Wang Ruoshui

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Differing Opinions regarding the l978-l979 Democracy Wall

Wang Ruoshui

            In the late l970s when Hua Guofeng was still chairman of the party and premier, Deng Xiaoping had not yet consolidated his power and many of the patriarchs still had not been rehabilitated. At that time, the attitude of these veterans toward the press and toward public opinion was not as dogmatic as it was later to become, but rather it was very enlightened and open-minded.

             In fact, at the end of the l970s Hu Qiaomu told the editor-in-chief of the People's Daily that the paper had never before been so well managed.  At that time Hu Qiaomu  also published an article in the People's Daily, entitled "Use Economic Methods to Manage the Economy" in which he proposed the abolition of administrative practices.  This article attracted a lot of attention, both in China and abroad, and for a short period Hu came to be regarded as a reformist! Deng Liqun, another noted conservative, wrote a long article entitled "Long live the People," celebrating the reversal of the verdict on the Tiananmen incident of l976. He also gave some public speeches advocating democracy and modernization.

             Some of patriarchs who had not yet been rehabilitated requested that their petitions be delivered to the Central Committee via the People's Daily. The People's Daily also helped them in other ways.  For instance, at that time Bo Yibo did not have access to a car, so when he had to go out, the paper would provide him with transportation!

            In l977 I became deputy editor-in-chief of the People's Daily. At the end of l978 just when the media were filled with articles regarding the "two whatevers," the Democracy Wall posters began to appear at Xidan in Beijing.  They immediately attracted the attention of the patriarchs.  Chen Yun instructed the People's Daily to make periodic reports of what was occurring at the wall to the Central Committee and to the leadership.   We sent a reporter to make contact with the activists at Xidan to follow Chen Yun's instructions. I also often went to Xidan myself because I was interested in finding out what was going on.

            The big-character posters mainly called for two things:  first, for the total rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping and then for the rehabilitation of other senior revolutionaries and of the activists at the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in l976; and second, for a reappraisal of Mao Zedong. One poster declared that Mao's achievements should only be rated as 30 percent and his failures as 70 percent.  On the evening of November 27, l978, when a large crowd was gathered at the wall, two foreign journalists, John Fraser of the Toronto Globe and Mail and the U.S. syndicated columnist Robert Novak, approached the group and said that they would be meeting with Deng Xiaoping the following day.  They asked if there was any message to be passed on to Deng. The activists requested that they tell Deng their opinion that there should be criticism of Mao because his failures were greater than his achievements.

             The next day when the journalists met with Deng and they passed on this message, Deng disagreed with their appraisal of Mao.  He said that Mao's achievements were most important, but he also said that Democracy Wall was a fine thing.

             On the same day Deng also told a Japanese visitor that the formal Central Committee decision about the l976 Tiananmen incident had been wrong.  He said that the posting of big-character posters was a normal phenomenon;  it was a sign of the stability of the country, that was permitted by the state constitution. So there was no reason to deny the activists of their rights. According to Deng, if the people had anger they should be allowed to release it. Deng also said that the opinions of the masses were not all mature and that they could not expect that all of their opinions were correct. "But," said Deng, "we don't need to worry about this." This conversation was reported in the People's Daily on the following day.

            During this initial period, the organizations which appeared at Democracy Wall were still considered mass organizations; they only later came to be referred to as illegal organizations.  At the theory conference at the beginning of l979, which I attended, two staff editors from the People's Daily gave a joint speech reporting on and analyzing the events at Democracy Wall.  They called on the Central Committee to adopt a tolerant attitude toward the activists.

             But at about the same time some provincial party secretaries sent emergency telegrams to the Central Committee to report that many of their offices had been surrounded by sent-down to the countryside youth who now wished to be returned to the cities. The Central Committee presumed that the opinions expressed at our theory conference and the posters on Democracy Wall had incited these youth in the countryside. The telegrams were immediately reprinted and distributed at the theory conference to alert us participants.  But we paid no attention to this; we thought that it was irrelevant to our meeting.

            But this marked a turning point in the emergence of differences of opinion between the leaders and the participants at the conference. The leaders, including Hu Yaobang, no longer attended the conference, protesting their difference of opinion.

            Just at the same time that we were engaged in enthusiastic discussions at the theory conference, the democratic activists were engaged in similar discussions in the streets of Beijing.  The fact that these events were occurring concurrently alarmed the leaders;  they were not afraid of the activists in and of themselves, but what the leaders most feared was that the activists would receive support from within the party and the two groups would unite together.

            In March l979 Wei Jingsheng was arrested for his actions at the wall. The day before his arrest Peng Zhen  delivered a speech which noted that several central organs, such as the People's Daily and the Communist Youth League, were supporting the activists at the wall.

            Our conference met for more than three months; but toward the

middle of the meeting, on March 30, l979, Deng Xiaoping delivered his famous speech "Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles."  This speech was actually intended as a subtle warning to the conference participants.  After the speech, our discussions became muted.

            Shortly after the arrest of Wei, Liu Qing was also arrested.  He was a member of the April Fifth Forum led by Xu Wenli. Thereafter, Xu Wenli came to the People's Daily requesting that a petition be delivered to the Central Committee calling for the release of Liu Qing.  I met with Xu, who was accompanied by two other persons, for about ten minutes.  I advised them to have patience; China could not be changed overnight and the process of eradicating old habits could only be a gradual process. But I noted that anyhow the situation was still better than it had been in earlier years and we had more democracy.  Xu concurred. I then agreed to publish his petition in the internal news report of the People's Daily so that it would be read by the leadership.

