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Harrison Salisbury
Harrison Salisbury
Tiananmen Diary:  Thirteen Days in June
ISBN: 0044406193
Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June
Eighty year-old former New York Times editor Harrison Salisbury discussed the writing of his most recent book, Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June, published by Little, Brown and Company. While working on a documentary of China with a Japanese film crew, Salisbury witnessed the events of June leading up to and including the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989. The book is a polished version of the notes he recorded in his diary while in China. Harrison also discussed the events leading up to the massacre and Chinese personalities such as Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng and Hu Yuobang. He compared and contrasted the "Events of June" to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and speculates about the future of Chinese politics.
Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June
Program Air Date: October 15, 1989

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Harrison Salisbury, in your new book, "Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June," you write that maybe a Chinese leader's call for the elimination of chopsticks with the replacement of the knife and fork may have caused this whole thing. Explain that.
HARRISON SALISBURY, AUTHOR, "TIANANMEN DIARY: THIRTEEN DAYS IN JUNE": Well, it's a long train of circumstances, but your talking about Hu Yuobang -- who is the General Secretary of the Communist Party and a brilliant man, a man with a brilliant mind and flashy new ideas all the time. I spent some time with him, and it was great fun to be with him because he spoke his mind -- whatever came into it -- and it was one of those minds that ranges over all possible subjects. Great reader and having things translated into Chinese. And one day it must have popped into his mind -- or maybe even thinking of it for some time -- in the course of a speech, he said "It's time for China to abandon chopsticks." They were insanitary, they were old fashioned. They were a symbol of the old China -- take up the knife and fork.

Well, it caused a furor in China and even outside of China. People said what's this man talking about -- chopsticks are the essence of China. In China it was used against him politically. "What kind of a man is he. How can he be the leader of the Communist Party when he wants China to throw away its chopsticks and start using knives and forks. It just shows you," says his critics, "that he's not made to be trusted. He isn't stable. No stable leader would come up with something like that." Well, since Hu Yuobang was already under attack for innovation -- for being a progressive in one thing or another -- this turned out to be a very valuable political weapon used against him. And it played a role in his downfall when he was dismissed by Deng Xiaping after many students were demonstrating in Tiananmen Square in support of reform and more progress and a dialogue all the things which Hu Yuobang stood for.

And this was then put together. "Hu Yuobang, the anti-chopstick man, Hu Yuobang, who caters to the students. Get rid of him." And indeed he was dismissed and he went into retirement. And on the 15th of April of this year, he died. And the students who had never forgotten him and who still thought of him as their champion, even if he was against chopsticks, went into the streets. First of all they started demonstrating in Beijing University and then they marched up once again to Tiananmen Square and that's how this whole critical episode of a lengthy demonstrations and eventually ended by the army being brought into the Square on the 3rd and 4th of June. That's how it all began.
LAMB: And what was his position in China and when was he in that position?
SALISBURY: He was the General Secretary of the Communist Party under Deng Xiaping. And he was appointed General Secretary -- I believe, I'm not absolutely sure -- but I think it must have been about sometime in the early 80s. He had been leader of the Communist Youth Organization. He had been an ally of Deng Xiaping from the very earliest times when Deng fell during the cultural revolution and was put into protective custody and in jail and paraded around with a dunce cap on his head. Hu Yuobang suffered exactly the same fate. And Deng regarded him as a very reliable and very able alley. Put enormous task before him. And Deng's choice was right. He was a very interesting and able man. But Deng saddled him with responsibility for many of the defects that had appeared in his administration. And that is how he came to fall from power.
LAMB: Did you know him?
SALISBURY: I did indeed. One of the most delightful evenings I ever spent I spent with Hu Yuobang. First of all, had a long formal interview and then he invited me and my wife and a couple of other people to dinner in Jong Inhi -- the leadership compound. The place which was the center of so much activity during the Tiananmen affair -- and we had what he called "an American dinner." It wasn't an American dinner at all. It began with escargot -- and he was very proud of that served with the proper French tools for eating snails. We had a marvelous filet mignon. We had French pastries. It was a French meal, really, but he kept calling it an American meal. He was determined to show us that he was moving into the Western world. It was a symbolic meal.

He had not invited any of the diplomats or anybody like that to dinner with him, and we were the first ones to come and have dinner with Hu Yuobang, and he deliberately staged this occasion to show how Western he was. This was the kind of of style that he wanted to bring into China -- fit in with his attack on chopsticks, incidently. They were served by waitresses who were very smart and very chic at a time when there was no such thing in China. They wore the traditional Chinese gowns -- sort of plum-colored -- with the slit skirt right up to the knee. And I noticed one of these rather lovely young ladies kept standing behind Hu Yuobang, and I couldn't understand why until I saw how excited he got in his conversation. And as he got excited he kept moving forward on his chair further and further and more and more animated until you thought he might just leap into the air. And perhaps he has on some occasions. Anyway, she was there to be sure that he got back into his seat and didn't fall on the floor. And I thought it was a wise precaution.

