On May 17, 1989, New York Times continued its coverage of the Sino-Soviet summit
, focusing on Gorbachev's talks with Premier Li Peng and General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. It was not until the last three paragraph of the lengthy report did NYT mention "mysterious remarks
" made by Zhao Ziyang:
Some of the more mysterious remarks made in the meetings today came when Mr. Zhao launched into a major defense of Mr. Deng and stressed his importance to the nation. The comments, which were repeated on China's television news program to guarantee a wide audience, may have been intended as a response to growing criticism of Mr. Deng and to accompanying suggestions that he should retire from public life.
Mr. Zhao also mentioned a previously undisclosed resolution of the Central Committee calling for Mr. Deng's guidance in dealing with most important issues. There have been widespread rumors here that Mr. Deng may retire after Mr. Gorbachev's visit ends, and Mr. Zhao's remarks could be seen either as a denial of the rumors or as a confirmation of them by giving Mr. Deng praise before he retires.
In a rare admission of the disaffection amoung Chinese youth, Mr. Zhao also said, ''Some people, especially young people, frequently raise doubts about the superiority of socialism.''
This disclosure, while appeared to be made in passing, was a critical turning-point of the 1989 movement. Rumor had it that Deng Xiaoping's daughter immediately called Zhao Ziyang's office accusing him for "selling out Old Deng". The next day, Yan Jiaqi, an adviser of Zhao Ziyang's led a group of intellectuals with a harsh statement targeting Deng Xiaoping as the "last emperor". From then on, the movement turned on Deng Xiaoping himself.
But first thing first. NYT appeared to be more impressed with Li Peng
than Zhao Ziyang in their respective meetings with Gorbachev:
The Chinese were more reticent in discussing how normalization might be achieved, but they were happy to discuss their ideas about democracy. The most remarkable statements came from Prime Minister Li Peng, a target of the student demonstrators because of his previous wariness about rapid political and economic liberalization.
''We don't think that capitalist countries have a monopoly on freedom, democracy and human rights,'' Mr. Li said today in his meeting with Mr. Gorbachev. ''People in socialist countries should also enjoy freedom, democracy and human rights. China is prepared to improve these aspects of its political reform.''
Mr. Li also said China had ''taken note of the new thinking'' that Mr. Gorbachev has fostered in the Soviet Union, in what appeared to be a signal of China's interest in following the Soviet example in some areas.
Prime Minister Li's remarks appeared to represent the first time that a Chinese leader has mentioned respect for ''human rights'' as a goal for the nation. Until an article in the official People's Daily on Friday, which quoted unidentified scholars as calling for human rights, the term was used dismissively, as a bourgeois concept that had little or no meaning in China.
The Chinese Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang, also called for more openness - it was his aide, Bao Tong, who arranged for publication of the People's Daily article, party officials said - but his comments were slightly less forceful and less surprising because he has long been associated with a policy of greater liberalization.
On the other hand, just three weeks ago Mr. Li reportedly was involved in plans for an abortive crackdown on the democracy movement, and he said early last month that China would not copy Soviet political reforms.
While students and residents in Tiananmen Square were welcoming Mr. Gorbachev as a symbol of political reform, Gorbachev himself was less impressed
''As a great political reformer, we urge Mikhail Gorbachev to talk to the Government on our behalf, for humanitarian reasons,'' Wang Dan, a student leader from Beijing University, said at a news conference today.
Mr. Gorbachev, walking on eggs to seal his historic raprochement with China, has avoided contact with the students. Today, after inviting senior Soviet journalists to brief him on the unrest in Beijing, he firmly distanced himself from his admirers. He consoled his Chinese counterparts that in the Soviet Union, ''We have our hotheads, too.''
After making his fateful disclosure to Mr. Gorbachev and the public, Zhao Ziyang tried to reach out to the students
Late tonight, Mr. Zhao sent a message to the students calling on them to end their hunger strike and - in a major concession - declared that the highest levels of the Government and Communist Party ''affirmed the students' patriotic spirit in calling for democracy and law, opposing corruption and striving to further reform.''
The written message, which Mr. Zhao said represented all five members of the standing committee of the Politburo, amounted to a retreat from the party's previous position that the demonstrators were trying to cause trouble and sabotage the economy. Mr. Zhao also promised that the authorities would not punish the students after calm was restored. Biggest Protest of Year
It was not clear what effect the message would have on the democracy movement, which has been gaining momentum in the last few days.
In fact, this statement of his did not receive any real attention at all.
Last but not least, the last paragraph of Sheryl WuDunn's report was a breif quote from Professor Jiang Peikun
Jiang Peikun, a 54-year-old philosophy professor at People's University, said: ''We can no longer tolerate the Government. The students are bleeding over there. We will continue to support them until they win.''
Half month later, Professor Jiang's youngest son, then a high schooler, would be killed during the massacre. His wife, Ding Zilin, eventually became the leader of a group known as Tiananmen Mothers.