The Tiananmen Papers, which purport to
be verbatim transcripts of the inner sanctum meetings
of the leadership of China in June 1989, was published
last week in Chinese in Hong Kong. The American publisher
likened this material to the celebrated Pentagon Papers.
But the Chinese Foreign Minister, Tang Jiaxuan, denounced
the book as a "sheer fabrication."
What is the difference between the provenance
of the Tiananmen Papers and the Pentagon Papers?
The provenance of a questioned document
proceeds from the credibility of its chain of prior
custody. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, which purported
to be a secret history of the Vietnam War prepared in
the late 1960s by the Pentagon, the New York Times established
three basic links in the chain.
1) Authentic documents existed. Robert Strange McNamara,
then Secretary of Defense, and other former officials,
conformed that such documents had been written by
a team of Pentagon analysts.
2) A bona fide copy of this history had been stored
at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica
3) The Rand Corporation employee who delivered this
material to the Times, Daniel Ellsberg, had the necessary
access, clearance and opportunity at the Rand Corporation
to copy the history, and admitted doing so.
So there was a clear provenance. In addition,
copies of these documents could be matched to other
documents that were declassified.
The situation was very different in the
case of the Tiananmen Papers. Here the publisher was
unable to establish that:
1) There was ever verbatim transcripts made of any
secret meetings of the Chinese leadershipin June 1989.
No one indeed knows for sure if and what kind of t
records oare kept.
2) Anyone identifiable copied such an archive of
3) That the person who delivered a putative edited
summary of this material ever had access, clearance
or opportunity to the copied documents.
Not only is there no chain of custody
in the Tiananmen papers, but there are no documents.
The deliverer, who remains anonymous, furnished two
American scholars, Perry Link and Andrew Nathan, with
data on computer discs that summarized and transcribed
putative documents. The deliverer claimed that his material
had been excerpted and transcribed in China by an unknown
number of persons at the behest of high level reformers.
These transcriptions were the equivalent of an anonymous
email from a source with an agenda. So the provenance
rests on the word of a nameless person who himself does
not claim to have seen the documents themselves.