REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
Twenty years ago today, students were gathering in China's Tianamen Square. The massacre there was still more than two weeks away. And one of the Communist Party's top officials went to the square before dawn on May 19th. Tears in his eyes, he spoke through a bullhorn begging the protestors to give up their hunger strike.
Premiere ZHAO ZIYANG (Then-Premiere, Communist Party, China): (Speaking foreign language)
ROBERTS: After that speech, the party shut out Zhao Ziyang. So, he was home not far from Tianamen Square when the government troops moved in.
Premiere ZIYANG: (Through Translator) On the night of June 3rd, I was enjoying the cool in my courtyard when I heard intense gunfire. The tragedy that shocked the world had not been avoided and was happening, after all.
ROBERTS: Zhao Ziyang was under house arrest where he remained until his death in 2005, and almost no one has heard his side of the story. But Zhao was recording his memoirs in secret, taping over cassettes of opera and children's songs. Those tapes were smuggled into Hong Kong and next week are being released as a book called Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premiere Zhao Ziyang.
This project has been the life's work of lead editor Bao Pu. His father was an aide to Zhao.
Mr. BAO PU (Editor, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premiere Zhao Ziyang): It was actually very, very shocking and also, at the same time, a relief to know that finally, his version and his story will survive.
ROBERTS: There's an expression that winners write the history text, not the losers. When you read currently published accounts of the time leading up to Tianamen and Deng Xiaoping's Communist Party, what's your reaction to this account, as recorded by Zhao?
Mr. PU: My first reaction is the kind of perspective that he offered is very unique. I mean all these incident had been reported, but people only could speculate why the Chinese leader thinks or acts that way. This time we have a first-person account of why and their motive.
ROBERTS: Do you think this book might lead to some sort of government response about Tianamen? In 20 years, there's been nothing.
Mr. PU: I think, you know, there is public perception that people are quiet. Maybe they even lost their memory about that tragedy. But I think otherwise because the memory of the tragedy, I believe it haunts the Chinese government every minute of the day. Otherwise, they wouldn't be guarding a empty square for 20 years.
I mean, this particular crucial information being made available today and I hope, you know, this will offer them a chance, a moment of reflection to really think about what happened. Hopefully, you know, something good will come out of it.
ROBERTS: This is personal for you. Your father, Bao Tong was an aide of Zhao's when he was a party official. What is your father's situation now?
Mr. PU: He's under constant surveillance. When he goes out of the house and there were people following him, and he's barred from visitors. And this actually, you know, this isolates him I mean quite a bit because most people in China were afraid.
ROBERTS: Do you feel, with this publication, that your father and the rest of your family and you yourself are safe?
Mr. PU: I would hope, you know, there will be no negative consequences. But we are willing to take, you know, whatever the risk. I think, you know, this is a very, very important material and it needs to be published.
ROBERTS: The book is called Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang. It's published by Bao Pu, who joined us from his home in Hong Kong. Thank you so much.
Mr. PU: Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.