It's one of the most interesting evenings I've ever had. He got on to all kinds of subjects and one of the things he asked me -- on that occasion he said, "Who was the greatest American President after World War II?" And I thought a bit and I said, well, it's hard for me to choose. It perhaps was Eisenhower. Perhaps it was Truman. And it might have been Kennedy. He said, "Oh, no, you're all wrong. It was Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon was the greatest man. And he made the opening to China." He said, "Nixon is my friend. We correspond." I said, "You do." "Oh yes," he said. "We exchange letters regularly -- about once a month -- and he sends me all his books." And I said, "Do you read them?" "Oh, yes," he said. "I have them translated into Chinese and I've read all of his books. He's a very wise statesman."

I said, "Well, do you send him some books?" He said "Oh, yes, I send him things which I think he would be interested in reading." And there I fell down as a reporter. I failed to ask him what books he sent to Mr. Nixon. And I haven't gotten around to asking Mr. Nixon, but I'd dearly like to know whether Nixon read the books that Hu Yuobang sent to him.
LAMB: Were you under the impression that Hu Yuobang was a disciple of Deng Xiaping?
SALISBURY: He was very much a disciple of Deng Xiaping. But he was the kind of a disciple who has his own category of interests as well. I wouldn't say that Deng Xiaping necessarily shared all of Hu Yuobang's tastes, but he obviously liked having an idea man, an action man with him to stimulate the ideas of the elders who often slow on picking up on things. He shared a personality in a sense with Deng Xiaping because, while Deng Xiaping has done some very bad things lately in connection with the massacre, when he came into office in 1977 and '78, he was very much like Hu Yuobang.

He was a older man. He was in his early 70s but he was full of ideas and full of energy and he also was the kind of a man who might leap out of his chair. The Chinese called him the India rubber ball because he had lost power so often but he always bounced back up full of energy and went forward to something else. It was a very apt description of him. And I think he was exactly the kind of man that China needed after the disaster of Mao and the terrible problems that the country faced because he was bold, daring. He had imagination. He was quite willing to bring into China all kinds of capitalist devices -- devices from America, from the West. Anything which he felt would help China move more rapidly into the age of technology -- into the modern world as it was. He wasn't bothered by ideology or anything of that kind. His most famous statement, which most people know around the world, is that it doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches the mouse. And by that he simply meant, if it works, we'll use it, because that's what's more important than something which is written by Marx maybe a hundred years ago.
LAMB: Harrison Salisbury is here to talk about his book, and this is as of September 1st in your book stores. Both hardback and paperback. Small question to you. How come both came out at the same time?
SALISBURY: Well, this was an instant book, and I don't know why the publisher brought the two of them out together, but I think he wanted them both available because he wanted this book available to the public as quick as possible. I wrote it very rapidly. He published it very rapidly. It took me about a month to write it. It took him about a month to publish it. And I think that set some kind of a record in publishing.
LAMB: And this book is 176 pages long?
SALISBURY: That's right.
LAMB: I want to talk about a personal thing with you before we start off, because one of the things that -- the audience that reads this will notice that it's a little bit fast paced. It takes your breath away. I wonder how can somebody goes this fast and go this many places -- and you and I before went on camera -- I asked you how old you were and you told me that you're 80.
SALISBURY: That's right.
LAMB: At 80 years old -- how do you get the energy to do something like this? And by the way, something like this is being in Beijing in the middle of all this.
SALISBURY: Well, I don't know how I get the energy to do it but I think it's probably because it's what I've been doing all my life. I started out in newspaper work really as an agency reporter and you may know that agency reporters have to write very, very rapidly. I mean, often we didn't even have time to write the story -- we had to dictate it without even writing it. I've always been used to working hard and working very rapidly. And perhaps it becomes ingrained -- after years and years, it becomes a habit. And I think it's a good habit. And it served me well. I've written a good deal in my life, and I couldn't have done it unless I wrote rapidly. It has it's disadvantages. There are errors in in Tiananmen Diary -- there are no errors of major consequence, but lots of little facts. Names, spellings and things like that. It was not well proofread. There wasn't time for that and I didn't have time to look everything up. I just zipped it off and here it is in your hands.
LAMB: You start off in the very beginning -- it says, "Aboard JAL flight" -- and I assume that's Japanese Air Lines -- "number five, New York to Tokyo, 6 p.m., June 1st, 1989." Did you know something was up?
SALISBURY: Did I what?
LAMB: Did you know something was up before you left?
SALISBURY: Oh, no. I didn't know anything was up. In general, as everybody did, I knew that there was a certain amount of tension in Beijing. The students had been in the Square since the 15th of April or shortly thereafter. But I wasn't going over there to have anything to do with them. I was going over to work on a documentary which would deal with the 40 years of the People's Republic -- the 40th anniversary will be celebrated on the 1st of October, and it was sheer coincidence that we and the Japanese crew that I was working with chanced to arrive in Beijing on the 2nd of June which was less than 48 hours before the troops moved into the Square. It did position me in room 735 on Chaing Avenue in the Beijing Hotel which has a view right up the Square which is about a block and a quarter a block and a half to the west. But I didn't have that room because I thought something was going to happen out there that I was going to look at. It just chanced to put me there with a front row seat on what turned out to be one of the big stories certainly of the year.
LAMB: How did it come that NHK -- the Japanese television network -- had hired you to do this documentary?
SALISBURY: Well, they began talking to me about that about a year ago, and the reason they came to me was that I am very well known as a specialist in China. I've just done a great deal of work in the field and they knew of my work. They wanted somebody who had some background and who could treat China from a historical basis. They didn't want simply spot reporting. They have very good reporters of their own. But they wanted somebody who could put it in historical perspective, who could understand or try to understand and explain how the People's Republic came into being, where Chairman Mao came from in the Red Army and what they hoped to do in that period of time and also to to enumerate their achievements and also their failures. Because there were failures right along with their achievements certainly. And I think that's why they came to me.

