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Contacts with CCP Reformers

"Situation Summary" (Qingkuang Huibian) no. 758 of November 24, 1978, reports on the increasing number of dazibao at the Xidan wall and in Wangfujing, where the offices of the party newspaper "People's Daily" are located.
No. 770 (November 30, 1978) reports about thousand of bycicles parked by visitors at the Democracy Wall. The issue mentions heated debates, and that some Chinese had qustioned an American journalist on the impeachment procedure against former US President Richard Nixon.
No. 773 (December 1, 1978) tells about the author of a poster, who is asking why constitutional freedoms are not taken seriously, and why "the people" may not express their own opinions on party policies.

As we know today, Chinese top politicians have always been well informed, not only about political statements and goals of the Democracy Movements, but also about individual activists and debates inside the organizations. Internal government publications for high-ranking cadres report on the contents of independent journals, big-character Posters and on the debates at the Democracy Wall. "Reporters" are sent out by party newspapers to conduct "interviews" with activists that are afterwards edited to inform the political elites.

One such report on the Guizhou "Enlightenment Society" (in Chinese) has been leaked a few years ago and made public on a website registered in Hong Kong. The Harvard College Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts) holds copies of several issues of the "Situation Summary" (Qingkuang Huibian 情况汇编) from the end of 1978. This internal information bulletin, restricted to high-ranking cadres, is published by the "People's Daily" up to several times a day. The available copies report some contents of the latest big-character posters as well as current trends and debates at the Democracy Wall.

"Qingkuang Huibian" (Situation Summary), issue no. 726 from November 15, 1978, p. 8., on the Tiananmen activists arrested in April 1976. On the lower right there is also the name of Wang Yong'an (王永安) who has regularly drafted "internal" reports on the Democracy Movement.

"Journalists" and Informers

Several of the Democracy Wall activistes interviewed (including Xu Wenli, Liu Qing, Xue Mingde, Huang Xiang, ...) report that they have been contacted and questioned at the end of 1978 or in 1979 by such "journalists" of party media . "Journalists" to be written within quotation marks, as their articles were rarely published  in regular media, but almost exclusively in "internal" information services for high-ranking cadres. These "journalists" therefore held multiple functions, there were also (or mainly) agents of various communist organizations, sent to observe and sound out Demcracy Wall activists.

Nevertheless, they used their real names and they were actually working for the media they said to represent (or one of their "internal" services), and the civil rights activists (and avant-garde artists) were usually quite aware of their identities. They knew that these "journalist" were not only reporting, but also playing a mediator role between the dissidents and leading officials. Actually we do know now some of their names and a number of reports they have drafted for internal purposes that have become publically accessible meanwhile due to various reasons.

One name appearing in several contexts is that of Wang Yong'an (王永安). Together with (already deceased) Zhou Xiuqiang (周修强) he had several longish interviews with Huang Xiang and other members of the "Enlightenment Society" from Guizhou. Their report that was published in the internal service of the "People's Daily" and is now accessible in the internet (in Chinese). Wang Yong'an's name also appears in one of the available issues of the "Situation Summary" from the end of 1978. Another name regularly mentioned in the interviews is that of Tang Xin (唐欣) who used to work for the "Beijing Daily" (北京日报).

More internal reports on the Democracy Movement (as well as parts of their contents) have become indirectly known through the memories of several people who were part of the political history of the 1970s and 1980s. For example, Fan Rongkang (范荣康) and Yu Huanchun (余焕春), two "People's Daily" reporters, presented a extensive "Analysis of the Xidan Democracy Wall" (西单民主墙剖析) to the "Forum on Theory Work" held in Beijing in early 1979. This report was also printed in the internal information service of the "People's Daily" (人民日报内参) distributed to high-ranking officials. And Tang Xin asserts in his memories of 2008 that between February 1979 and 1980, he has drafted a number of internal reports on the activities of dissident groups.

But beyond that, as we can conclude from several pieces of evidence (e.g. from Xu Wenli), there have also been secret agents acting covertly who had been planted into the civil roghts groups and editorial boards of independent journals by departments of state security organs. It is also said that such suspected agents have sometimes completely vanished from the scene without leaving any trace of who they really were and what their actual assignment was. Tang Xin also mentions at one point that especially in 1980, the dissident organisations were widely infiltrated by police informers.

As for direct contacts, we also know about several meetings between democracy activists close to the Youth League (such as Wang Juntao who was a leading candidate in the 1980 elections at Peking University, or Lü Pu [吕朴] who worked for the independent journal "April 5th Forum") with leading politicians such as Hu Yaobang and Hu Qiaomu. The "April 5th Forum" editor Xu Wenli says in his interview that he had once visited the central party newspaper "People's Daily" to discuss the arrests of some activists with Deputy Editor-in-Chief Wang Ruoshui.

