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In January 2001, a group of American sinologists, translators, and publishers affiliated with the elite New York City based Human Rights Watch organization, revealed to the world media a cache of documents (mostly copied onto computer diskettes) billed as the "Tiananmen Papers."

The papers came from a Chinese man who used the pseudonym Zhang Liang.

Edited (allegedly there are over 15,000 documents) the papers have been released as a book entitled "The Tiananmen Papers: The Chinese Leadership's Decision to Use Force Against Their Own People."

Are the Tiananmen Papers Real or Fake?


Professor Alfred L. Chan believes the Tiananmen Papers and the follow-up "secret files" are not genuine and has presented compelling evidence in support of his claim.

Download Dr. Chan's
Fabricated Secrets and Phantom Documents: the 'Tiananmen Papers' and 'China's Leadership Files'


You can read extracts of the Tiananmen Papers courtesy the BBC.



What Is The Human Rights Watch?
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) was established in the late 1970s during the Cold War. Then, as now, the main issue in Cold War propaganda was human rights. The HRW keeps alive outdated notions about the duty of Western nations, primarily the USA, to impose on the world the universal values of man as defined by America. The foundation counts many former USA government officials in its committees. It has even been called a joint venture between George Soros and the USA State Department.
The HRW has long been a font of anti-China criticism and condemnation. Each year it releases with considerable fanfare a report of human rights in the world. It regularly condemns the Chinese government for a litany of alleged abuses.
Information about some of the Human Rights Watch important members.

THE BOOK was co-edited by Andrew Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, and Perry Link, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Princeton University. Also assisting was noted sinologist Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school at the University of California-Berkeley and author of many books on China. It was published by Public Affairs Press, headed by Peter Osnos. All are directors of the swanky Human Rights Watch group which is heavily supported by member George Soros and other luminaries.

Zhang Liang, who lives outside China, claims to be a former Communist Party member sympathetic to reformers. Much has been made in the world press about how the timing of the released documents may be related to the upcoming leadership succession in China in 2002 and 2003.

The reasoning is that reform-minded officials within the ruling Communist Party are trying to influence the selection of the next Chinese president. Essentially, it is hoped the book will embarrass Jiang Zemin and Li Peng who are directly linked in the papers to the decision to use force against the Tiananmen Square protesters.

BUT ARE THE TIANANMEN PAPERS REAL? Professor Orville Schell claimed initial skepticism but says he now believes the documents are indeed genuine. It is important to note that Orville Schell has written condemnations of the Chinese government reaction to the Tiananmen demonstrations as far back as July 1989.

Peter Osnos, publisher of the book, believes Zhang Liang was sent by reformers in China "with material to find a way to make it available." Venerated Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew said he believed the papers are genuine, adding "They are too detailed and too extensive. You can't have a team drawing these up."

Lee Kuan Yew's comments were made in an interview at the January 2001 meeting of the self-styled World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos, Switzerland.

Whether the Tiananmen Papers were discussed at the convention is unknown. But since 1979, the WEF has been a major promoter for integration of the giant Chinese economy and market into global business. Indeed on its web site, the WEF takes credit for "a substantial impact on the economic reform policies of China."

THE AUTHENTICITY of the Tiananmen Papers has been questioned. Xie Xuanjun, a prominent Chinese filmmaker (now living in New York) has expressed doubts about the papers. Principally he argues that there is nothing in the so-called secret documents that is not already known from published materials. Xie Xuanjun says that many of the expressions in the papers are colloquial to Hong Kong and Taiwan and would have meant nothing to the elderly Chinese leaders.

Lastly, Xie points out that there is little evidence of original documents since the book contains only edited and translated materials and the documents themselves were copied onto computer diskettes. He compared the Tiananmen Papers to the infamous "Hitler Diaries" that were proven a forgery several years ago.

The claim that there is nothing in the Tiananmen Papers that is not already known does stand to reason since many books on China published since the Tiananmen uprising have recounted most of the details described in the Tiananmen Papers. As just one example, it is well documented that there was a deep division in the Chinese leadership over how best to deal with the protest movement.

It has even been suggested that the documents are nothing more than previously declassified intelligence from within the American or British governments. The fact that the former USA Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research during the Tiananmen uprising, Morton Abramowitz, is an advisory committee member of Human Rights Watch, does point to this possibility.

WHETHER REAL OR FAKE, for what purpose have the Tiananmen Papers been produced?

Is it a veiled attempt to manipulate the first peaceful transition of power in modern Chinese history? Or a propaganda salvo in a new Cold War with Communist China? One can only hope that the high profile foundations that brought the Tiananmen Papers forth are true to their lofty purposes and will help put to rest a dark moment in China's tumultuous People's Republic.


Another cache of documents produced by another anonymous Chinese source using the pseudonym Zong Hairen appeared in 2002. They were edited by Andrew Nathan along with Bruce Gilley (an ambitious Princeton graduate student) and published as "China's New Rulers: The Secret Files," by the New York Review of Books.

Since the publication of these additional documents an important debate on their authenticity (as well as the Tiananmen Papers) took place in the pages of The China Journal (July 2003) and The China Quarterly (March 2004) between Alfred L. Chan, Professor at Huron University College (Canada) and Andrew Nathan. Also joining in other forums were Zhang Liang and Bruce Gilley.

Alfred L. Chan believes the Tiananmen Papers and the follow-up "secret files" are not genuine and has presented compelling evidence in support of his claim. He believes Zhang Liang and Zong Hairen are the same person and guilty of at best mosaic plagiarism and at worst out-and-out fabrication.

Dr. Chan points out that the conversations between China's top leaders presented in the books are "reconstructed" and that the authors never saw let alone read, analyzed, or interpreted any of the alleged original documents. Certainly a shocking admission from academics well-versed in what constitutes a primary source.

Alfred Chan's re-rejoinder of this debate, "Fabricated Secrets and Phantom Documents: the "Tiananmen Papers" and "China's Leadership Files," is well worth reading. Click here to download (requires Adobe Acrobat).

As Dr. Chan explains in his paper due to the prestige of the editors and publishers involved in the publication of these alleged documents they have been almost universally accepted as authentic yet upon examination they may very well be fake.

Certainly on such an important matter as China's evolving political system isn't it essential to get at the true state of affairs versus what critics in America would like to see?

[Ed. note: This page originally appeared in 2002. The original version can be found here.]

©2002-2005 Ben Calmes, Sinomania!

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