Yuan Mu, the Chinese regime spokesman who claimed that “not a single person died at Tiananmen Square,” following the 1989 student protests that ended in a bloody crackdown in June of that year, died Dec. 13. He was 90.
According to state media, Yuan’s funeral was held at Babaoshan, a cemetery for senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, on Dec. 23. While several current and retired Party leaders sent wreaths to commemorate his passing, notably absent among them was Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Party-controlled media didn’t report his death until Dec. 25, when Xinhua ran an article that was republished by other outlets. In addition, the obituary didn’t afford Yuan any of the praise normally given to deceased CCP officials, but consisted only of a cursory resume of his career.
The resume noted Yuan’s position as director and Party secretary in the research office of the State Council, and that he had been a member of the standing committee of the Eighth National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a CCP institution for relations with Chinese society and government.
The report appeared to alter Yuan’s date of birth, putting it in December 1927 rather than the Jan. 1, 1928, that was accepted earlier.
“Chinese media are being extraordinarily skittish about reporting the death of Yuan Mu. … Nerves over the 30th anniversary?” New York Times reporter Chris Buckley posted via Twitter.
Buckley says that the Party may be worried that Yuan’s death could stir up unwanted political sentiments, given the proximity to the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2019.
‘Not a Single Person Died’
The Tiananmen protests began in April 1989 in response to growing discontent over corruption and abuse of power by the CCP, as well as the death of the recently ousted reformist leader Hu Yaobang. By May, the protests involved more than a million people across the country, including 100,000 gathered in Tiananmen Square, in the center of Beijing.
Martial law was imposed in May, and on the night of June 3 and into the early hours of June 4, troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) surrounded and killed thousands of people, mostly university students, who hadn’t dispersed from Tiananmen Square.
Yuan soon became infamous for his conflicting and deceptive statements as the CCP’s official spokesman in the aftermath.
On June 17, 13 days after the massacre, Yuan said in an interview that “not a single person died at Tiananmen Square,” and that military vehicles hadn’t crushed a single protester.
But on June 6, just days after the massacre, Yuan had said at a press conference that fewer than 300 people had died throughout the entire protest and its suppression, while more than 2,000 were injured.
Among the deaths, “there were soldiers, rioters, and those caught in the crossfire,” Yuan said. “After an investigation from the universities, we have by now confirmed the deaths of 23 students.”
Yuan claimed that more than 5,000 PLA soldiers and around 2,000 “rioters” and “bystanders ignorant of the circumstances” were wounded.
Yuan’s words invited widespread criticism.
James R. Lilley, then-U.S. Ambassador to China, wrote in his book, “China Hands,” that after the Tiananmen Square massacre, “among the press corps, Yuan was so unpopular that he earned the description ‘reptilian.’”
Lilley also noted that “Yuan Mu, who hates America so much and berated my country every day,” had his daughter apply for a U.S. visa and later sent her to study in the United States.
When the Chinese regime received international criticism for the Tiananmen massacre, Yuan shrugged it off: “We are not afraid, no matter what kind of tactics they use. Criticize us? Sanction us? We Chinese people will not allow them to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, either by condemnation or by sanction.”
After Yuan retired, he gave a phone interview to Radio Free Asia (RFA) in May 2012, during which, he refrained from giving detailed comments about the events.
“I don’t know much about affairs at the highest level,” Yuan told RFA. “I can’t express them clearly on the phone. They can’t be explained in just a few words.”
“I don’t really know about [the leaders’] business. Don’t ask me. Go ask someone who really understands the situation,” Yuan, who was 84 at the time, said.
Regarding the minimal acknowledgment of Yuan by top CCP leaders upon his death, U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan told The Epoch Times on Dec. 26 that “the CCP doesn’t want to stir up memories among the Chinese about the Tiananmen massacre by reporting on Yuan’s death.”
Tang also speculated about the reasons for Xi declining to extend condolences: “In fact, the CCP is ambivalent about Yuan Mu, due to his bad reputation. Xi Jinping didn’t send a wreath, possibly because he fears damaging his personal image should he be associated with Yuan’s negative standing.”