A May 1989 file photo shows students from Beijing University during a huge demonstration at Tiananmen Square as they start an unlimited hunger strike as the part of mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. (Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images)

During the seven weeks of student-led protests in Beijing, Tim Russert on television’s “Meet the Press” estimated thousands had been killed by machine guns in Tiananmen Square. The New York Times ran a story in which a Qinghua University student described machine guns mowing down students in front of a monument in the square. A week later, no evidence was found to confirm either account.

Most people now agree that although there was no masscare within the square, hundreds of people did die. Until yesterday, when English language government-run newspaper China Daily published a story headlined “Tiananmen massacre a myth.”

China Daily’s story cites the release of WikiLeaks diplomatic cables last month that showed there was no bloodshed in the actual square, and that most of the killings took place a few miles outside it.

The story also draws from a report written by The Post’s former Beijing bureau chief Jay Mathews in 2010 for the Columbia Journalism Review, entitled “The Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press.” In the report, Mathews also suggested that hundreds, not thousands of people died, and possibly none of them within the square.

China Daily’s story reprints in large part a story that an Australian diplomat wrote on July 1 in the Japan Times.. China Daily’s article does not mention of the hundreds of people who likely died outside the square and implies that the protests in Tiananmen were a myth altogether.

Both articles also state:

Tiananmen remains the classic example of the shallowness and bias in most Western media reporting, and of governmental black information operations seeking to control those media. China is too important to be a victim of this nonsense.

They also state that Mathews’s report is the best “expose” of what happened.

But Mathews says his purpose for writing the report was different. “My point is that yes, the Chinese did a terrible thing in Tiananmen, but in American journalism, we have to be careful about the truth. If we as Americans want to tell the Chinese to have a free press, our own free press must be accurate.”

On Twitter, many who read the China Daily article were upset by it.

Mathews says China Daily’s story is interesting because the government allowed a report to be published that breaks the party line.

“People in the party don’t want anything mentioned about Tiananmen Square, even if it supports the party,” Mathews says.

On the same day China Daily published its story, the BBC broadcast a story about a Chinese dissident poet Liao Yiwu who was jailed for writing about the Tiananmen Square protests. Liao has now fled to Germany so that he could publish material about life in China.