For all of these reasons, high-ranking officials were quite well informed on the thinking of democracy activists and on the contents of independent dazibaos and other publications. At the same time, some of the party journalists who had been sent to investigate the Democracy Movement, have themselves developed sympathies for the dissidents, and most of these journalists also had close connections to the reformist faction within the Communist Party.

Liu Qing (about 1979)
Tang Xin (about 2015)

Tang Xin (唐欣) and Liu Qing (刘青)

A particularly interesting example is the role played by "Beijing Daily" reporter Tang Xin and his contacts with Liu Qing of the "April 5th Forum" and other dissident activists. Tang Xin himself talks on this very peculiar episode in a book published in Hong Kong in 2015 (Memories of the Xidan Democracy Wall ... In: Ding Dong, Xing Xiaoqun [Eds.]: How China's Political Reforms of the 80s Came to an Early End. Dashan Wenhua Chubanshe/Great Mountain Culture), while Liu Qing has also made public his version of these meetings (Liu Qing: Tang Xin and the Joint Conference. In: Beijing Spring (USA), February 1995; both publications in Chinese only).

Tang Xin is the son of Tang Ke (唐克) who held several ministerial posts (such as petrol industries and metallurgy) during the 70s and 80s. Tang Xin himself also studied engineering, but became a "journalist" of the "Beijing Daily" in 1978, more precisely of their internal publications department, an institution that existed (and still exists) in every big state or party newspaper. Such publications were not intended for "ordinary" readers, but for selected groups of cadres and high-ranking politicians as they also reported on politically sensitive issues and details usually not covered by the regular media.

At the end of 1978, Tang Xin writes, he already had, living in the home of an important politician, access to such classified information on dissident activities and the contents of critical posters from the Democracy Wall, and he often asked himself why it were mainly foreign journalists reporting on them. Finally he proposed to his editor-in-chief to have have a closer look himself on the dazibaos near the Xidan intersection. The editors agreed, and in early 1979, during ten days at first, Tang Xin investigated the Democracy Wall. He met a number of leading dissidents and drew up a 10.000 character report printed under the headline "Investigations and impressions from the Democracy Wall" (民主墙外采访印象记) by the internal service of the "Beijing Daily" (北京日报内参).

Tang Xin's Internal report on the Democracy Movement

In his memories Tang's basic assessment probably follows more or less this original report. He elaborates:

I felt like this: At the Democracy Wall there were three factions. The first and most important one was the "April 5th Forum" led by Xu Wenli, Liu Qing and Yang Jing. Xu Wenli ... was about the age of [Poland's dissident leader] Lech Wałęsa. Xu had, like many others, suffered during the Cultural Revolution, but not very heavily. His main slogan was that common people should also participate in debating big politics. He represented the urban population, the common working class and their claim that the weaker strata of the population should also get a chance to debate and formulate politics. The second faction were the leftists, represented at the Democracy Wall by the journal "Spring of Beijing". Their chief editor was Zhou Weimin, a Central Committee member of the Youth League, and his deputy was Wang Juntao, an alternate member of the Committee. Another one was Lü Jiamin, and among the eleven editors, nine were sons of high-ranking cadres, and almost all of them were "April 5th Heroes" [i.e. activists of the 1976 Tiananmen protests]. They were quite well informed on the Third Plenary Session and the Party Work Conference, and they seemed to follow the most radical party line. The third faction stood on the right, that was Wei Jingsheng. Wei war more advanced than all others in the emancipation of minds, his journal "Exploration" proposed a "Fifth Modernization" as "Four Modernizations" without political modernization was inconceivable for him. And he opposed any form of personality cult, he was particularly worried that such cult might arise around Deng Xiaoping, not to mention Wang Dongxing or Hua Guofeng. (Tang, p. 9)

Liu Qing who used to be the main interlocutor of Tang Xin, believed that the analyses of such "journalists" could exert a positive influence on the opinion of the Chinese leadership, quite different from the state security files. The following quotes all come from Liu Qing's memories published in an internet version of the 1995 US edition of "Beijing Spring". Liu describes Tang Xin's analyses this way:

Although these were internal reports, they were quite different from those forwarded by police or security institutions who wrote on us in the style of enemy reconnaissance, while the internal media, although not eulogizing, employed a generally objective and fair approach towards us. Not every reporter could write for the internal publications, their journalists always acted on behalf of someone. What happened at the Democracy Wall, was considered important, and those who had contact, were all well-trained and influential. A bit later we could also read this report. It began with a sentence in which the reporter described his participation at the the Joint Editorial Conference as being like a step on the surface of the moon, as arriving in a completely different world. (Liu Qing)

