A liberal Communist Party elder has urged forgiveness and reconciliation over the 1989 tumult at Tiananmen Square – but insisted that, taking a leaf from Nelson Mandela, authorities must first set the truth straight before healing can take place.
”The authorities, [former] students and ordinary people must forgive each other. But the premise is that the truth must first be clarified," said Du Daozheng, the 90-year-old publisher of China’s most outspoken political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu.
Former South African president Mandela had established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the crimes of the apartheid years, a painful and violent time of racial segregation. The commission is widely considered a model for addressing grievances and fostering reconciliation in conflict-torn countries.
”Mandela has set a good precedent,” Du said. “The truth must be investigated and announced, [and] then you can have a reconciliation.”
The military crackdown on protesters from June 3 to 4 in 1989 killed hundreds, or thousands, of civilians. The authorities have never announced the number of people killed or which leaders ordered troops to open fire.
Scholars have estimated the death toll at more than 2,000.
On the night of June 3, when the army shooting began along Bejing¡¦s Chang An Avenue, Du – who had been a member of the party since 1937, when he was aged 14 – and his wife spent a sleepless night in tears, he said.
”We heard the sound of gunfire not far away... it felt like a war zone,” he said. “Our friends were all crying over the phone saying: ‘We’re finished, our party is finished, we opened fire on our own people.’”
After the crackdown, Du was stripped of his position as director of the General Administration of Press and Publication after refusing to denounce his former boss, purged reformist leader Zhao Ziyang.
Zhao, then Communist Party chief, was ousted for refusing to crack down on the pro-democracy movement.
Du said the authorities’ official verdict in 1989 – that the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement was “counter-revolutionary unrest” – must also be reversed, but suggested the reassessment should be carried out in stages. “Then people would be placated,” he said.
The government could start with taking the initiative to admit its responsibilities, compensating victims’ families and allowing the return of political exiles who were labelled “counter-revolutionaries”, Du said.
Days after the tanks rolled into the capital, dozens of students, scholars and labour activists were placed in the government’s most wanted list of “counter-revolutionaries”.
Du laments the proliferation of corruption and social conflict today. Scholars say that in the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown, the government’s stalling of political reform amid economic development has led to rampant corruption and social inequality.
”If you don’t deal with conflicts, they will only accumulate and become harder to solve,” Du said.
“If there is no forgiveness, there is no future.”