Nearly 15 years after student-led demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square rocked the Chinese government, the bloody military assault that ended the protests on the night of June 3 and on June 4, 1989, remains a lump in the throat of Chinese politics. Hundreds died, if not more. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) labeled the protests a "counterrevolutionary rebellion," thus condemning thousands to political oblivion or prison. That verdict has never been reversed, the actual death toll never revealed and the full story never told by the government.

Now Jiang Yanyong -- an army doctor who last year blew the whistle on China's coverup of the SARS epidemic -- has written a startling letter to the National People's Congress, which met in Beijing last week. Jiang, 72, calls for a reversal of the Tiananmen verdict and gives a moving account of the casualties he saw at his hospital during the 1989 crackdown. He says that he anticipates "consequences" for his boldness in speaking out.

Jiang's 4,700-word letter made its way to foreign journalists. Some Web sites that have posted the Chinese version appear to have been blocked (an English version, as translated by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, is available at The following condensation is based on the FBIS translation:

In 1989, students in Beijing voiced their just demand for fighting corruption and bureaucratic racketeering and for promoting honest government. The students' patriotic acts had the support of the overwhelming majority of people in the country. However, a small number of leaders who supported corruption resorted to unprecedented means. They acted in a frenzied fashion, using tanks, machine guns and other weapons to suppress the totally unarmed citizens, killing hundreds and injuring and crippling thousands of others. Then, the authorities mobilized all types of propaganda machinery to fabricate lies and used highhanded measures to silence the people.

Now 15 years have gone by and the authorities are expecting the people to gradually forget the incident. In the past they called it a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" and then they called it the "1989 political storm." Giving the incident a different name indicates the perpetrators' guilty conscience. If it was [only] a storm, why did they have to mobilize hundreds of thousands of troops to suppress it? Why should they use machine guns and tanks to kill innocent, ordinary people? Thus, I propose that we correctly characterize the students' patriotic movement on 4 June 1989.

I am a surgeon at the PLA [People's Liberation Army] Number 301 Hospital. In 1989, I was director of the hospital's department of routine surgery. On the evening of June 3, I heard radio broadcasts urging people not to go to the streets. About 10 p.m. when I was in my dormitory, I heard gunshots. Several minutes later, my pager beeped. It was the emergency room's call. So I rushed there. I could not believe my eyes. Lying on the floor and the examination tables were seven young people with blood all over their faces and bodies. Two of them were confirmed dead after EKG tests. My brain buzzed and I almost passed out. I have been a surgeon for more than 30 years. When I was a member of the medical team of the PLA Railway Corps that built the Chengdu-Kunming Railway, I saved many wounded soldiers, but they were injured in construction accidents. However, lying before me this time were our own people, killed by children of the Chinese people, with weapons given to them by the people, in Beijing, the magnificent capital of China.

But I could not afford the time to think. After another salvo of gunshots, more wounded young people were brought to the emergency room by people with pull carts and pedicabs. All 18 surgical rooms were used. During the two-hour period from 10 p.m. to midnight, our emergency room accepted 89 patients with bullet wounds. Seven died despite emergency treatment. Doctors in three groups spent most of the night performing surgery to save all who could be saved.

I can never forget one who died. He was a young man in his twenties, whose parents were cadres retired from the Seventh Machine Building Ministry located across the street. When they heard the broadcasts that asked people not to go to the streets, they forbade their children from leaving home, and they sat down to play mah-jongg. But this young man and his fiancee went to the streets when they heard the gunshots outside. When they ran to the Five Pines Crossroad, a salvo of gunshots sprayed on them. The girl turned and ran. When she found her boyfriend did not follow her, she went back. She found him lying on the roadside in a pool of blood. She pulled him, but he would not move. People nearby came forward to help and brought him to our emergency room. A nurse checked his blood pressure. There was none. When [we] performed an EKG test on him, the line on the screen was flat.

The girl cried as if she had gone crazy but she went home and brought her boyfriend's mother to the emergency room. I squatted beside this shattered mother and told her that her son's heart was smashed and he could not be saved. The mother, after calming down, broke into a torrent of abuse, saying: "I joined the military when I was very young. Then I joined the party and followed the CCP in fighting Japan and [Nationalist leader] Chiang Kai-shek. Now the PLA killed my dearest child, I am going to settle the score with them."