Talking to this author, Liu Qing also mentioned that he did not possess Tang Xin's report, but had a chance to read it at that time. In his memories written in 1995, he still remembers some of the details, especially Tang Xin's judgements on the Democracy Movement in 1979:

Besides describing the various organisations, Tang Xin's article emphasized on the individual personalities, to more than ten he devoted a whole paragraph in his text. Concerning the "April 5th Forum", that were myself and Xu Wenli, from the "Spring of Peking" it were Han Zhenxiong, Wang Juntao and Zhou Weimin, specifically mentioning also the still very young Lin Gang; as of "Today", he described Bei Dao and Mang Ke, and beyond those he also wrote on Wei Jingsheng and Ren Wanding. For the "Spring of Peking" people he made quite flattering remarks, calling them "Tiananmen heroes" [referring to the 1976 protests] and adding that some of them were Central Committee members and candidates of the Youth League, that they came from families of high-ranking cadres and therefore possessed a good background of politics. They also had a clear political stance, and they were usually a few steps ahead of the leadership's intentions. The staff members of the other journals and organizations were more vaguely described, on the "April 5th Forum" he wrote that we mainly consisted of workers who preferred organizational activities, and that we showed no peculiarities in regard to ideology or theory. Tang Xin's article was obviously based on personal impressions, sometimes far from reality. As for the "April 5th Forum", he only perceived some members of the core editorial board, although there existed several other gifted contributors, and among the nationwide correspondents there were some outstanding authors like Wang Xizhe, Chen Erjin, Sun Feng or Xu Shuiliang, and as a matter of fact, the best writers and theoreticians of the Democracy Wall were often linked to the "April 5th Forum". It was correct though when Tang Xin mentioned that the "April 5th Forum" mainly consisted of workers. Tang Xin himself was the son of a high-ranking official, and therefor he more easily understood ideas and opinions that came from the same sphere. Some of his judgements still seemed quite questionable. Although people who were not directly classified as reactionary or dangerous themselves, would laugh about, but old Wei (Jingsheng) and old Ren (Wanding) felt quite uneasy as even some of our own people also openly talked like this. I do remember that once at the Joint Editorial Conference, some were shouting at Wei Jingsheng, Ren Wanding and Lu Lin that they could become famous now, having made it on the list of bourgeois and reactionary elements in an internal report handed to the Politburo and Central Committee. Wei Jingsheng and Ren Wanding felt quite embarrassed though, and certainly not amused by this internal report. ... In my opinion this report rather provoked some people to react even stronger and with more far-reaching consequences. ... The internal reports only painted a rather vague picture, it was certainly not a signal for repression, as the authorities at that time were more interested in influencing the Democracy Movement and even clinching a deal with it. (Liu Qing)

Tang's First Meetings with the Dissidents

But back to the beginning of this unusual encounters: Before visiting the Democracy Wall for the first time, Tang Xin talked to his direct superior Wang Fengyu (王丰玉), a close collaborator of Hu Yaobang. Tang also worries how he will be received by the dissidents and takes some precautionary measures:

Going to the Democracy Wall for the first time, I felt quite anxious. When I arrived there, I found an edition of the "April 5th Forum", one of the big publications. It had a contact address written on it, Dong Si Shi Tiao, Liu Qing's apartment. I noted this address on a piece of paper which I handed to my sister telling her: In case I am not able to come back, please immediately call uncle Lin [Beijing's Mayor and Party Secretary Lin Hujia] so that he can rescue me. But when I arrived at Li Qing's place, he received me very cordially. This was the beginning of my long contacts with the Democracy Wall that were to last for several months. I met 125 persons, among them Gu Xiang (Gu Cheng's sister) [Gu Cheng 顾城, famous poet and novelist, 1946-1993], Lü Pu [吕朴, editor of the "April 5th Forum", from a well-known politician's family], Lü Jiamin (actually Jiang Rong, the author of "Wolf Totem"), Zhou Weimin, Wang Juntao, Xu Wenli, Wei Jingsheng, Zhao Zhenkai (Bei Dao), Jiang Shiwei (Mang Ke), Hu Ping who worked for the journal "Wotu" (Fertile Ground) and people around Jiang Hong [姜洪, leading economist and academic]. (Tang, pp. 8-9)

In his own memories, Liu Qing describes his first meeting with Tang Xin like this:

