Gao Xin, a 34-year-old scholar who was imprisoned for six months after joining a hunger strike at Beijing's Tiananmen Square last June 2, is one of China's few remaining openly active dissidents. This article is excerpted from a manifesto written by Gao and recently obtained by The Washington Post.

Gao, scholar Zhou Duo and pop singer Hou Dejian planned to present an open letter to the Chinese government last Thursday (May 31) calling for the release of jailed pro-democracy activists, but disappeared late Wednesday night. In an interview on May 29, Gao said he would continue his calls for greater human rights and political change in China despite the threat of rearrest or imprisonment. "We must speak no matter what the consequences," he said. "Without freedom, without democracy, man is dead."

Within weeks after troops violently seized the center of Beijing last June 3-4, Gao, along with hunger strikers Zhou Duo and Liu Xiaobo, was detained and accused by prison officials of counter-revolutionary agitation. Unlike some democracy activists, Gao has not been radicalized by the army's attacks on protesters or his internment. "Intellectuals and communist party members have a duty to use peaceful, step-by-step measures to support political liberalization from within the party," said Gao.

IT HAS BEEN a year since the June 4 incident took place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. I was a participant in and witness to that incident and have paid a heavy price for it.

I was imprisoned for six months under miserable conditions and suffered tremendous pain both physically and psychologically. Since my release, things are still as bad. I am not even allowed the right to work in order to make a living.

Everything in my life was changed because of my participation in what is officially described as the "turmoil." For this and other reasons, I decided to write about what I had experienced and witnessed. I will try my best to be impartial and rational.

I was the chief editor of a weekly magazine at Beijing Normal University after my graduation in 1982. In 1986, I was criticized for running the magazine with "bourgeois liberal tendencies." I had since then completely lost my interest in ideology.

At the start of the students' demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, I did not want to participate, although I sympathized with them. I also tried to persuade Liu Xiaobo {another dissident university teacher} not to participate in it.

But on May 15, I passed by Changan Street, which leads to the square. I was completely taken by the patriotic enthusiasm and the self-sacrificing spirit of the students. I cried in front of my fiance. I felt ashamed about my previously apathetic attitude towards the country and the people.

On May 19, I was told that "The army will be sent into the city. {Chinese Premier} Li Peng's government will resort to force in dealing with our peaceful student demonstrators in Tiananmen." My conscience as a common Communist Party member and a university teacher finally drove me to Tiananmen Square. Also on my mind was that I wanted to contribute my efforts to protect the students in the square. While there, I continuously tried to persuade the students around me to remain peaceful and to avoid bloodshed.

That night, I listened to the government broadcasting program, and I was astonished by the incredible difference between Li Peng's two speeches, one on May 18, when he met with representatives of student hunger strikers, and now at a meeting of party, government and army leaders. The students were naive enough to think that the reason Li Peng sounded so angry on May 19 was because of the arrogant attitude of people like {student leader} Wuer Kaixi the day before, and thus it was understandable.

Their naivete made me both want to laugh and cry. However, at that time, I was still quite positive that Li would not decide to do anything violent in dealing with those young students. After all, it had only been one day since he spoke with student representatives like Wuer Kaixi and Wang Dan saying, "We are not after anything else. We are just concerned. You are all quite young . . . . You are all like children of our own."

Only today, when I recall those words, can I truly sense Li's meaning. As the ancient Chinese saying goes: "Dutiful children can only come from the discipline of sticks and clubs." On May 20, Li Peng declared martial law. At the time, I thought it was a mistake by decision-makers in the government, for by doing so, they could only cause further confrontation. As far as I could tell, the situation in Beijing before May 19 was not as chaotic as the government thought.

But at the same time, I was also worried about the growing lack of rationality and control on the side of the students and various groups of sympathetic people in the square. Given the circumstances at the time, someone or some group had to step out and help the demonstrators understand the situation rationally and calmly.

The worst that could happen in the square had happened already: Nobody had the ability to lead the people anymore.

