A lengthy memoir by the most moderate and tenacious leader of China's ill-fated democracy movement has been smuggled out of his Peking prison, giving details of his trial on charges of being a counterrevolutionary and accusing court officials of prejudging the case against him.
Xu Wenli, a railroad electrician who became editor of the longest-surviving journal of the 1978-80 democracy movement, reveals that his 15-year sentence resulted from charges that he failed to edit out a reference to the "bloody" dictatorship of the proletariat, conspired with foreigners and government critics in Hong Kong and criticized the 15-year sentence given a more radical government critic as "too harsh."
Unlike other political prisoners, Xu, 42, recounts no physical torture but says that early in his detention he was interrogated 200 times, forbidden to read or write and heard what he thought were "screams of people being struck or electrically shocked."
He says he waited 17 months for his trial in a small cell with two other prisoners who shared an overcoat and were allowed outside only once or twice a month.
Xu's 262-page manuscript concludes with poems written to his wife and young daughter, who like Xu, often welcomed foreign journalists in their cramped apartment in southwestern Peking before his sudden arrest in April 1981.
Copies of the manuscript were given to The Washington Post and United Press International by James Fan, a staff member on the New York-based, Chinese-language magazine China Spring, which promotes political and economic change in China.
"Someone who is with the public security bureau the police and prison administration in China is very sympathetic with us and helped us" smuggle out the manuscript, he said. The handwriting appears identical to that on articles distributed by Xu in Peking in 1979 and 1980.
In his manuscript, dated Dec. 12, 1984, Xu (pronounced somewhat like "shoe") indicates that he expects to be released by 1989 despite the sentence. He appears to have retained the same hopeful, moderate view of dissent in China that made him stand out among critics who blossomed during the days in which new posters appeared daily on Peking's "democracy wall."
Xu's journal, the April Fifth Forum, named for the anti-Cultural Revolution demonstrations in Peking April 5, 1976, was the last democracy-movement journal shut down by authorities.
Unlike Wei Jingsheng, a democracy-movement writer who chided Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and expressed grave doubts about Marxism, Xu continues to call for reform, not wholesale rejection, of the Communist Party.
He blames his imprisonment on an official desire to stifle even the mildest public dissent outside official party channels. "Deng makes the same errors as former party Chairman Mao Tse-tung ," he says.
Xu reveals that, shortly before his trial, the chief judge visited him and advised him to confess all his alleged crimes in exchange for a lighter sentence, a standard tactic in China's criminal-justice system.
Xu said he caused consternation in the courtroom when, asked by the judge if anyone should be excluded from the case because of bias, he cited the judge, "because he advised me to confess, so he must already think I'm guilty." The request was denied.
Xu argues that a passage from one of his publications was taken out of context. It referred to the dictatorship of the proletariat as "bloody," and he said the writer was criticizing only a certain viewpoint, not government policy, that landlords and the bourgeoisie should be violently suppressed because they suppressed workers and peasants before the revolution.
Xu says he was convicted and sentenced for two alleged counterrevolutionary acts and one act of inciting counterrevolution. He says he is not guilty and predicts without elaborating that authorities will release him before he has served his full sentence.
He says the court convicted him of authorizing the reference to a "bloody" dictatorship of the proletariat and conspiring with French diplomat Emmanuel Bellefroid, an expert on the democracy movement, and Chinese democracy advocates in Hong Kong to organize a "Committee for the Unification of China" with ties to Taiwan.
As part of this conspiracy, the court convicted Xu of publishing an article in Hong Kong critical of destruction of works by traditional artist Qi Baishi.
The incitement conviction, Xu says, resulted from his criticism of the highly publicized 15-year sentence given Wei Jingsheng in 1979.
Xu told the court that the Hong Kong committee's call for Chinese unity echoed what the government itself was saying. His article on Qi, he said, also reflected official views of the post-Mao regime.
Xu provides little detail about his captivity, unlike his colleague Liu Qing, whose accounts of torture and physical breakdown in a labor camp created a sensation two years ago and led authorities to add seven years to Liu's sentence.
Instead, Xu indicates that his jailers at the Peking No. 1 Municipal Prison allow him paper, pen and occasional contacts with guards and other prisoners, the only hint about how he could have prepared and dispatched such a thick manuscript.
China Spring staffer Fan noted that Xu, perhaps because of his more moderate views, appears to have avoided forced heavy labor in prison and has been treated better than jailed dissidents such as Liu.
Xu complains in the memoir of a back problem and speaks of exercising to keep fit but mentions no other ailments. Other reports, not affirmed in the manuscript, indicate that he has been allowed recent visits by his wife and daughter.
Most of the manuscript, called "My Defense," is an autobiography, adding detail to past accounts of his life as the son of a Red Army doctor who died in an accident before Xu could finish the schooling he desired to follow his urge to write. Xu served in the air force, then moved to a secure job as an electrician and lived quietly with his family until he was caught up in the excitement of the democracy movement.
Xu was older than most other democracy-movement leaders and, unlike them, was enjoying a settled family life when he chose to help organize the journal. His thoughts about his family are evident in a poem, "Happily Dreaming of My Daughter":
"My daughter, ambling along. I call to her and she is happy. Her tears pour forth.
"Father and daughter throw their arms around each other. My heart suddenly feels as sweet as honey. My daughter calls her mother to come and this startles my heart awake."