Tang Xin briefly knocked at the door, just opened it and stepped in. I was just in a conversation with Lin Gang of the "Spring of Peking" who was only nineteen then. Just like the others of the "Spring of Peking", he possessed two characteristics: He came from a family of cadres , and he had been arrested and kept in prison in 1976 because of his participation in the "April 5th Movement". He had come to see me as the "Spring of Peking" representative at the Joint Editorial Conference. I met him for the first time, and we had talked for more that one hour. Tang Xin looked at us and asked who was Liu Qing from the Joint Editorial Conference. He introduced himself as a journalist of the "Beijing Daily" and pulled out a press card to show it to me, smiling, not bragging, but more to prove himself open and trying to gain our trust. It belonged to his job to meet us, unlike other officials who had come and told us that they wanted to talk to us in a private capacity.

Tang Xin said that the whole world discussed the Democracy Wall, but Chinese media kept their eyes closed, it seemed an awkward situation that they did not notice and ask questions. He hoped that informations would not only depend on reports from abroad, he had come to find out things himself, without any ulterior motives, there was no reason for us to worry. I did not know why he used this phrase, it seemed as if he actually wanted to tell me the contrary. But whatever he tried to say, it could not change my attitude. We had often heard of spies and had earlier discussed this among us, but we wanted to remain open and transparent, and even the police we wanted to receive in such way. That is what I also told Tang Xin. He just turned his pale face towards me and said, "is it like this?" but did not seem surprised. Tang Xin conveyed a broad interest, we talked on the Democracy Wall and on current developments in the society, on the peculiarities of the different journals and on their various staff members. Nevertheless I noticed that he clearly knew to distinguish what was important and what not, and his main interest was focused on the journals and their main staff.

This seemed to me a good opportunity to demonstrate our openness and transparency to him, and as there was a meeting of the Joint Editorial Conference planned for this very evening, I decided to tell him that he could also come and listen I he wanted. This time he arched his eyebrows and just said "really?" (Liu Qing)

Openness vs. Scepticism

Liu Qing had just invited the representative of the "Beijing Daily" to attend the Joint Editorial Conference of the various independent journals, where the dissidents coordinated - especially after the arrest of the female activist Fu Yuehua - their common approach and line of action:

More participants than usually had come at this evening, sometimes two from the same journal, "Exploration" had sent Lu Lin and Wei Jingsheng, from the "April 5th Forum" there was me and Yang Jing, and there were even some people who had not been invited. I told Lin Gang that I had also asked other representatives of the "Spring of Peking" to attend, but only Lin Gang had come. Some had arrived a bit before the announced start of the meeting. When I informed the participants that I had invited someone, I tried to explain the situation before the first open contact with a representative of the authorities. In the history of the Communist Party, I said, journalists from the Xinhua News Agency have often been charged with delicate missions during special situations. And as this constituted the first such meeting, we should expect debates.  

The fact that I had invited an official on my own initiative, rather aroused some interest among most of the participants than any misgiving. I remember that there were hardly any concerns. We rather asked ourselves whether Tang Xin really would, as he had said, investigate on the Democracy Wall and the Joint Editorial Conference in order to write an objective article, and whether his appearance had been arranged by a certain faction of the political forces. We were a bit excited, even pleased and happy, that our people's journals and organizations had finally received some appreciation which implied to us a chance of further development. Some said, if the newspapers report on us, what could become of our articles?

Tang Xin arrived an hour later than agreed, he explained that he wanted to give us the opportunity to thoroughly discuss if we would really allow him to attend the Joint Conference. He cannily added that he wanted to give us more time to talk ourselves on his attitudes and on the issues we were going to debate. It seemed that his thoughts were even more numerous and weirder than ours. That probably had its reasons. He removed his coat, and again pulled out his journalist accreditation to let every single participant inspect it. Most were taken by surprise, they only kept it briefly, some even said, "did we not trust you enough?" But not with all of them the perplexity exceeded their curiosity. When one wanted to hand the press card back to Tang Xin, Wei Jingsheng and Lu Lin who were sitting at the end of the bed, interrupted him. Lu Lin stretched out his hand to grab the card, turning it also around to closely scrutinize both the front and the back. And smiling and completely innocently, they asked Tang Xin two more questions, whether the press accreditation had been issued just recently, and if he was a reporter working for the internal publications department. I began to feel a bit uneasy, but Tang Xin remained calm and continued to make jokes with the representatives of other organizations, he hardly seemed to notice the attention for his press card that came from the other side of the room. The apparently innocent questions did not disturb his conversations, and he answered just briefly, as if it were the most natural thing. There was no embarrassment felt, which made me think that this was a good sign that everything was going smoothly.

