Zhao left tapes of memoirs in plain sight to avoid suspicion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am

Ousted Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang kept the tapes on which he recorded his memoirs in plain sight among his grandchildren's toys without anybody knowing, a veteran journalist who helped transcribe them revealed.

The memoirs, which went on sale in Hong Kong on Thursday, shed light on the intensive politicking behind the scenes in the tense days leading up to the June 4 crackdown 20 years ago. Many people have wondered how Zhao, who was held under house arrest from then until his death in 2005 and was closely watched, managed to keep them undetected and smuggle them out of China.

Adi Ignatius, one of the three people who helped transcribe the tapes, revealed that Zhao had deliberately left them in plain sight in his study. Not even family members knew what was really on them.

'Zhao produced these audio journals mostly by recording over some low-quality cassette tapes that were lying around the house: kids' music and Peking opera,' Ignatius wrote in the preface to Zhao's book, Prisoner of the State. The tapes were unmarked except for faint pencilled numbers to indicate their order; there were no titles or notes. Zhao's jailers, who shadowed him day and night, never suspected the innocent-looking old cassettes sitting alongside children's toys contained his memoirs.

A set of copies of the tapes - 30 in total, each about 60 minutes long - were passed to several trusted friends. 'Each was given only a portion of the total recording, clearly an attempt to hedge the risk that the tapes might be lost or confiscated.' Ignatius wrote. When Zhao died in 2005, those who knew of the recordings launched a complex, clandestine effort to gather the material in one place and transcribe it for publication.

Judging from circumstantial evidence, the audio journals were made between 2000 and 2002. While it had obviously taken Zhao a long time to prepare the memoirs, he did not even tell his family about them.

Some of the recordings, covering Tiananmen and some other topics involving his predecessor Hu Yaobang, seem to have been made in discussion with friends, Ignatius wrote.

The tapes Zhao passed to his friends were probably not the originals. Later, another whole set of the tapes was found among his grandchildren's toys in his study. These tapes had been returned to Zhao's family, Ignatius said.