And we discussed the general ideas and the outline of this documentary and found that we had in general the same ideas about an approach. I had a free hand, really, to what was to go into it and all the rest of it. And so we formed a partnership and I drafted an outline of the important events which I thought we should show photographically, if possible, and the kind of scenario and chronology we should go through, and we came to a general agreement, and we did a great deal of work on that documentary before going to China. We did the historical research which I did and they sent in camera crews to photograph certain geographical locations and places in China which were important to this story. We did interview with me in New York on some of the historical aspects of it and also interviewed a few people in the United States. Did all of this preliminary work and had about a month of shooting to do in China.

This was going to be divided into three parts. They wanted to take some background shots of myself in Tiananmen Square. We had no idea that other people would already be shooting in that Square before we got there. We intended to interview about a dozen very important Chinese officials not necessarily in position in power at the present time -- some of them who had a historical role in the People's Republic, but some of them were contemporary. We expected to photograph and interview Xiaxiaong, the man who was dismissed as Party Secretary. He'd agreed to be interviewed and he was number one on our list. And then we had a certain amount of work to do out in the countryside of locations of where I wanted to go and explain the significance for example of the Great Wu Han Bridge, which was the first great industrial accomplishment of the People's Republic, the first monument, as it were, to the building up of China which had been done with the aid of the Soviets.

And so we wanted to go there and I wanted to stand beside the bridge and tell the history of it and what its significance was. Things of that kind that were going to do. So we had these three different components. We thought it would take about a month, and we, by coincidence, arrived in Beijing just before the troops opened fire on the students in the Square and the whole city was taken over by the so called Martial Law troops and dissolved into fighting all over. It was impossible, of course, to do any work in Beijing and we had to change our plans in accordance with the actual situation.
LAMB: Did you ever complete the documentary?
SALISBURY: Yes. The documentary has been completed -- and it's not been completed the way we envisioned it since we never did get to interview the people in Beijing and we never did get go take pictures of me at Tiananmen Square. That is not of that kind. There's one on the back of that book, but it is with the student demonstrators which was not intended to be in the 40 years of the People's Republic at all. But we did put together a picture after we left China a couple of weeks after going in because we found it impossible to do the work we'd come to do. After we left China and came back, we immediately put in a new request with the Chinese for permission to return when conditions were more peaceful, and we'd be able to do the work that we planned originally. And, alas, we did get permission finally to go back but too late, actually, from the technical side. The Japanese -- they could not go in and take more pictures and get them into the documentary and use it before the 1st of October as they planned.

But in anticipation that we might not get back we made a substitute picture, as it were. We took all the material we had, and we had some beautiful stuff from the Chinese Historical Archives -- movie shots of Mao coming into Beijing 40 years ago and things of that kind. And this has been put together in documentary with commentary by myself. A lot of it is what you call in the language voice over since I'm not on the spot. They have photographs and I comment on the photographs in that manner. And the form of the documentary has been changed. It was going to be two one or two hour shows. It's now been made one hour and a half presentation. It's pretty good. Not as good as it would have been if we'd had the chance to do all we wanted. But it will be presented on, I think, the 28th of September.
LAMB: In 1974 you retired from the New York Times after how many years?
SALISBURY: Well, I'd been with the Times for about 25 years.
LAMB: Roughly, what have you done for the last 15 years besides things like this?
SALISBURY: Well, in the last 15 years I have written a great many books, and I have traveled very extensively in both Russia and China. I devoted myself much more to China than to Russian in that period of time because China has sort of come front and center as it was even before that time. I was spending more of my time on the Chinese side than on the Russian side. I've written two books of memoirs. I have written "The Long March: The Untold Story," which was the story of Mao's six thousand mile -- it wasn't a march, it was a retreat from Chaing Chi Chek's forces with his Red Army of 50 years ago which gave the Red Army and the whole Chinese Communist Movement its form and its strength, and it went on from that in a few years to take over all of China.