But as a matter of fact, Tang Xin was not like what he pretended to be. It was certainly not alright with him how Wei Jingsheng and Lu Lin had scrutinized his press card. In his internal report that he later drafted for the leaders, he wrote a whole paragraph on this procedure, reasoning that the "Exploration" people were probably more reserved, while those from the other journals and organizations had more easily trusted him. He finally concluded that these words, and maybe other things as well, expressed an attitude towards the government, as the staff of "Exploration" harbored deep-rooted distrust of the leadership, while the others had only little suspicion or none at all. Of course this was not a formal verdict on "Exploration", but in his article Tang Xin also wrote a kind of official judgement of the journal, categorizing it as extreme and problematic. Although many of us had similar ideas, there was still a difference in this classification. We had also called this category "extreme", but for Tang Xin it was not only "extreme" but it also represented a bourgeois and reactionary ideology and dangerous leaning, and he included in this group also organizations like the "Chinese Human Rights Alliance" [of Ren Wanding]. The journals that Tang Xin liked most, were "Spring of Peking" and "Fertile Soil", both almost openly praised by him. In his article he also wrote positively about "Today" which he referred to as a "contribution" and an "achievement" for literature and arts. The other people's journals and organizations he just described as remaining in a gray area. (Liu Qing)



Arrest of Ren Wanding (with glasses) of the journal "Human Rights in China" by plain-clothes policemen at the Democracy Wall (April 4, 1979)

Tang Xin as an Intermediary

It seems that in his own recollections, Tang Xin has somehow euphemized his judgements on the Democracy Movement, or at least put them into a positive context, without mentioning some of his negative conclusions. He says for example that in a conversation with Beijing's mayor Lin Hujia, he opposed Wei Jingsheng's detention (p. 11), and mentions that he did not like at all the scene of Ren Wanding's arrest on April 5 [or April 4?], 1979 that he personally witnessed: 

Wei Jingsheng was arrested in March, Ren Wanding on April 5th because of his "Human Rights Manifesto". This seemed a bit exaggerated to me, as people were there to protest Wei Jingsheng's detention. I happened to be present that day, plainclothes police in gym shoes, but otherwise in streetwear, had come to beat up the crowd, they pushed the Democracy Wall people directly towards a female foreign correspondent. When I left, as I had no other business, so I went directly to Lin Hujia's office. That's roughly what I told him: "How can it be that during broad daylight, you are sending people to cause turmoil and making us look like fools in front of the whole world. Aren't we just loosing our face this way?" Lin Hujia was furious, he banged on the table and loudly cursed the public security office. This was probably one of the reasons why they initiated an investigation against me. (Tang, pp. 12-13) 

Tang tries to portray himself as a kind of "victim" because of his connections with dissidents. It was in autumn 1979 that the investigations he mentions, were undertaken by the security organs:

At that time the leadership had changed its tone, the Democracy Wall was banned, also the Four Big Freedoms [of expression, of writing dazibaos etc., originally written into the constitution] did not exist any more. After the Democracy Wall had been moved to the Yuetan Park, only few people visited it, except for an upsurge in October. It was then when the Public Security Bureau prepared such a thick file of evidence against me. There were informers in practically every Democracy Wall organization. Maybe their level of education was not very high, they had prepared such a thick folder of material under the heading "The illegal activities of the Beijing Daily's internal service reporter Tang Xin" which they forwarded to the higher level authorities, first to the Beijing Public Security Bureau, then to the CCP City Committee, before it eventually arrived at Lin Hujia's office desk. Lin was enraged, he put his foot down and immediately called for the director of security, yelling at him, how could you take action against our own people, it was myself who had sent him. (Tang, p. 12)

Squabble about Moving the Democracy Wall

In the interview on which the article from the book published in Hong Kong is based, Tang repeatedly portrays his own perception of the Democracy Movement in a positive light, and even tries to present the attitudes of well-known conservative officials more favorably. Deng Liqun [邓力群], Hu Qiaomu [胡乔木, both held leading posts in the Academy of Science and in the CCP Propaganda Department] or Lin Hujia were certainly not known to be friend of the "Beijing Spring". This became clear also in a debate with Hu Qiamu on the removal of the Democracy Wall from the central Xidan intersection to the much remoter Yuetan Park:

After arriving at his apartment, we talked for more than two hours. He said that although the Democracy Wall was a good thing, its location next to a main thoroughfare created some chaos, traffic was disturbed. He told me, just go to the Beijing City Council afterwards and ask Comrade Lin Hujia if it were possible to open the Workers' Cultural Palace as a Democracy Park, a kind of Chinese Hyde Park. ... The next day I arranged by phone an appointment with Lin Hujia. Lin argued that the Worker's Cultural Palace was just next to Tiananmen, wouldn't that also be too conspicuous. If there were too many people, wouldn't it also disturb traffic? He then proposed to move the Wall to the Yuetan Park, and shortly after, this was actually done. I transmitted this opinion to Liu Qing and the others, and discussed this matter with them. Liu Qing has never understood in who's name I was doing this. (Tang, p. 11)

Liu Qing says that he has never considered Tang Xin's proposal as an honest one. Looking back, he describes this conversation in a slightly different way:

As he always did, Tang Xin started with some explanations before exposing his new idea. This time he not only stressed in a serious and firm tone that this were purely his personal thought, that he spoke in nobody's name and that he had not been asked by anyone to do this, but he also explained verbosely the advantages and the necessity of moving the Democracy Wall. In this lengthy conversation, Tang Xin emphasized the following points: The Democracy Wall was not a long-term arrangement, it was situated next to a main thoroughfare, people arrived in a disorderly way, a majority were petitioners and bystanders, in the long run traffic and social order would be disrupted, it was an eyesore for the urban image and for the China's reputation, no country would tolerate the ongoing existence of such a phenomenon; at the beginning, the Democracy Wall had been called a Hyde Park for debating politics, a place where everybody could freely express his opinion, that is why we should find a quiet place, just like Hyde Park, for free debates and speeches, a park would be the ideal solution. Only at the end Tang Xin said that he considered Yuetan Park as a suitable location. ...

I also saw a certain logic in what Tang Xin had said, ... but behind Tang Xin's words there was a clear objective that annoyed me. I answered that the Beijing Democracy Wall was an institution for the whole country. Of course, the traffic flow was affected by the crowds, but moving the Wall to a quiet and remote place, would make it difficult for people from outside to get to the location, and even Beijing residents did not always have the means and the courage to go there, in reality it would put an end to the Democracy Wall. ... I therefore modified his proposal, and suggested the Cultural Palace to the east of the Tiananmen, or the Sun Yat-sen Park further west. If there were free entry to the parks, this would compensate for the disadvantages in Tang Xin's proposal and safeguard the future of the Democracy Wall. (Liu Qing)

Despite his reluctance, Tang Xin promised to pass Liu Qing's suggestions on to the politicians. When Liu informed the other groups and representatives of his proposals though, a majority argued against them in a quite heated debate, the most outspoken were Ren Wanding, Wei Jingsheng and the members of the "Enlightenment Society" who strictly opposed moving the location of the dazibao wall:

They insisted that under no circumstances the Democracy Wall should be moved away from Xidan, this would constitute a trap, doing this we would dig our own grave. It was argued that this would be a break with the whole past and the grass-root people, it then could not be called Democracy Wall any more. The numerous people trying to visit the Wall, including foreigners and those  coming from other parts of China, but also Beijing residents, would not be able to find the place anymore. We would have to start from the scratch again. ... Without a word, Tang Xin listened to our answer, he had probably expected it. Eight or nine months later, after I had already been arrested without reason, the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress decided to abolish the Four Big Freedoms. The issue of the Democracy Wall was transferred to the Standing Committee of Beijing's Congress who decided without any delay to close the Xidan Wall and move it to the Yuetan Park. In this way, Tang Xin's "purely personal thought" from the beginning of the year was forced through by Beijing's city authorities at the end of the year by order of the central government. What had changed meanwhile, was that the Democracy Movement did not posses bargaining chips any more to negotiate and to reach a compromise. (Liu Qing)

There was another different matter that Tang Xin also saw himself in a capacity to mediate. He wanted to establish contacts between moderate democracy campaigners and politicians, more precisely, as he tells us, he initiated meetings between the CCP Central Committee members Hu Qiaomu and Hu Yaobang with the activists Wang Juntao and Lü Pu from the magazines "Spring of Peking" and "April 5th Forum" respectively:

At that time, I was in favor of a dialogue between them and the central leadership. I proposed that Wang Juntao and Lü Pu should meet Comrade (Hu) Qiaomu in his apartment. Comrade (Hu) Qiaomu immediately agreed and received them. Wang Juntao and Lü Pu haben had a very good conversation of two to three hours with Comrade (Hu) Qiaomu. Lü Pu also had the intention to talk to (Hu) Yaobang, but I do not know if this ever materialized. The leadership wanted to solve the problems through dialogue and to make use of the positive attitudes towards democracy for the party's course. But I do think that Wei Jingsheng had already removed himself too far. To question Deng Xiaoping's authority at that point, was certainly the wrong way. One must look at the whole history. From today's point of view, Wei Jingsheng probably was progressive. But at that time, reform and opening up would not have been possible without the "Four Basic Principles". (Tang, p. 13)