            I did not imagine that one of the people accompanying Xu was a undercover agent of the Bureau of Public Security.  A few days later a report was put on the desk of the minister of public security who then submitted a formal report to the Central Committee regarding Xu's visit to the People's Daily and my conversation with him.

            As a result, at the end of l979 Hu Jiwei, editor-in-chief of the People's Daily, and I were called to Hu Yaobang's home for a discussion.  Also invited were Han Yin, secretary of the Communist Youth League, and Zhu Muzhi, vice minister of propaganda.

            Hu talked about the situation and showed us the report from the Ministry of Public Security.  Deng Xiaoping had personally attached a note to this report: "It is mandatory that we ask Wang to explain what occurred." Hu Yaobang had added: "I suggest that the Standing Committee of the Politburo appoint someone to investigate whether the People's Daily and other departments are the backstage bosses of the April Fifth Forum.  Then we can make a decision as to how to resolve this issue."  And lastly, Hua Guofeng had written: "I suggest that Comrade Hu Yaobang have a talk with representatives of the People's Daily."  The report referred not only to the People's Daily, but also to the Youth League.  Both of these organizations were under the leadership of Hu Yaobang.  As the secretary general of the CentraL committee, the report should have been given to Hu, who then should have delivered it to the Standing Committee of the Politburo, but it appeared that Hu's name had been handwritten in as an afterthought. Hu Yaobang explained to us that this was why he had attached his note. "I am sensitive," he said.

            I explained to Hu what had occurred during the meeting with Xu Wenli. I said that the April Fifth Forum was in fact the most moderate and reasonable of all of the Democracy Wall groups. Its members disagreed with Wei JIngsheng's criticism of Deng Xiaoping.  I told Hu that I thought that this organization was okay.  Hu responded: "I don't know this Xu Wenli, but I think he wants to challenge the party.  This is quite dangerous.  But surely this is Xu Wenli's problem, not Wang Ruoshui's problem.  Wang is a veteran party member and is trustworthy."  Then Hu added to me: "But I would like to remind you to take care not to be deceived.  Please submit a formal report before not too long, elucidating the lessons you have learned from this incident."

            Hu recalled that he had met with Wang Juntao and other activists from the Democracy Wall.  He had warned them that they were not qualified to become involved in politics and that they should listen to their elders.  But Hu had failed to convince them.  He remarked that not every young person could be educated and perhaps they had been spoiled by the People's Daily.

            Han Yin added that the party committees in the universities had also found that it was very difficult to persuade the activists because the party secretaries were not as well read as the students and the students were always too self-confident.

            After this talk I submitted my report, but there was no response from the leadership.  It seemed that it was all in the past.

             Shortly thereafter Democracy Wall was suddenly banned and one month later, on January l6, l980, Deng Xiaoping gave a stern warning to people like me after he criticized the wall. He said:

                        In this struggle against crime all party members

                        and cadres, and the highest ones in particular,

                        must take a firm, clear-cut stand.  It is absolutely

                        impermissible to make contacts with counter-                revolutionaries and criminals unbeknownst to the

                        Party organization.  I am referring to sympathetic

                        contacts and naturally do not include those made

                        for the purpose of dissuading these persons from

                        evil-doing.  There really are some comrades whose

                        contacts with such people are sympathetic.... Among

                        their supporters there must be some Party members or

                        even cadres holding fairly high posts.  We must make

                        it clear to these Party members that their stand is

                        very mistaken, very dangerous, and that unless they

                        correct their mistakes immediately and thoroughly,

                        they will be subjected to Party disciplinary measures.


            When I read these sentences, I recalled that in my report I had written that I was sympathetic to the April Fifth Forum.  That must have been the evidence for Deng Xiaoping's suspicions.

            Deng had explicitly said that he excluded those who made contact in order to dissuade, in effect thereby protecting Hu Yaobang. Although Hu showed no sympathy toward the activists in his discussions with them, he was definitely inclined toward dialogue rather than confrontation.  Deng, on the other hand, saw the activists as a source of turmoil and called for them to be punished. The same thing occurred nine years later between Deng and Zhao Ziyang with respect to the students in Tiananmen Square.

            I thus became a suspicious high cadre.  The Bureau of Public Security conducted some investigations of my activities, although they never approached me directly.  When my name came up, some leaders would ask: "What's Wang's connection with the underground activists?"

            Actually, these activists were not underground, nor were they illegal, before the banning of Democracy Wall.  Activists such as Xu Wenli had required that their groups register officially with the authorities.  But they were not allowed to do so; in effect the government had forced them to become illegal.

            In l982 the Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping were being prepared and those responsible for this work issued a report to a meeting of the central propaganda department in which I participated. They said there had been some debate among the members of the editorial group.  Some members thought that Deng's works should remain in their original form in order to remain faithful to the historical record.  Others proposed selective editing, since Deng's writings were being published in order to educate the cadres;  that which was not in tune with the times should be altered.  The editorial group sought Deng's advice and he chose the latter route.

             Deng had originally said that those who write posters for Democracy Wall should not be incriminated -- these people should be allowed to release their anger.  However, these sentences were  subsequently deleted from his Selected Works.  It's a pity that those young people originally trusted Deng Xiaoping, never expecting that he would later change his opinion.