Her son's body was placed on the floor in our hospital's with other bodies. Some PLA soldiers were there to watch them. The deceased were vilified as "ruffians."

Jiang, after describing his experience in treating two others shot that night, talks about the hospital staff's disbelief at the weapons used to put down the protest.

After midnight, no more wounded people were brought to our hospital. I proceeded to the surgery room to check the situation there. I saw one man whose smashed liver had tiny fragments of metal. In other cases, our doctors also found large numbers of tiny bullet fragments. It was clear that the injuries were not caused by ordinary bullets, but by the fragmentation bullets of the kind banned by international convention.

On June 9, [China's leader] Deng Xiaoping summoned the leaders of all [work] units. Then the investigations began. One day, Zhu Ke, my classmate and director of the neurology department, visited me, saying that the hospital had asked him to talk to me about a trip I made to Tiananmen in mid-May with some medical students. I told Zhu: Stay out of this. Whoever wants to know about the trip should talk to me in person. Soon, a comrade from the hospital's political department visited me. He told me that in a videotape the higher authorities saw me and the medical students going downtown. He said the students were on a truck -- holding high a streamer with characters that read "Support Group of the PLA Medical College for Advanced Studies" and beating gongs and drums -- and that I was following them on a bicycle. He asked me to explain.

I told him this: That day our department was scheduled to go downtown to attend an academic symposium. When we went to the motor pool, we were told that it could not dispatch any vehicles because the road was congested with demonstrators. Then many medical students put on white gowns and were ready to go to Tiananmen to voice support for the students. They asked me join them. They said they would camp at the Tiananmen Square. I told them that I could not go with them. I biked slowly with them. Because of a sudden rainstorm, I hurried back to the hospital after making one round of the square. I told the comrade that I had made no mistake on the trip. Later, whenever June 4 was discussed, I insisted that the suppression of the student movement was wrong. Because of that, I did not receive the promotion I deserved that year.

After June 4, everything was measured by one's attitude toward the incident, [including] the reorganization of our fraternal unit, the Academy of Military Sciences. Qin Boyi, the academy's president [who had approved the delivery of drinking water to student protestors on a hunger strike], was dismissed. Prof. Tang Peixuan, a vice president, was also dismissed after he told his superiors that when he took part in student movements before Liberation, the Guomindang [KMT] government only used fire hoses on students. He said it was incomprehensible that the people's troops killed countless students and ordinary people with machine guns and tanks. Another vice president of the academy was promoted to president because he said things the superiors wanted to hear.

Jiang then described a 1997 conversation with the playwright Wu Zuguang, who was barred from speaking about June 4 at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress. Instead Wu spoke to a small literature and art group, but no one sided with him about the need for a reassessment.

Wu later said: Everybody has a mouth, which serves two purposes: eat and speak. If this mouth is used to tell lies and if I don't speak my mind, then its only purpose is to eat. What's its usefulness?

Wu's talks educated me greatly. In 1998, I and some comrades wrote to state leaders proposing that the June 4th incident be reappraised. I [also] called on [former President] Yang Shangkun at his residence. I told him what I saw. Yang indicated that [in] the June 4th incident, the CCP committed the most serious mistakes in its history. He said he could not do anything, but that the mistakes would be corrected in the future.

What I want to say is this: Our party must address the mistake it has made. I believe that correct assessment of June 4th is what the people want and it will never cause unrest. The claim that stability is of overriding importance can in fact cause even greater instability. Each year before June 4th, some people, like sitting on thorns, are in a state of extreme nervousness. The uneasiness has not gradually diminished just because the incident has become farther away. On the contrary, the people have become increasingly disappointed and angry.

I have considered the consequences that I might encounter after writing this letter. But I have decided to tell you all the facts.

Jiang Yanyong, Department of Surgery, Beijing 301 Hospital, Feb. 24, 2004

A suppression that lives on: The June 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown sent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of injured protesters to Beijing hospitals. Hundreds died. Fifteen years later, a doctor who treated the wounded is calling for the government to hold itself to account. Below, the square as it looked last week, on the eve of China's annual National People's Congress.