Wang Juntao and Hu Yaobang

In his interview, Wang Juntao confirms his meeting with Hu Qiaomu at the time of the Democracy Wall, although his recollections of these talks are more negative than those of Tang Xin:

I have talked once with Hu Qiaomu, he was a rather disgusting person. When I talked to him in his apartment and said, one had to do away with corruption, he just answered: "Corruption has existed through all the dynasties, one cannot just do away with it, and this is not necessary." (Interview with Wang Juntao)

Wang Juntao adds that he has also met other politicians. Among his fellow students at Peking University in 1980, there was the current Prime Minister Li Keqiang as well as Chongqing's former Mayor and Party Secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来) who had been purged in 2012 from the Politburo (and condemned to  a life sentence the year after) frühere. Wang has also met Bo's father, veteran revolutionary Bo Yibo (薄一波), but the politician who left the most profound impression on Wang Juntao, was Hu Yaobang as he says:

I liked and esteemed Hu Yaobang a lot. By Chinese standards he was not very mature yet, therefore it was easy for his political adversaries to attack him. I believe that Deng Xiaoping wanted to sponsor and support him, but I noticed that he was a person difficult to control because of his frankness. ... We talked for several hours. At first, our conversation should have lasted 15 to 30 minutes, but then he was so much into our talk that it continued for several hours. He told me that he had stayed at home that day because of a painful tooth, but I think that he took the day off because he actually wanted to talk with us. Before it began, I met his secretary. Introducing myself, I had told him I was the deputy editor-in-chief of the journal "Spring of Peking", but the secretary suggested "Maybe this is not so appropriate, let's call it a conversation between the elder and the younger generation." That's how I went in. We talked on a variety of subjects, in short I said that I hoped for reforms in China, that there were no political persecutions any more, that China would never return to the time of the Cultural Revolution. ...

I clearly told him, that I opposed the detention of Wei Jingsheng. Hu Yaobang did not give an answer to this. He just pulled out a report by the Guizhou Provincial Party Committee and said: "Look, the Guizhou Provincial Committee had ordered the arrest of Huang Xiang from the "Enlightenment Society" and later released him again because of humanitarian considerations. I agree that this should be our way to solve problems. He were against political persecution. I then said: "You have to enact political reforms." He answered: "I do want reforms to the point that even my tooth hurts and that I find no sleep because I am always pondering how China should be reformed. But reforms are not that simple as young people like you might think.  ...

Later he added: "Young people like you have three advantages: First, you have ideals; secondly, you are well educated; and thirdly, you have the zeal and energy to realize your aspirations. But you also have two disadvantages, you are not realistic, you never start from the facts when you consider what has to be done, you only believe it must be done like this or like that; and secondly you are impatient and always worried." Much is not done well because of too much worries. The conversation with Hu Yaobang left a strong impression on me. And one reason why I did not oppose the Communist Party for such a long time, was that the were reformers like Hu Yaobang within the Party. ... (Interview with Wang Juntao)

He has never asked Hu directly on his opinion on the Democracy Movement, says Wang Juntao, he was rather interested to obtain ideas to reflect on, he wanted a dialogue with the Communist Party, encourage reforms and make some concrete proposals. But when Hu Yaobang asked him, he realized that he could not really present ready ideas. Later he had to witness that within China's autocratic system, reformers like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang did not really get a chance in the end.

Welcoming Democracy Activists to the Communist Youth League?

An interesting chapter that still remains partly in the dark, is the apparently serious proposal to integrate at least part of the democracy activists into the official political structures, more precisely into the Communist Youth League that was considered close to the reform faction around Hu Yaobang at that time. It is to be noted that the journal "Spring of Peking" already had some important connections to the Youth League, some of its editors also held important posts within the League. Liu Qing quickly understood that Tang Xin had the intention and probably also some assignment to recruit at least some of the activists:

