Diary criticises pair of Hong Kong journalists for their role
As the diary supposedly penned by former Premier Li Peng came to light, it stirred mixed emotions in those who were involved in the Tiananmen student movement of 1989, including two former Hong Kong reporters, Lau Yui-siu and Cheung Kit-fung, who are accused in the diaries of being grey eminences behind the students.
Meanwhile, historians and political analysts have welcomed the diary as an additional point of reference and urged the authorities to release more information about those two turbulent months for public discussion, which would be essential not only for unearthing the truth but also the country's well-being.
Twenty-one years on, Lau is a political commentator in Hong Kong, while Cheung has left journalism. The pair were described in Li's diaries as 'Hong Kong Wen Wei Po's Beijing correspondent, a supporter of the turmoil', and 'Hong Kong reactionary magazine Pai Shing correspondent'. They were mentioned in the context of their frequent contacts with 'well-connected' mainland magazine deputy editor Gao Yu , whom Li considered a mastermind of the movement.
'Most students who participated in the riots were being kept in the dark, and there definitely were 'people with beards' [older people] behind them, and people with international background,' Li repeatedly says in his diaries.
Lau, who was banned for a total of eight years from entering China, disputed Li's labelling and interpretation of his connection with Gao, who was later jailed, or other liberals, saying that he was simply doing his job as a journalist.
However, he welcomed the book, because 'it would be good to learn more of the official viewpoint on the matter'. 'The more viewpoints, the better. People and history will form their own judgments,' Lau said.
He said that while the book would trigger debates that might be seen as 'elements of instability' by the authorities, China was now in a better position to have such debates.
'A lot of people treasure the current situation. I believe the chances of such heated discussion causing social disturbances are a lot lower today. The authorities should seize the opportunity to allow for a certain level of discussion. This could gradually untie the knot.'
Cheung was reluctant to comment without seeing the book. However, she disputed the description of Pai Shing as a 'reactionary' magazine. The Chinese-language bi-weekly, started by Hong Kong newspaper veterans Hu Juren and Lu Keng in 1981, was famous for its bold and liberal articles on Chinese affairs. It stopped publishing in the early 1990s.
'Every one who knows Hu will agree what an upright character he was,' Cheung said. 'Gao Yu was a Beijing-based reporter at the time. It was natural for me to be in touch with her.' Cheung suffered injuries from two bullets, one on her forehead and one on her back, on the night of June 3, 1989, when she was reporting from Tiananmen Square, but fortunately the bullets turned out to be rubber.
'For us who have experienced it, our position has always been an overturn of the official verdict on the movement, ' Cheung said. 'It was a patriotic student movement, not a counter-revolutionary riot.'
Veteran Hong Kong politician Szeto Wah said he doubted the value of the book: 'He [Li] is the chief culprit of the June 4 incident, the so-called executioner. How many things that he wrote are the facts? For example, he said no one was killed on Tiananmen Square.
'However, his diary proved that there were many disagreements inside the Communist Party, such as his political struggles with Zhao Ziyang and how politicians took the democratic movement as an opportunity to fight each other. I believe those parts are true.'
Yuan Weishi , a historian at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said that as Li was a key witness, his diary was valuable.
'For history scholars, whoever tells their side of the story is valuable, especially when we talk about a key witness of that chapter of history. I am personally quite interested in what he has to say, because he was one of the top decision-makers.'