With my wife -- went over the whole route. Very rough back country in China and I wrote a book about that. The first time it had been treated in that manner. It did very well in this country but it became a number one bestseller in China. And it made me very well-known in China, because practically everyone -- certainly among the literati or the intelligentsia or the military or the students -- has read "The Long March." It and Lee Iacoca's books were bestsellers the same year. Interesting conjunction of Chinese tastes -- and that probably is the most important thing that I have done since my retirement as history.
LAMB: How many times have you been to China?
SALISBURY: Oh, in the last 15 years I suppose I have been to China about a dozen times. Usually for periods -- never for less than six weeks and often as long as four or five months.
LAMB: And when you write -- and I know this was a quickie -- but when you write, how do you normally do that? Is there a certain time of day you write?
SALISBURY: Normally I do this. I have a project in mind. You take "The Long March," which is a good example of it, and I have done my research in this country, which in the case of "The Long March," very little had been written about it -- I literally read every single word in English that had been written about the long march. I interviewed in the United States those Americans who had some peripheral connection to it, who knew the leaders of the march or something of that kind. I read up so that I knew who were the figures in it who where still surviving that I wanted to talk to. And indeed, I sent into the Chinese a list of about 40 people whom I wanted to interview. Little did I know that on that list of 40 people about 8 of them were dead. But that was simply because their deaths had not been reported in the American press, and most of those people had been in prison, I might say too.

So I went to China with a pretty good working knowledge of what I wanted to find out. What were the controversial aspects of that march. I knew exactly where they went and was going to follow the route all the way along with the exception possibly where the army doubled back and forth over the same territory. I didn't see any need to be literally follow every little mile that they followed and I was dependent, of course, on the Chinese to make the appropriate arrangements to enable me to go to these territories since the areas were all closed normally to foreign travel and foreign correspondents. And I got that. And then before I went I had the assurances from the Chinese that I would be able to do all the things I wanted to do. Since I had been making requests and importuning them for literally a dozen years on this project, they knew very well what I needed and I said, "I'm not going to go until we have this all in line." And we did.

The result of that was that I spent in China two and a half months tracing the route -- not on foot as the Red Army went -- but by jeep and sometimes by mule and other conveyances. Sometimes by foot, but not very far. And I interviewed all of the surviving important people who were on the march or got it second-hand -- a picture of what they did. And I was able to get into the Chinese Archives. They were very good about that in digging out Archives for me. I rejected their research many times because it was not complete. It was inconclusive or propagandistic. I think I gave them a pretty good lesson in what an American newspaperman or researcher expects by way of facts. At least I was told this by the Chinese that they'd never confronted the necessity of finding out exactly what had happened. They'd taken the work of somebody that this had happened or that had happened. It was a difficult process.
LAMB: Do you take notes as you go or do you?
SALISBURY: I take notes as I go along. I don't use a tape recorder as most people do these days except in exceptional circumstances where extreme precision is needed on names or dates or places or something of that kind and I'm afraid that I might possibly make errors of that kind. In this case I didn't use a tape recorder very much. I didn't need to. But I wound up with probably twelve or fourteen standard size notebooks very closely written of notes. The principle task for me with those notes -- the first thing to do -- each evening after taking my notes for the day I would sit down at my old 1942 Remington portable typewriter and transcribe those notes -- because my handwriting is very poor and unless I transcribe very quickly, I'm very apt not to be able to read my notes. So I've learned to do this arduously -- after long day's work, to sit down at the typewriter -- I still do that, and I keep them in great detail. If I encounter circumstances along the path I keep notes in the form of a journal or a diary, and the techniques which I used for note taking and all the rest are the ones that are used in "Tiananmen Diary." They're literally a literal diary.
LAMB: Let me show the audience how you've done this book. For instance, this is day four, and as you can see here, it's Beijing Hotel 4:30 a.m. Is this an exact account of day to day that you wrote on the spot or did you write this when you got back?
SALISBURY: No. It's an exact account of what I did day to day and hour to hour and minute by minute. There is one slight emendation. When I copied my notes off -- and I did copy these notes off in the manner -- I described quite rapidly because of wanting to be able to read them -- I hadn't originally intended to write a book or anything of that kind. I was just transcribing from my own interest or what I might use them but I quickly realized that indeed this would be a book and it had a historical interest. As I transcribed them on evenings that -- I had an evening in Canton and one in Hong Kong and one in Tokyo on the way back and then that long plane ride when I could use my typewriter -- I transcribed about half of my notes, and I put in identifying material where I mentioned a name -- I identified who it was and things of that kind. Other than that there is no change. I didn't put any later wisdom into the notes. Any mistake in apprehension or understanding is right there in the book -- corrected later on in the book, if I was able to correct it. The only material written after the period of the thirteen days came when I had completed the transcription and I added a final chapter of interpretation in which I tried to explain as best I knew what had happened, why it had happened, what were the political factors involved and what the consequences might be.
LAMB: See here that this chapter, I think, was called "A Fortnight Later."
SALISBURY: That's right.
LAMB: Were you pretty tired when you got back?
SALISBURY: I was very tired, but when I am writing something like this, it stimulates me a lot and I find that I can go on working for a good long time. The adrenalin begins to flow.
LAMB: When you got back -- and where is home?
SALISBURY: Home is up in northwest Connecticut in Tuconnic, Connecticut right up at the beginning of the Berkshires.
LAMB: And when you write, what time of day do you write the best?
SALISBURY: Well, I think I write the best probably between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. When I'm writing something like that, I get up quite early when the household is all asleep, and I have three or four hours of uninterrupted work before breakfast. And then after that I can read over what I've done and make the corrections and editing and then go ahead and plow forward and do what little research I may have to do to write a coherent narrative. And that's more or less the pattern that I followed on this book.
LAMB: What do you hope this book will do?
SALISBURY: I hope that it will give people a precise account of exactly what happened at Tiananmen. It will give them some understanding of the forces at work in Chinese society which in the first placed produced the emotions and the drive that propelled the students into what amounted to a crusade -- as they would have put it -- to improve their government -- not to rebel against it or anything else. And the forces it stimulated within Chinese society and the political structure which -- instead of adapting itself and taking the opportunity to move with the students -- instead rose up and crushed them in an effort to demonstrate that they still had the power and that nobody could tell them what to do. I think it's very important that we understand that because this is a benchmark in Chinese history.