It was Tang Xin who clearly offered a cooperation to the Joint Editorial Conference, and also tried to influence it. There had been other people who hinted to us before that they had close links to the authorities, even telling us that they could serve as direct intermediates with Deng Xiaoping if we were ready to accept certain changes. But there were few who stood by their official assignment and the fact that their contacts with the Editorial Conference were part of their job, and one of those was Tang Xin. Strangely though, Tang often told us the contrary, nevertheless I clearly understood it this way. For example, after some apparently purposeless interviews, he briefly paused, and much to our astonishment, his voice turned very serious when he said: "I've got an idea that just came to my mind. It is not some politician's or authority's opinion, but I had this idea myself after the many contacts with you. Maybe this sounds a bit strange, but I would still like to ask all of you." During such extensive explanations, he always used to eye me closely. Of course I was curious as I knew that he was going to propose something important, but his awkward explanations often made that I could not really understand what he wanted to say. Should I just consider it as something important, or should I really believe it. I nodded with a smile, saying that I also had strange ideas sometimes, but without saying that I would never dare to tell them to others. But Tang Xin then asked, how would it be if you and some others from the Democracy Wall who had some influence on young people, were given posts in the Youth League Central Committee to engage in youth work there. This way, we could on the one hand remain committed to China's affairs and show our courage to speak out and act openly, on the other hand this would become supported and coordinated by an organization. How would we think about a proposal by the Youth League's Central Committee to provide us with such a place where we could be useful.

This was completely unexpected. And it was certainly not in accordance with those objectives that had made me join the Democracy Movement. ... I did not need to think much about Tang Xin's proposal, but rejected it outright. I told him that I had joined the Democracy Wall because I did not want any restrictions and obligations. Hearing this, Tang became a little embarrassed. ... The fact that he had made this proposal, at least showed that the government had tried to think about an idea, that a certain faction in the communist leadership wanted to clinch a deal with us, tried to use us, and that this seemed more important to them than to suppress and persecute us. ...

But despite my answer, Tang Xin did not give up, but made new requests. I should pass his suggestions on to the Joint Editorial Conference, in order to find out how the representatives and activists of other organizations thought about the idea to do youth work within the Central Committe of the League. I accepted and promised to bring up his proposal at the next session of the Joint Conference. For this purpose I convened a special meeting, and even before it started, I already talked to some like Xu Wenli, who agreed to my view and my approach. At the meeting I first explained in detail what Tang Xin had said, I analyzed the intentions behind these words, where they probably came from, and how I had myself reacted. At the same time I emphasized that the Democracy Wall could only remain a force to monitor and control society, as long as it remained independent. As soon as it got involved with official authorities, even with the promise of certain liberties and garanties, it would not be able any more to play such a role, that would happen if we accepted the deal that had been talked about. More than that, people were concerned about some details, they asked me to explain once more certain phrases that Tang Xin had used, whether he had told for example which people had influence and authority, everyone was interested in that. As it was known that I had already talked to some friends, I just repeated my opinion and approach when I conducted the meeting, adding that it seemed that no one at the Joint Conference was ready to accept such a deal. Tang Xin's proposal was therefore not really discussed. After a some debates we adopted two resolutions: The Joint Editorial Conference rejected the idea to do youth work within the Youth League's Central Committee; and some organizations and individuals asked for more information, Liu Qing should help, while Tang Xin could establish contacts.

After one or two days, Tang Xin came back to inquire about the situation. He clearly did not understand this decision and was disappointed. I explained to him that although the Joint Conference had rejected the idea as a whole, some organizations and individuals had still shown interest and asked for more information. I wanted to know from Tang Xin how we could remain in touch so that interested people could contact him individually. I thought that this additional fact would create a more positive mood with him. In my feeling Tang Xin did not a priori have a hostile or malicious attitude towards the Democracy Wall, despite the fact that he had categorized the activists into various "categories" and portrayed some of them as dangerous. But maybe there is one episode that helps to understand Tang Xin's view of the Wall. Tang Ruoxin who worked for the Politics Research Department of the Youth League, was another official who openly held contacts with us at that time. Together with colleagues he drafted a report on the Democracy Wall in the name of the Youth League's Central Committee, describing meticulously various journals and organizations. The report contained many positive and commending phrases as well as some proposals how to control and influence the Democracy Movement. Tang Xin talked once with me on this report, he said Tang Ruoxin's article was too subjective and emotional, unlike his own factual and impartial reports. The effects on the central leadership would therefore be counterproductive. Tang Ruoxin's account would rather create doubt and distrust towards the Democracy Wall, he said, while his own aroused more apprehension and approval. At one instance he told me in his strangely intimate way, if one tried to create something positive, one had to know how to achieve it. It was easy to be resolute in climbing up, but required skills not to fall down again. Then he firmly pressed my hand, obviously convinced that he had displayed his best skills towards the Democracy Movement. But his words were not convincing, his attitude towards the Democracy Movement was clearly not as positive as Tang Ruoxin had proven it by his honest approach. (Liu Qing)


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