Obviously, a hunger strike is a form of self-destruction. But under the circumstances then, it might have been the only way to attract the attention of the students and the people in the square and have them listen to us.

On June 2, Liu Xiaobo, {intellectual} Zhou Duo, {rock singer} Hou Dejian and I started our 72-hour-long hunger strike in the square at four o'clock in the afternoon. In our "June 2 Hunger Strike Declaration," we openly expressed our opinion of "opposing military control." But we were only against the government's "mistake in decision making." We did not expect the government to retract and withdraw the troops. All we wanted was to persuade the students and various groups of people in the square to listen to our opinion: Remain peaceful, avert violent confrontation, and avoid bloodshed.

At the beginning, we had no idea that the martial law troops would move in to occupy Beijing. But, ironically, we did achieve our goal of "preventing violent confrontation" in the end when the soldiers marched in and began to "clear up the square."

From midnight on the 3rd through to pre-dawn on the 4th, the martial law troops, after having their way to Beijing blocked, came to "the end of their patience" and used tanks, machine guns and sub-machine guns to "fight back in self defense" against bricks, tile pieces, and soda pop bottles.

Blood baths took place in Muxudi, Xidan, Nan Chizi, Zhu Shikou {areas east and west of the square}. At that crucial time, when many had already been killed by bullets, it was we four hunger strikers who managed to negotiate with the martial law troops before it was too late and successfully persuaded the angry but leaderless people in the square to withdraw peacefully.

We persuaded some demonstrators on the square to surrender their sticks, iron chains, a rifle and a machine gun before they could use them to fight the troops. At the time, the machine gun was set at the foot of the people's monument, pointing directly at the fully armed soldiers in front of the east gate of the People's Hall. If we had not taken away this machine gun in time, had they started to shoot back at the soldiers, what would the consequences have been? There would have been a literal "river of blood" in the square. Some people have since criticized us, saying we were too much like bookworms, that we were still advocating non-violence when faced with tanks and machine guns and that we had "compromised" with the government at the most crucial time, organizing the so-called "peaceful withdrawal" -- a sign of absolute cowardice.

My answer to such criticism is this: Tanks and machine guns indeed could not stop the people's pursuit of democracy or their yearning for freedom. But by the same token, things like bricks, tile pieces and soda pop bottles could not help the progress of China's democratization either.

We were also criticized for being interviewed by reporters from the government's propaganda institutes. Some even think that we were forced to be "witnesses" for the government, against ourselves. To answer this criticism, I have to repeat: We did not see anybody killed during the "clearing of the square" on June 4 last year, between 4 to 5:30 a.m. Nor was there a "river of blood" in the square. We persuaded most of the students and citizens to leave the square.

Just as no one needs to exaggerate, or try to alter the fact that there had been huge, bloody confrontations outside the square in other parts of Beijing, it is also a fact that there was no one killed in the square. We were being responsible to history when we spoke to the reporters on this issue. One thing that I must point out is that Zhou, Liu and I were in prison when the "interview" took place.

On June 4, early in the morning, two of the army officers in charge of "clearing up the square," by the names Ji and Gu, told Hou and Zhou (who went to negotiate with them about "peaceful withdrawal"): "There is only one way the troops will not, by mistake, do any harm to the students in the square while carrying out our orders: The students and other people must leave the square unconditionally." They also said, "If you could persuade the students to leave, you will be praised." In other words, if we could not succeed in organizing the people in the square to withdraw peacefully, there was bound to be "harm by mistake."

At that most crucial time, we organized the peaceful withdrawal and took away the weapons in order to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. It was written about in great detail in the People's Daily last year. However, Liu Xiaobo, who ought to be praised, is still in prison today. What is awaiting him, we still cannot tell. The reason I am bringing this up again a year later is to reveal the truth and demand justice. At all times, whether the past or the present, I have always believed that there was nothing wrong about the behavior of the four of us on June 4, 1989. We can face our own conscience, our people, and our history with absolutely no sense of guilt. And our actions benefited the government.

