most pressing demand. The government really is developing the economy really in reaction to the people's criticisms, and is genuinely implementing democracy. These two are not opposites, but are consistent. Foreign people cannot understand the demands of the people, so they say that economic development and the demands of the people are in opposition to one another, and say, "The people are not demanding economic development, but want other things instead." They don't understand China at all.
MACKINNON: Let me just make sure I have understood you. Do you mean that the demands of democracy and fighting corruption that the students made in 1989 when they took to the streets are in fact consistent with things that are being done now by the Chinese government?
ZHU: Yes, it's consistent. At that time the government had already begun fighting corruption and dishonesty. At that time the Politburo brought up the issue of the conduct of party members and said that it was related to the party's survival. So their attitude was to consistently oppose corruption. All along, the Central Government has opposed corruption. During both the 15th Party Congress and the Ninth Session of the NPC this issue of opposing corruption was emphasized. This has happened with the people's support, so it's consistent.
MACKINNON: When you were a student were your hopes and demands the same as the demands and hopes of the students in 1989?
ZHU: Of course you couldn't say they were the same, though some were the same. One of our demands was to resist the Japanese. This was the same as the demand of the people today to develop the economy. At that time we demanded democracy, because the Nationalist Government's Chiang Kai-Shek was a dictator. He didn't listen to the people. The people wanted him to fight the Japanese, but he wouldn't. He was completely autocratic, so we demanded democracy. At the time of June 4 the desire for more democracy was also brought up. I think that is the same. There are many people overseas who say China opposes democracy and wants to be autocratic. Speaking for myself, since my student days I have all along demanded democracy. All along until today I have wanted democracy. Deng Xiaoping said, as you can read in his selected works, especially the third volume, "If there is no socialist democracy, then there is no socialism, and there is no socialist modernization."
We definitely need democracy. I remember that during the war of resistance against the Japanese, Mao Zedong said that resisting the Japanese required democracy. The two were the same thing. If we wanted to resist Japan then we needed democracy, and only with democracy could we oppose the Japanese. It's the same today: democracy will benefit our economic development.
MACKINNON: It seems that, historically, student protests serve the purpose of waking people up, of bringing problems to the attention of leaders. Do you think that the 1989 movement had any impact on the policies of today, that it woke people up, or had an influence on political reform?
ZHU: I think that at that time not all the protestors were students. Many people hope that we can oppose dishonesty and corruption. This is not just students but most average people.
MACKINNON: But did the hopes of the protestors wake up China's current leaders to problems with political and legal reform? Did the demonstrations bring up some good ideas?
ZHU: I think that good things can come of bad. June 4 was a bad thing. But good things came of bad, and taught everyone a good lesson, as I just said. In terms of good things coming of bad, I think it had its good points. It taught everyone a valuable lesson.Rebecca MacKinnon
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