As I understand Chinese history and contemporary history under Deng, they were moving very rapidly and very effectively toward a new China. A China which would cast off a great deal of the dross of the old -- not all of it, by any means, but it would move into contemporary techniques and things of that kind and take the first steps I so hoped on the democratic process. And I believe that the 10 years that Deng led China on the program of reform and opening to the West were 10 of the best years that China has had certainly in the modern day. And then in one period of a few hours this was blasted away. I don't mean that China is forever halted by this. Of course not. China will pick up the beat. But Tiananmen cost China a great deal. Not only Deng personally by destroying his image to his people but China in general because the political and economic effects are very great. I don't believe anybody thought what these effects might be. But it will be a long, long time before China begins to move forward again as she was moving before that day.

And I think we should understand that because we're ery apt to lose sight of these things. They get blurred over as time goes on. And government has made a great effort to try and present an alternative version -- that there wasn't any Tiananmen and there wasn't any massacre. That the fault all lies on students, to some extent -- and then two categories which I had them define for me -- one are bad men and one are bandits. And the students, the bad men, and the bandits, conspired in a plot, so they say, to overthrow Deng and overthrow the Communist Party. Well, there was no such conspiracy and it's clear to anybody who reads that book that there wasn't. We know what the students are. The bad men, as they defined it, are people who recently have been released from prisons and who are capable of carrying out criminal acts -- and some of the students became bad men in the process of this Tiananmen affair.

The bandits were the ones that interested me most, because when Chaing Chi Chek was struggling against Mao and his communists, he called Mao and the communists bandits. And I wanted to be sure that the present generation of communists were using the same word that Chaing Chi Chek when they talked about bandits. And sure enough, they are using exactly the same term. They mean a category of enemy. The bandits are hardened criminals. The ones who destroy state property -- not likely to be students but they sometimes are bad men. Bad men turn into bandits -- and maybe students over a period of time can do that. Well, as you can see from my explanation, which seems to me, at least, to be perfectly ridiculous. They have a whole language which they're using to construct an alternate theory of what happened in Tiananmen.

As far as I know, Tiananmen was the responsibility of the old man and Deng who ordered the army to fire on the students and on the people in in Beijing. The only people manifesting any opposition to the government were students -- the ordinary people of Beijing were around the fringes of this -- a few unemployed youths. They may be in the definition of the government either bandits or bad men -- I don't know how they define them -- but they were unemployed because the government couldn't find any work for them. And they joined in. Being idle they joined in what was going on. They didn't play any important role in it. I think we should have all these things clearly in our minds because there will be an era in which this will all be passed and people will say what really happened in Tiananmen.

