Chinese premier’s memoirs banned from HK publisher-NY Times

June 28, 2010

Chinese Order Stops Printing of Memoirs by Ex-Premier

Andrew Jacobs

The New York Times: June 20, 2010

A Hong Kong publisher said Sunday that he was forced to halt the publication of memoirs ostensibly written by Li Peng, the former Chinese prime minister who was instrumental in bringing a violent end to student-led protests in Tiananmen Square 21 years ago.

Bao Pu, the publisher, said the Chinese government warned him earlier this month that publication would violate copyright laws. He halted printing on Friday, as copies rolled off the presses.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but it turned out that I had little choice but to cancel publication,” he said in an interview.

The memoirs, which are banned on the mainland but were to arrive Tuesday in Hong Kong bookstores, appear to be excerpts of diaries that Mr. Li reportedly kept during nine weeks that ended in a bloody crackdown by the People’s Liberation Army in 1989, in which hundreds of unarmed civilians were killed.

Mr. Bao said he could not disclose who gave the order to stop the print run, describing them only as “the relevant authorities.” Previously published reports, however, indicated that China’s Politburo objected to publication of the diaries when Mr. Li submitted them for approval in 2004.

The Chinese government would have ample reason to prevent publication of the book. Perhaps most troubling are passages in which Mr. Li claims that China’s current leaders, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, supported the military’s assault on the square.

In his version of events, Mr. Li defends the decision to deploy the army, saying he wanted to prevent the spread of social instability. He writes that China’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, gave the final approval, ordering that casualties be minimized, but saying that the Communist Party had to be prepared to “shed some blood” to quash the demonstrations.

Mr. Bao said he was given a copy of the manuscript by a mysterious middleman and, after extensive due diligence, he determined the writings were those of Mr. Li, who is 81 and reportedly in failing health. He said he tried to obtain permission from Mr. Li but was unable to reach him.

Last year Mr. Bao’s company, New Century Press, printed the memoirs of Zhao Ziyang, the party chief whose opposition to use of force at Tiananmen led to his downfall. Mr. Zhao had secretly recorded them on cassette tapes, which were smuggled out of the country. Mr. Bao is the son of a senior aide to Mr. Zhao, who, after the Tiananmen protests, spent the remainder of his life under house arrest and died in 2005.

When news of the Li memoirs’ publication became public this month, copies quickly found their way to the Internet but were promptly blocked by Chinese government censors. The censorship effort was so zealous that for days, any search that included Mr. Li’s name yielded no results.

Mr. Bao said that he had yet to tally the monetary loss from canceling the print run of 20,000 copies, but added that the bigger loss was not financial. “I regret that the public will not have access to the formal publication of this important historical document,” he said.

Even if Chinese readers are unable to get their hands on a hard copy of Mr. Peng’s writings, those able to circumvent the country’s Internet restrictions — something easily done with readily available software — will have ample opportunity to read the memoir, which is now posted online.

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