As for our opposition to the government's decision to declare martial law, and our hunger strike to protest it, public opinion today and the judgment of history tomorrow will decide whether we were right or wrong. Li Peng once said to some foreigners that history would eventually prove that the way they resolved the June 4 incident last year was correct. I would like to wait for the judgment of history together with Premier Li Peng.

By all means, the "political turmoil" last year needed to be resolved as soon as possible. But was it legitimate to send national defense forces into the city to implement martial law? The People's Republic of China constitution states: "The armed forces of the PRC belong to the people." Their duty is to protect the motherland and the people.

Granted there were traffic jams in Beijing and sanitation problems in the square, but this was not an armed rebellion. If tanks and machine guns have to be used to deal with bricks and bottles, what should be used if some real anti-government force appears in the country? Nuclear bombs?

I still believe that the fact that the government ordered the troops to open fire shows how weak the policy-making people were when faced with emergency, and furthermore, it shows how unconfident they are about the stability of their regime.

The saddest thing of all about the events of last June is that they pushed so many people to the opposite side, people who had originally been supporters of the government or, at most, had some different viewpoints about certain measures the government had taken. Nearly 10,000 people were killed or wounded during the June 4 incident. It also caused tremendous economic losses, and serious confrontation between the masses and the government and its army. Such a heavy price. But was it really unavoidable? Li Peng said the following words as late as April 5 of this year: "We cannot look at this issue without taking the historical situation of the time into consideration. Thinking about these events afterwards, maybe we could have used some other method to resolve it." While acknowledging that there might have been "some other method" to resolve the problem, they had nonetheless still chosen the method of killing people, a method that is the most brutal, most extreme and most irreversible. What else could this be other than a mistake?

It is said that Deng Xiaoping has decided not to discuss the June 4 incident for the next three years. I am quite puzzled about this. If the decision of the government at the time was correct, there will be no need to discuss it in three years. On the other hand, if the government is not even sure about the correctness of the decision at the time, wouldn't it be good for the sake of the country's political stability to bring it up for discussion as early as possible? Wouldn't it be beneficial for the nation?

I myself truly support the reform and the open-door policies. And I wish the country stablility. Everybody should have the same hope. But real stability could only be achieved when the government policies and decisions are supported by the people, when the people are allowed to speak out about their different opinions, when the people are given ample rights of democracy and freedom.

Ihave always believed that there is no political party in China that can compete with the Communist Party, let alone replace or overthrow it. I joined the party 15 years ago, when I was 20 years old. After June 4 last year, I was under "the dictatorship of the proletariat" {imprisoned} for half a year. But during the six months, I always entrusted others to turn in my fee to the party. After my release, although I have no income, I still turn in my party fee every month. This can be called "devout." But the party committee at Beijing Normal University so far has not made any decision regarding my case. I can do nothing but wait. But for how long? My fiance said that I am not made for politics. I agree. I never intended to become involved in politics. I went to Tiananmen Square last year because I had some objection to the policies of the government. After my release, I was asked by some foreign reporters what I was thinking about. My answer was: I am still convinced that opposition to all forms of violence is a correct standpoint. And righteous.

The final segment of our June 2 Hunger Strike Declaration reads, "We must recognize that democratic rule, to every Chinese person, is unfamiliar." Everyone in China, including the highest party and national leaders, must learn democracy from the very beginning. During this process, the mistakes made by the government and the people will be unavoidable. What is most important is to admit those mistakes, to correct them and to learn from those mistakes, and slowly learn how to administer our nation.

Therefore, I hope that all Chinese, guided by their conscience and sense of responsibility to the nation, will think back calmly and objectively to the year 1989 in China; that they will reason carefully, and calmly pass through 1990; that they will wait, with optimism and confidence, to welcome China's year 2000. As the tide of democracy sweeps across the world, its powerful trend unstoppable, as the governments of the world have learned or are learning to use peaceful means to solve their problems, it is impossible for China to be isolated, fluctuating somewhere outside this world. This article was edited by The Washington Post for length and clarity with assistance from Kevin Platt and Kun Tian.