Yuan Mu, a controversial former spokesperson of the Chinese State Council, died in Beijing last Thursday at 90 years old.

Yuan garnered international notoriety for saying that there had been no deaths inside Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Yuan Mu
Yuan Mu. File

He said that only 300 people, including 23 Beijing university students, had died during the Tiananmen Square Massacre, speaking at a press conference on June 6, 1989.

He later went on to say via a Chinese official government translator that “not one person died on Tiananmen Square.”

This comment was made in an interview with American journalist Tom Brokaw on June 17 that year.

“The military vehicles and armoured vehicles didn’t crush any single person,” Yuan said in the interview with Brokaw, who was reporting for the NBC.

“I didn’t say that no casualties resulted from our efforts to put down the counter-revolutionary rebellion. I only said that no-one died when the [People’s Liberation Army] cleared the Tiananmen Square,” Yuan said.

“As for the entire process of putting down the counter-revolutionary rebellion… some thugs died and some onlookers were also killed or wounded… and also the PLA suffered huge casualties.”

The Tiananmen massacre ended months of student-led demonstrations in China as the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

Estimates on the death toll vary, although a member of the Chinese State Council said that at least 10,000 civilians had been killed.

This estimate appeared in UK Foreign Office files that were declassified last year.

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Many of the casualties occurred near Muxidi, when the army was approaching Tiananmen Square.

Yuan’s remarks were famously satirised by Hong Kong Director Wong Jing’s 1991 film Tricky Brains, in which actor Stephen Chow said “Yuan Mu is very honest, Li Peng is our greatest leader on earth.” Li Peng was the Chinese premier in 1989.

Born in January 1928, Yuan was a former journalist of the Xinhua news agency. He was director of the research office, as well as spokesperson, for the Chinese State Council from 1988.

He became a member of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 1993. He retired in 2000.

Yuan Mu Stephen Chow Li Peng
Actor Stephen Chow saying “Yuan Mu is very honest, Li Peng is our greatest leader on earth” in 1991 film Tricky Brains. Photo: Screenshot.

Yuan’s death was first reported by Shanghai media The Paper, which was cited by numerous Chinese media outlets. But The Paper has since removed its original news piece.

According to an official notice, a memorial service will be held for Yuan on December 23 at the Babaoshan Funeral Parlour, where many Chinese top officials are laid to rest until they are moved to the nearby cemetery.

Albert Ho, chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, told HKFP that it was not meaningful to comment on Yuan’s death.

Yuan Mu
Official notice of Yuan Mu’s death. Photo” Screenshot.

“Despite his sinister appearance, he was only a spokesperson, a low-level official,” Ho said.

“He was representing the country, the regime, the government that ordered the killings. It was the regime who was shameful by instructing him to lie.”

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.