Fang Lizhi: My ‘Confession’

In the New York Review of Books, astrophysicist and exiled dissident Fang Lizhi writes about Henry Kissinger’s new book On China and his own “confession” to the Chinese government in 1989:

On June 3, 1989, Deng, chair of the Military Commission of the Communist Party of China, ordered tanks from Chinese field armies into Beijing to suppress students who were demonstrating peacefully at Tiananmen Square. On the night of June 5, Raymond Burghardt, political counselor in the US embassy in Beijing, came to the hotel where my wife, Li Shuxian, and I were temporarily staying and invited us to “take refuge” in the embassy as “guests of President Bush.” He said we could stay as long as we needed. The matter soon became a point of contention in US–China relations.

About five months later, on November 9, Deng received, as he described him, his “old friend” Henry Kissinger and brought up “the Fang Lizhi case.” Deng told Kissinger that he was prepared to release the Fang family, expelling them from China “if the American side required Fang to write a confession.” Kissinger replied that if Fang were later to say that the American government had forced him to confess, things would be worse than if he had not confessed.

The American ambassador, James Lilley, relayed the gist of this Deng–Kissinger exchange to Li Shuxian and me, inside the embassy. Lilley, referring to the confession as “one of” Deng’s conditions, made it clear that he was only transmitting the message, not asking for a confession. We were “the guests of Bush”; what kind of host asks a guest to confess? I felt a bit sorry for the ambassador, who clearly was caught in a dilemma: he could not ask for a confession, and could not meet Deng’s condition, either. I told him to relax—Deng’s condition would not be all that hard to satisfy. I knew things about Chinese Communist “confession culture” that Lilley and Kissinger probably did not understand.

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