Beijing, Sept. 7: An unusual memoir by Li Peng, the former Chinese Prime Minister known as the Butcher of Tiananmen Square for ordering tanks to end student protests in 1989, offers a tantalising hint that he suffered some sort of breakdown afterwards.
In a rare venture into autobiography, China’s most unpopular politician gives a small, if strange, insight into his human side.
The book, United Will Accomplishes Magnificent Scheme: Li Peng’s Diary on the Three Gorges, is ostensibly a record of the other big controversy with which he is associated, the great dam across the Yangtze, completed this year. The book explains his determination to push the project through against all opposition. He says he was first inspired by the idea as a youth, to the extent that it dictated his choice of university degree. But it also gives what are clearly meant to be personal touches.
In a central chapter, Li, 75, appears to make his first comment on the personal consequences of the decision to declare martial law and suppress the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in June 1989. It is not referred to directly, nor is the nature of his illness described. But he says he was in hospital in July that year when he was visited by Jiang Zemin, who had just been appointed Communist Party general secretary.
Jiang is sympathetic. “Now you are here, be comfortable,” he said, a Taoist proverb meaning to make the best of one’s circumstances. “A man tends to fall ill after a long period of stress and fatigue.”