Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was cited as saying that “two hundred dead could bring 20 years of peace to China,” a month before the Tiananmen massacre of June 1989, declassified files have shown.

The file was in the final batch of cabinet files from the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. They were recently declassified from the National Archives in London and released online on Friday by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

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Photo dated 19 December 1984 showing senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (L) meeting the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Beijing. The joint Sino-British declaration sealing Hong Kong’s future was signed in 1984. Photo: Pierre-Antoine Donnet/AFP.

On May 20, 1989, British Ambassador to China Alan Donald sent a telegram to London saying he had lunch with American sinologist Stuart Schram.

See also: UK granted 6 special visas to Chinese ‘in extreme danger’, days after 1989 Tiananmen massacre

“Professor Stuart Schram confided to me that one of his Chinese contacts had told him that in the recent days Deng Xiaoping commented that ‘two hundred dead could bring 20 years of peace to China’,” Donald said. “The implication clearly was that the sacrifice of a number of demonstrators lives now would stabilize the present situation and buy the time needed to complete the reform of China.”

Donald said he was “inclined to treat this with some reserve” but on the same night the US defence section had passed on “very reliable” confidential information that “The Chinese government has decided there is no way to avoid bloodshed.”

See also: In Pictures: June 4, 1989 – the night the tanks rolled into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square

“The government has recalled government hospital workers to their work units,” he added. “The military has been instructed to do what is necessary to put down the situation.”

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Student hunger strikers stay on top of buses parked at Tiananmen Square in Beijing 19 May 1989. Fie photo: Catherine Henriette/AFP.

Martial law was imposed on Beijing by Premier Li Peng that day.

“There may still be voices within the leadership counselling moderation. But the frustration and anger at the way the students have made the government and party lose face may now be bringing matters to a crisis,” Donald said.

The Tiananmen massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crackdown on protesters in Beijing.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.