Just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the bloody Chinese government crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square, the leader ousted for opposing the crackdown has broken his silence, with a posthumous memoir that condemns the 1989 killings as a "tragedy."
In 1989, Zhao Ziyang was the highest-ranking leader in the country - the chief of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
He was last seen in public in May of that year, pleading with student demonstrators to leave Tiananmen Square. He knew at the time that he had lost a power struggle to hard-line rivals. Shortly after that appearance, he was stripped of his power. He remained under house arrest until his death in 2005.
Testimony was secretly recorded
During the last 15 years of his life, though, he managed to secretly record more than 30 hours of taped testimony, which were eventually smuggled out of the country. The tapes have been condensed into "Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang," which is being published this month in Chinese and English.
Bao Pu is a Hong Kong-based publisher and the son of Zhao's former top aide, Bao Tong. His New Century Press is publishing the Chinese edition of the book.
Bao says at one point, Zhao said he never wanted to be the Party General Secretary who shot at the people. He says hearing Zhao's voice saying those words is shocking and impressive.
Publisher: Zhao wanted to give his version of events
Bao says Zhao apparently wanted to give his version of the events, to challenge the Communist Party's official condemnation of the Tiananmen protest as a counter-revolutionary rebellion.
Zhao had pleaded with senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping not to use force against demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, whose numbers had been growing as the weeks dragged on.
Memoir offers intimate details of tragic event
Zhao says on the night of June 3, while sitting in the courtyard with his family, he heard what he described as intense gunfire. He said "a tragedy to shock the world had not been averted, and was happening after all."
The gunfire he heard was government troops firing on protesters around Tiananmen Square, actually in the early hours of June 4. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, were killed.
The Chinese government has said the demonstrations were aimed against the government, and has not indicated it is ready to change its verdict.
Meanwhile, Zhao's first person account will offer more intimate details on the struggles within the Communist party leading up to the crackdown decision.