I mean, did we have an exaggerated idea? Did Dan Rather and his cameras give us a picture that was false in some way? That's what the Chinese are saying. I don't think he did. I think he gave us a very accurate picture of these idealistic young people and he have us at least a little glimpse of the arbitrary action of which the regime was capable when they pulled the plug on his broadcasts. And that was in a sense a small forerunner of the kind of action they would take when they would pull the plug on the whole demonstration and tell the troops to come in and blast through by any means.
LAMB: If you went through the book and probably wrote down the person's name that's mentioned the most, just from my looking through it would be Charlotte. Who's Charlotte?
SALISBURY: Charlotte is my wife. And the reason that Charlotte is mentioned more often than anything else in the book is, in the first place, we're very close. When I go to China, we go together. It's a joint operation. When we're in this country, we're together, and constantly during this time -- knowing how troubled she would be that I was in what she would perceive a situation of great danger and turmoil -- I picked up the telephone which would lie on the table of my room wherever I was in China and they have a beautiful touch tone system which was installed at great expense. They bought it from France at the insistence of the Chinese army so they'd have a good communication system, and I used it to call Charlotte in Tuconnic, Connecticut and I would get through to her in about 20 seconds and I could reassure her that things were not as bad as they seemed when she was looking on the tube, and she could tell me what was the latest being shown on television in the United States and keep me up to date with the image that the people in the United States were getting of what I was seeing only part of with my own eyes.
LAMB: When you got back, did you two sit down and spend a lot of time chatting about what you had seen versus what she had seen?
SALISBURY: Yes, we did that. But quite honestly, we had done a good deal of it all the way along, because I called her everyday and sometimes more that everyday and we traded impressions as went along. When I came back, she gave me an overall summary of how it had seemed to her, how it had seemed to her friends and various points which stuck in her mind that we hadn't discussed and things that perhaps I hadn't known about. One of the most interesting ones of these was the following. After I got out in the countryside, had left Beijing was traveling in the countryside, I began to be more and more aware of the element of xenophobia or the effort the government was making to turn the blame for everything on foreigners and particularly the United States.

And this was exasperated by the fact that we had given refuge in the embassy to Fang Le Gee, the famous Chinese dissident -- and for reasons I don't quite understand -- that very name and that man is an anathema to Deng Xiaping. And the Chinese really were vibrating about the idea of him being in the embassy, and they were demanding that he be released, demanding all these different things. And it occurred to me I knew that we would not release a man that we had given political embassy asylum to -- that the one thing the Chinese might try was to seize a hostage. And looking around the country, all the Americans had left the country by that time. Very few people left in the embassy. Some regular working newspapermen in Beijing.

But I stuck out like sort of like a sore thumb, because I was very prominent in China. And I thought the Chinese would think, well, he's a very prominent person, why don't you grab him and then we can work a trade. I didn't really want to be involved in anything of that kind. And I didn't say anything to Charlotte about this because I didn't want her worrying about that but, low and behold, she got a call one day from somebody who wanted to know if she had heard anything from the State Department that I was in some personal danger. And she was very upset by that. And then that very evening Dan Rather mentioned on the CBS broadcast that the American that the State Department was worried about the seizure of a hostage who might be traded off for Fang Le Gee.

So I realized then that what I thought was a vagrant thought in my mind was one which which really was in other people's minds. And one of the first things I did when I got back to Tuconnic was to sit down with Charlotte and explain to her how this all had come about and I didn't really know and don't know to this day how the State Department got worried about that question but I think it was simply using the same kind of reason and logic that I was using in analyzing the situation.
LAMB: What day did you leave Beijing?
SALISBURY: I left Beijing on the 5th of June.
LAMB: What day was the attack?
SALISBURY: And the attack was the 3rd and 4th.
LAMB: And where did you go when you left?
SALISBURY: Well, the first thing we had to do was get out of Beijing, which was not at all easy, because the Beijing Hotel where were was surrounded and barricaded. We were really prisoners in the hotel. But we got a Chinese driver who was very familiar with the the little alleyways -- houtongs -- that make up the central part of Beijing and we managed to pick our ways through those back alleys until we managed to get a clear highway. The reason for the difficulty was there were so many barricades across all the streets and so much military activity and shooting that we didn't want -- and the driver didn't want -- to expose his car to it, and we didn't want to expose us to it. We got out to the airport which is deserted because nobody could get out of the city and we flew out to Woohan -- about a 2 hour flight out of Beijing. And there we began a trip through the countryside which enabled me to see how the people outside of Beijing were responding to the events. And whether they indeed knew what had happened in Beijing.
LAMB: They had their regular commercial service still under way during this time?
SALISBURY: Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. And there had been many rumors that the air service had been closed down, but it hasn't. For the first time in all the years I've been going to China I rode on a Chinese airplane that was not filled. The Chinese airlines had, I think, a practice of not flying until they had sold every seat in the plane. But they couldn't sell them all now.
LAMB: And what was your reason for going out into the country after you'd been in Beijing during this period? And did you take all your Japanese camera crew with you?
SALISBURY: Yes. We went out to fulfill the countryside segment of our planned itinerary. We went out to film in various cities that were important to the history of the People's Republic -- to interview people in these various locations. The first place went to was Woohan, where the famous bridge across the Yang Sea had built, and we found that Woohan had been the scene of some very big manifestations. In fact, they were still going on when we arrived there. There had been big demonstrations in Woohan on the very Sunday afternoon -- after the massacre, already word had reached Woohan, and the students had come out and carried out demonstrations and large crowds gathered.

We went into the heart of town and found that we could hardly get through the shopping center because there were four big meetings being held by students, and there were big posters on the walls telling about what had happened in Tiananmen and listing the names of Woohan students who had been killed in the massacre. We drove out in the town and discovered -- we bumped into a big funeral parade coming back. They'd held a ceremony for the victims of Tiananmen, and they had these great big Chinese paper wreaths that they use for their funerals, and there must have been several thousand people in that. And so we knew immediately that the people in Woohan, at any rate, which is a great city of several million people, knew all about what had happened in the Square.

