THE BOOK was co-edited by Andrew Nathan, a professor
of political science at Columbia University, and Perry
Link, a professor of Chinese language and literature at
Princeton University. Also assisting was noted sinologist
Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school at the
University of California-Berkeley and author of many books
on China. It was published by Public
Affairs Press, headed by Peter Osnos. All are directors
of the swanky Human Rights Watch group which is heavily supported
by member George Soros and other luminaries.
Zhang Liang, who lives outside China, claims to be a former
Communist Party member sympathetic to reformers. Much has
been made in the world press about how the timing of the released
documents may be related to the upcoming leadership succession
in China in 2002 and 2003.
The reasoning is that reform-minded officials within the
ruling Communist Party are trying to influence the selection
of the next Chinese president. Essentially, it is hoped the
book will embarrass Jiang Zemin and Li Peng who are directly
linked in the papers to the decision to use force against
the Tiananmen Square protesters.
BUT ARE THE TIANANMEN PAPERS REAL? Professor Orville
Schell claimed initial skepticism but says he now believes
the documents are indeed genuine. It is important to note
that Orville Schell has written condemnations of the Chinese
government reaction to the Tiananmen demonstrations as far
back as July 1989.
Peter Osnos, publisher of the book, believes Zhang Liang
was sent by reformers in China "with material to find a way
to make it available." Venerated Singapore Senior Minister
Lee Kuan Yew said he believed the papers are genuine, adding
"They are too detailed and too extensive. You can't have a
team drawing these up."
Lee Kuan Yew's comments were made in an interview at the
January 2001 meeting of the self-styled World
Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos, Switzerland.
Whether the Tiananmen Papers were discussed at the convention
is unknown. But since 1979, the WEF has been a major promoter
for integration of the giant Chinese economy and market into
global business. Indeed on its web site, the WEF takes credit
for "a substantial impact on the economic reform policies
THE AUTHENTICITY of the Tiananmen Papers has been
questioned. Xie Xuanjun, a prominent Chinese filmmaker (now
living in New York) has expressed doubts about the papers.
Principally he argues that there is nothing in the so-called
secret documents that is not already known from published
materials. Xie Xuanjun says that many of the expressions in
the papers are colloquial to Hong Kong and Taiwan and would
have meant nothing to the elderly Chinese leaders.
Lastly, Xie points out that there is little evidence of original
documents since the book contains only edited and translated
materials and the documents themselves were copied onto computer
diskettes. He compared the Tiananmen Papers to the infamous
"Hitler Diaries" that were proven a forgery several years
The claim that there is nothing in the Tiananmen Papers that
is not already known does stand to reason since many books
on China published since the Tiananmen uprising have recounted
most of the details described in the Tiananmen Papers. As
just one example, it is well documented that there was a deep
division in the Chinese leadership over how best to deal with
the protest movement.
It has even been suggested
that the documents are nothing more than previously declassified
intelligence from within the American or British governments.
The fact that the former USA Assistant Secretary of State
for Intelligence and Research during the Tiananmen uprising,
Morton Abramowitz, is an advisory committee member of Human
Rights Watch, does point to this possibility.
WHETHER REAL OR FAKE, for what purpose have the Tiananmen
Papers been produced?
Is it a veiled attempt to manipulate the first peaceful
transition of power in modern Chinese history? Or a propaganda
salvo in a new Cold War with Communist China? One can only
hope that the high profile foundations that brought the Tiananmen
Papers forth are true to their lofty purposes and will help
put to rest a dark moment in China's tumultuous People's Republic.
Another cache of documents produced by another anonymous
Chinese source using the pseudonym Zong Hairen appeared
in 2002. They were edited by Andrew Nathan along with Bruce
Gilley (an ambitious Princeton graduate student) and published
as "China's New Rulers: The Secret Files," by the
New York Review of Books.
Since the publication of these additional documents an important
debate on their authenticity (as well as the Tiananmen Papers)
took place in the pages of The
China Journal (July 2003) and The
China Quarterly (March 2004) between Alfred L. Chan, Professor
at Huron University College (Canada) and Andrew Nathan. Also
joining in other forums were Zhang Liang and Bruce Gilley.
Alfred L. Chan believes the Tiananmen Papers and the follow-up
"secret files" are not genuine and has presented
compelling evidence in support of his claim. He believes Zhang
Liang and Zong Hairen are the same person and guilty of at
best mosaic plagiarism and at worst out-and-out fabrication.
Dr. Chan points out that the conversations between China's
top leaders presented in the books are "reconstructed"
and that the authors never saw let alone read, analyzed, or
interpreted any of the alleged original documents. Certainly
a shocking admission from academics well-versed in what constitutes
a primary source.
Alfred Chan's re-rejoinder of this debate, "Fabricated
Secrets and Phantom Documents: the "Tiananmen Papers"
and "China's Leadership Files," is well worth reading.
here to download (requires Adobe
As Dr. Chan explains in his paper due to the prestige of
the editors and publishers involved in the publication of
these alleged documents they have been almost universally
accepted as authentic yet upon examination they may very well
Certainly on such an important matter as China's evolving
political system isn't it essential to get at the true state
of affairs versus what critics in America would like to see?
[Ed. note: This page originally appeared in 2002. The original
version can be found here.]
©2002-2005 Ben Calmes, Sinomania!