BEIJING – Deng Xiaoping, leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 until his retirement in 1989, did something that was painful with the Tiananmen Square massacre but in the end, he achieved the common good, the leader’s interpreter told EFE.
Over the course of an hour and a half, Victor Gao describes his former boss, whom he worked for between 1983-1988, as a military genius, a patriot, pragmatist and visionary, despite the fact he chose to use force in order to squash the protests that had erupted in the Chinese capital 30 years ago.
In the ’80s, Gao explains from his luxury apartment that Deng Xiaoping was a man of few words. But the few words he did utter were like bullets.
Gao avoids going into details when discussing the bloody events, which the government to this day still censors any reference to.
He compares the Tiananmen protests to a war that could have put an end to China.
For Gao, the end (the prosperity that China currently enjoys) far outweighed the means that cost the lives of many.
To this day, there are no official figures on how many died on June 4, 1989.
Gao started working with Deng Xiaoping in 1983 when the leader was 79.
“He was 58 years older than me, he was virtually my great-grandfather!” the expert in public relations joked.
“I called him ‘the prophet of the great Chinese nation,’ because en 1978 (the year that Mao Zedong died), China had reached the peak of equality in the history of China: everyone was as poor as each other,” he added.
According to Gao, China was blocked within an ideology.
Everyone considered socialism to be better than capitalism, so Deng Xiaoping chose to address this conundrum by maintaining stability.
Deng Xiaoping succeeded in keeping China intact, unlike the former USSR that fragmented. He was like a magician and managed to advance with no obstructions, aside from what happened in Beijing in 1989, Gao continued.
Deng Xiaoping was a pragmatist and realist and in 1984 reduced the military budget in favor of boosting economic development.
“He reduced the number of soldiers by one million. One million!” Gao explained. “Deng knew how to handle himself.”
When asked what happened in 1989, Gao recalled he was at the UN’s New York offices and witnessed events from a distance.
“I, personally, was very traumatized,” he continued. “It was a horrible nightmare to see the population demonstrating and the dead students.”
In the end, the military took over in order to restore normality in the city, Gao said.
Gao describes events like a collapse of the system and that it revealed weaknesses such as the lack of effective communication between departments and leaders.
In the end, the students were used by political forces beyond China to sink the political system, the translator told EFE.
It was a chaotic situation.
“By the time Deng had to take a decision, it was too late. And in the end, for whatever reason, what happened in Beijing was a tragedy. A tragedy!” he laments.
When asked if he thinks that Deng Xiaoping regretted the use of violence against the students, Gao said that if he regretted anything at all it was not getting involved earlier. He waited too long.
“I am no historian,” Gao continued. “But by the time Deng Xiaoping realized the seriousness of the panorama he concluded correctly, unfortunately, that unless the situation was under control, it could mean the end of China. And everyone in China would suffer more as a consequence, just as happened in the former USSR.”
When asked about the suffering that was inflicted on the families of those that were killed in Tiananmen, Gao refers to the impossible situation Winston Churchill faced during World War II.
After cracking Germany’s coded language, British spymasters became aware that Nazi Germany was going to bomb Coventry (central England), but the prime minister knew that if he evacuated the town the enemy would realize that British spies had cracked their code. Churchill did not evacuate Coventry and thousands died.
“In politics, very painful decisions need to be made,” Gao said.
“I think that the greatness of what Deng did was that he did something painful for China, for people like myself, for the entire nation, but in the end, he believed in the common good,” Gao said breaking down in tears.
After a pause, he added.
“The tragedy in Beijing is always in some corner of your mind, but you cannot think of it. If you do, you will be overwhelmed. So you have to let history or time heal.”