And as went along deeper and deeper into the countryside, we found the same thing was true. All of this had been gotten out. The word about what had happened there had been gotten out by the students ahead of the government propaganda. This is before the government began to claim that nobody was killed. There was no massacre in Tiananmen. And so we then found that people had already gotten the truth in their systems and when the government lies began to come out, they were taken as lies by the people. They didn't stand up and shout about it but they knew perfectly well the government was trying to put something over on them, and they weren't buying it.
LAMB: How did you stay in touch with the outside world during that time?
SALISBURY: Well, I stayed in touch in two ways. One by shortwave radio -- I listened to the BBC and the VOA constantly -- and also by telephone calls to my colleagues in Beijing -- and my Japanese colleagues called their correspondents in Beijing or in Tokyo. And so were quite well informed as to what was going on.
LAMB: And what kind of a job do you think the BBC and the VOA do?
SALISBURY: Oh, I think they did a magnificent job. I was utterly astounded. From the very beginning at, let's say, 4:00 a.m. or 3:30 a.m. on June 4th I was in my hotel room and Chaing Avenue was dark. I could see movement there. I could hear the shooting from Tiananmen. I couldn't tell at that moment whether the troops had taken over the Square -- whether a battle was going on or what -- and I flicked on the VOA and I got the last part of a broadcast in which they were saying that troops had come into the Square and they had been firing as they came in and a lot of people had been killed. So then I could interpret what was happening in the square.

As the day wore on, again and again when I was not clear as to what was actually happening on the street -- because, after al,l I had limited vision only down a few blocks to the east and a few blocks to the west -- I would turn on the radio or TV -- I didn't turn on the TV -- the radio to either BBC or VOA and see what they were reporting. And I found that it matched up exactly with what I was hearing and seeing. I think they did a great job. I don't know of anybody outside of the Chinese government who contends their reports were exaggerated in any way. Sometimes they weren't entirely accurate but you don't always have a 100 percent accuracy in the middle of a battle. Too much is going on.

And in the early stages, for example they under reported the casualties. We all did that. I myself estimated -- I couldn't believe that more that 100, 150 people at most had been killed. And I was astounded when I began to hear reports of several thousand, but this was because I hadn't realized how many people had been killed by the armored columns as they plunged into the Square going into solid masses of people and literally blasted their way through those crowds. After I had a couple of first hand descriptions of what happened when the tanks and the armored troop carriers came in, then I could readily see why the toll would be as high as that. It needn't have been. But if you're going to go in and you're shooting, you've got an awful lot of targets to shoot at.
LAMB: By the way, when did you have your first discussion that this was a book? I mean, you said that you didn't start out thinking about it.
SALISBURY: Oh, well, I tell you, that came the day after I got back to New York. I called my editor Roger Donald at Little Brown, and I said I've got something to talk to you about. Well, it turned out we had the same idea. A Tiananmen diary. He didn't know I'd kept a diary, but he thought that a book on this subject -- a quick book -- would be useful, and I thought so too. I said, "I've got it half written." He said, "Wonderful. We're going to make that an instant book." Said, "We've never tried that before, but we're going to do it this time because the interest is here. We want the book to come out while people are eager to know exactly step by step what happened." So I said, "Fine." And I proceeded then to complete the book which I had about half-copied.

