Connect with us


Chinese Official Yan Mingfu, Demoted after Tiananmen Crackdown, Passes Away at 91


[Yan Mingfu, a former high-ranking Chinese official who engaged in discussions with revolutionary protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 and offered himself as a “hostage” to help ease the tense situation, passed away on July 3 at the age of 91 in a Beijing hospital. Yan Lan, his daughter, confirmed his death without providing a specific cause.

Yan, born into a prominent family with deep roots in China’s political history, disappeared from public life after Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, authorized security forces to suppress the demonstrators with tanks and troops in early June 1989. The death toll from the brutal crackdown remains unknown, with estimates ranging from several hundred to over 10,000, effectively dashing any hopes for significant political change in China.

Yan was one of the few high-ranking officials who maintained contact with the Tiananmen protesters, making him one of the most globally recognized figures to face consequences in the Communist Party’s purges following the bloodshed. An abrupt mention on state-run media in late 1989 announced Yan’s dismissal as the head of the party’s United Front Work Department, responsible for engaging with non-Communist groups and others. Although no official cause was given for his removal, it was widely seen as retribution for exceeding his authority. Yan occasionally expressed sympathy for some of the protesters’ demands, including media transparency.

On May 16, 1989, Yan made an unexpected offer to become willingly captured by a group of hunger-striking protesters, seeing it as a goodwill gesture to prompt authorities to seek a negotiated resolution. However, the offer was rejected. “The only matter of concern for me is saving the lives of the hunger-striking children in the square, who are now in a severely weakened state, their lives in grave danger,” Yan told Chinese Premier Li Peng after returning from negotiations, according to a transcript cited in the book “Cries for Democracy” by Han Minzhu and Hua Sheng, who both participated in the protests.

Yan was credited as “the primary advocate for restraint” in a 1990 study of the Tiananmen events published by the University of Maryland’s School of Law. He also held significant influence due to his role as Deng’s Russian-language interpreter and his presence during a Beijing summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in mid-May 1989, amidst the Tiananmen crisis. Nevertheless, Deng was already aligning himself with Chinese hardliners urging the use of force to suppress the protesters.

The end of Yan’s efforts to find a peaceful resolution through dialogue became apparent on May 19, 1989, when his most influential ally, Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, made an emotional visit to the square before dawn, imploring the protesters to disperse. Zhao’s underlying message conveyed that Deng’s government had abandoned the negotiations. “We have come too late,” Zhao said with tears welling in his eyes, as reported by The Washington Post. “I am sorry, fellow students. No matter how you have criticized us, I think you have the right to do so. We do not come here to ask you to excuse us.” This turned out to be Zhao’s final public appearance; he was subsequently removed from his position and placed under house arrest, with Jiang Zemin taking over as the new Communist Party general secretary. Yan’s missions to communicate with the protesters were terminated, and within two weeks, troops and tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square.

Yan returned to a government position in 1991 as the vice minister of civil affairs, a role significantly less influential than his previous position. The decision to reintegrate Yan and two other liberal-leaning officials purged after Tiananmen, Hu Qili and Rui Xingwen, was interpreted as Deng’s strategy to diminish the power of conservatives questioning his ambitions to promote China’s economic openness to the world. Deng also signaled his intention to erase history through China’s leadership. Throughout his life, Yan never publicly addressed the events of the Tiananmen massacre or his involvement as a liaison with the protesters. Even in his 2015 autobiography, “The Memoirs of Yan Mingfu,” he avoided any mention of Tiananmen while offering a glimpse into the fragile nature of power and privilege in China during various times.

As a young man, Yan served as a Russian interpreter for Chinese leader Mao Zedong during meetings with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and other leaders. Following these encounters, Yan endured nearly eight years of detention (from 1967 to 1975) during Mao’s brutal political campaign known as the Cultural Revolution. “My father was almost driven insane and subjected to all kinds of inhuman treatment,” Yan’s daughter Yan Lan wrote in remembrance of his life. Despite this, one of the first things Yan did after regaining his freedom in 1975 was to buy a meaningful gift. He waited in line for over three hours at a store in Beijing, eventually returning with something his daughter had long desired: an accordion.

Yan Mingfu was born on November 11, 1931, in Liaoning province in northeastern China. His father, Yan Baohang, initially supported Mao’s rival, Premier General Chiang Kai-shek, before switching sides and becoming a secret agent for Zhou Enlai during World War II. Yan held the same position as his father, heading the United Front Work Department during the Tiananmen upheavals. He graduated from Harbin Foreign Language College in 1949 and served as Mao’s Russian translator in numerous critical meetings and policy discussions, including China’s rupture with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, a major geopolitical divide during the Cold War.

Yan and his father were arrested in 1967 after Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, which resulted in the imprisonment, exile, or death of millions of people deemed contrary to Maoist Communism. Yan was accused of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union, while his wife, Wu Keliang, was labeled a counterrevolutionary and forcibly sent to a “reeducation camp” along with their daughter for over seven years.

In 1985, ten years after his release from imprisonment, Yan assumed leadership of the United Front Work Department, where he began affording more space to political groups not formally aligned with the Communist Party. Although he officially retired in 1996, he later became the chairman of China’s Charity Association, involved in fundraising for disaster relief efforts. In 2007, Yan briefly served as an envoy for outreach with Taiwan due to his family’s past connections to Chiang’s Kuomintang party (Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its historical territory).

Yan’s wife passed away in 2015. He is survived by his daughter and grandson. During the Tiananmen standoff, Yan was viewed as an improvisational figure during his dialogue with the protesters, but it was evident that his actions had limitations. In the May 1989 summit between Deng and Gorbachev, Yan was entrusted with conveying to reporters that Deng’s patience was wearing thin with the defiance in Tiananmen. “The fact is,” said Yan, “there has been a negative impact on the dignity of the country.”


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *

Copyright © 2019 - Le Collectif BI-TON