A newspaper's bold decision to carry without authorisation from the leadership in Beijing a speech made by Deng Xiaoping in Shenzhen during his southern tour 20 years ago was made possible by a local publicity official who overcame enormous pressure, a recently published book says.
The unauthorised report about Deng's inspection tour of Shenzhen appeared in the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily on March 26, 1992. It broke strict Communist Party rules about publicity but pushed the central leadership to revive the mainland's stalled economic reforms.
The paramount leader delivered a series of speeches during the tour aimed at clarifying whether the Shenzhen special economic zone was 'capitalist' or 'socialist' in nature.
'Before I decided to let the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily carry the original speech of Comrade Xiaoping, I prepared for the worst - to be sacked or even put in jail,' Wu Songying a former deputy director of Shenzhen's publicity office, told a seminar in Hong Kong last week. He is the author of a new book about Deng's southern tour.
'I should say thank you to my two ex-leaders, Li Hao, former party chief and mayor of Shenzhen, and Xie Fei, former party head of Guangdong province, because they deliberately turned a blind eye to my 'misconduct' ... all of us made that breakthrough decision based on our sense of historical mission.'
Under the publicity rules, only top party mouthpieces like the People's Daily and Xinhua News Agency are allowed to cover the speeches of the top leaders. Deng was the country's paramount leader at the time, even though he had retired from his last official post in March 1990.
But Wu encouraged Chan Xitian, then a journalist at the Shenzhen paper, to report the important speech Deng made in the city in January 1992. When the relatively unknown local paper ran the story that March, other media outlets - including the Beijing-based Guangming Daily, Xinhua, the People's Daily and China Central Television - picked up the news, which was then widely reported by overseas media.
Long-time Beijing loyalist Ng Hong-mun, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress from 1975 to 2008, said the country now faces a political crisis similar to that in the early 1990s and needs more responsible leaders like Wu, Li and Xie who can put aside personal interest to make a breakthrough decision.
'The economic sanctions in the aftermath of the suppression of the Tiananmen protest in 1989 led to China's economic growth hitting rock bottom. Top leaders in Beijing had started to question whether to carry out reform or not. Deng's sharp and clear speech gave people the right direction,' Ng said.
'Now our country needs another southern tour speech, because we are facing another problem - political reform has seriously lagged behind strong economic growth, resulting in some interest groups monopolising the political and economic sectors.'
Ng said he had seen one ray of hope. A commentary in the People's Daily last month headlined 'We'd rather have complaints than crisis' urged the authorities to be willing to take risks and face opposition when launching reforms. It was the latest push by state media for bolder reforms after several recent commentaries used the 20th anniversary of Deng's southern tour as an occasion to raise the subject.
Wu, 69, said the leaders of the city and the province in 1992 were strongly encouraged by Deng's speech.
'Guangdong and Shenzhen leaders were very stressed amid nationwide criticism of our move to continue inviting foreign investment,' he said. 'We were worried that the central leadership would force us to give up economic reforms.
'Officials needed Xiaoping's support to boost our faith and provide authority for our economic development, so we treasured every word he told us, even though he had refused to allow local governments to send reporters to cover his trip.'
Deng's later call to a deputy director of the party's central publicity department suggesting Xinhua circulate the Shenzhen paper's report lifted the cloud of political risk that hung over Wu and the other officials.
'I found that a brave, responsible decision and right judgment are very important,' Wu said. He pointed out that Deng had made similar speeches in Beijing in 1990 and Shanghai in 1991, but the leadership in Beijing had turned a deaf ear to them.
'As the sole official authorised to record Xiaoping's speech, I could feel with a strong passion that Xiaoping wanted us to publish his speech to let all the people understand that continuing the reform was the only way for China's future development.'