No regrets for defiant Tiananmen general

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am

A former People's Liberation Army general arrested after defying a martial law order to crack down on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989 says he has no regrets.

In May 1989, Major General Xu Qinxian, who was commander of the 38th Army - an elite and well-equipped battle group - refused a verbal order from General Li Laizhu, the deputy head of the Beijing military region, for his army to move into the capital, according to the revised edition of Political Struggles in China's Reform Era by veteran mainland journalist Yang Jisheng .

Xu refused to act unless he saw a written order, according to the book, which was published in December.

'I am not participating, this has nothing to do with me,' Xu is quoted as saying. 'I would rather get killed than go down in history as a villain.'

His defiance shocked party elders Deng Xiaoping and Yang Shangkun. Xu was swiftly taken from the hospital where he was being treated for kidney stones and was later jailed for five years and stripped of his party membership.

'[Xu said] he had no regrets - that was his choice,' said Yang Jisheng, quoting Xu from his two meetings with him in 2008 and 2009.

'The situation was very dangerous at the time, and he was prepared to make a sacrifice, regardless of the consequences.'

After Xu was ousted, the 38th Army participated in the clearing of the square, although it did not play a key role. Soldiers opened fire on the night of June 3, killing hundreds, maybe thousands, around Beijing.

Xu, now 75, has been living in relative freedom in army quarters in Shijiazhuang, Yang Jisheng said. There had been rumours he was dead.

Professor Wu Guoguang, a former aide to reformist leader Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted for sympathising with the students, said Xu's account revealed for the first time that the Central Military Commission did not want written records of the crackdown to go down in history and so issued verbal orders.

'The refusal to give written orders shows ... it realised [the crackdown] was not lawful,' said Wu, who now teaches at Canada's University of Victoria. Xu's account also confirmed rumours there were high-ranking officials who sympathised with the pro-democracy protesters, Wu said. He said there was also defiance among other troops, although the extent of resistance was not known.

The latest account of Xu's defiance corroborates the description of the event in The Tiananmen Papers, a book written from purported secret documents chronicling the events surrounding the crackdown.

Professor Perry Link, co-editor of The Tiananmen Papers, said that while the story of Xu's resistance had been widely circulated in the past 20 years, it was significant that Xu had spoken out despite the pressure he was under. 'For any person who lived through [Tiananmen] and has a dramatic story to tell, for them to tell it again, that's good,' Link said.