I completed the book and wrote the final chapter explaining as best I could what I thought had happened and all that. Called up Roger and he came down from Boston. Stopped off at Tuconnic and spent the day editing something which I've never handed an editor in my life. This was the raw copy. I hadn't had it copied over. I hadn't copied it over myself. It was full of interlining and all the rest of it. He said, "That doesn't make any difference. I'm a good editor. I can read all through all that." And he did. And at the end of a day he said, "Fine, it's a book." And I had answered two or three questions and put little inserts in. He took it away. Turned it into their copy reading department, and I believe the day after the 4th of July, it was turned over to the printer, and we had bound books by the 4th or 5th of August.
LAMB: And the actual publication date was September 1st?
SALISBURY: Yes. Publication was September 1st.
LAMB: And is it too late? Have things changed since you finished this? Or do you find this still relevant?
SALISBURY: I think every word of it is very relevant. There are some things which I have found out since which are not in the book, and I wish they were. More details of how the troops blasted their way in. A little bit on the political background -- a few little facts here and there. But there is nothing wrong in the book. I think it has the right mood. It has the right explanation for why the Chinese acted as they did. And I think I have accurately portrayed the response of the student and most particularly of the people of Beijing.
LAMB: And at no time during this trip did you find yourself out of energy?
SALISBURY: Find myself what?
LAMB: Out of energy?
SALISBURY: Oh I don't think so.
LAMB: You were able to deal with all this jet lag and traveling and all this kind of stuff..
SALISBURY: I think when you have something like this on your mind and when you're really revved up about something, jet lag tends to vanish. I can't recall a trip in which I had less problem with jet lag.
LAMB: Do you want to go back to China?
SALISBURY: Yes very much so. I'm working on a much bigger and broader project than "Tiananmen Diary." What I've been working on for the last three years is a book on the Deng Xiaping period in China. Essentially what has happened in China since Mao died.
LAMB: When did he die?
SALISBURY: He died in '76 in September. Exactly 13 years ago this month. And he left China in a dreadful state of chaos. Deng came in and he put things together and he got China going in a remarkable way. And he had ten straight years in which he changed China in many ways -- as it hadn't been changed in thousands of years. He brought prosperity to the countryside by eliminating the communes and enabling the farmers to go into private farming and private business and make money. Very good for China. And then this comes along -- unfortunate and contradictory, really, to his career -- something which damages enormously his achievements and will take him a long time to pick up on it. All of that goes in this book which I am now writing. About a third of that book was written before "Tiananmen Diary." All the essential for the other segments have all been blocked out. The last three years I have spent an awful lot of time in China working on this. But I should get back and take the temperature again and make some political sounding so I am a little bit more certain of the direction in which China is going to emerge after Deng passes from the scene and hopefully get a little clearer who his successor may be.
LAMB: I'm not sure this is accurate -- tell me if I'm misreading it. You got a sense that going into this whole experience of you being over there that you thought the students were going to win. You come out more pessimistic saying, it may be a long time. Did you change your view during this time?
SALISBURY: Yes, I did very much so. I thought from all I had learned before going over there -- and indeed what I learned after I got over there in the short period of time -- that I had it looked to me as though the students were winning -- or at least their ideas were winning. They didn't necessarily have to have that dialogue with the government. They might not have it but the government which had the same general objectives was going to be spurred and pushed along in that direction by the student movement. And this, I must say, was the view of my Chinese friends. They all believed extraordinarily and beyond their expectations this was what was going to happen and they were almost deliriously happy about it.

Well, as we know I was wrong and they were wrong, and it all came to a bitter, bloody end. And it's not going to be that way. The next round when it comes -- and I'm sure it's going to come with Deng -- is going to be a struggle of a different type. It's going to be led, I don't think by students but by adults and probably by the people of Beijing. I don't know who their leaders will be. They didn't have any leaders in the Tiananmen thing. They were just all of the out there. But there will be leaders. And the army will not be one unit, as it was supporting Deng, but probably conflicting generals and divisions. There may be some civil war, I don't know. There may be some splintering up of China at least temporarily. Reversion -- I hope it doesn't happen, but some of the Chinese think maybe reversion to warlordism or something of that kind. Out of it all, I'm sure there will come a new China which will pick up the beat and continue to march toward something better. But it isn't going to happen tomorrow. It isn't going to happen two years from now.
LAMB: I can remember during those days that you write about. Television reporters standing in Tiananmen Square saying China will never be the same again.
LAMB: This was before the military moved in. Do you think the reporters were too optimistic, and do you think it ever will be the same again?
SALISBURY: Well, they're absolutely right that China will never be the same again. But that isn't what they were thinking about. They were thinking that China was going to be a new China that would follow would be in the model of what they saw in the student movement. And I remember very well Dan Rather saying that. I remember that he about lowered the wife of the ex ambassador saying words to the same effect, and I know many people -- many China scholars in this country and particularly a lot of Chinese students and younger Chinese -- saying that. They were wrong about it.
LAMB: How can so many people be so wrong?
SALISBURY: Well, let me give you another thing. The cultural revolution which lasted about 10 years and embraced probably undoubtedly the worst atrocities that China has ever seen and the death of millions of people and the disgrace and murder of some of their top leaders -- when that was all over, Mao dead, Deng in power, every Chinese I spoke to of whatever generation -- whether it was of Deng's generation or the new youngsters just out of school -- said, "We've learned our lesson. There will never be anything like the Cultural Revolution again." They were wrong because inherent in Tiananmen and in the lies the government is telling are the techniques which were used in the Cultural Revolution.

How can people make these mistakes? I think they're made because they misread some essential ingredients in human character. They misread, in particular, what revolves around power, and the extent to which a man who has power would use whatever means at his disposal to hold that power even at great cost. I see Deng as having used the power -- or the military and the force of the military and the shooting down of his own citizens -- as a visual and vivid demonstration that he is still in charge and he's able to run that country with the help of the army, in spite of anything people say. He's not alone in that use of power to hold power. I think that one has to understand that anyone who has absolute power -- tends to be true in a dictatorship like China or the Soviet Union -- will in the end use that power, use the power available to keep his personal power. He identifies with his country, and we must remember that.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. It's both in paperback and in hardback. Little Brown publishes it. "Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June" by Harrison E. Salisbury. Our guest for the last hour. Thank you very much.
SALISBURY: Thank you.

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