Between threat and inspiration. Polish intelligence station in Beijing reports on Chinese authorities and pro-democracy demonstrators attitudes towards the “Solidarity” Movement in the late 1980s

Marek Hańderek

This year marks 30th anniversary of dramatic events in the Tiananmen Square. Decision made by Chinese authorities to suppress demonstrations by force was a turning point which undermined a pro-democratic movement in China and led the Chinese Communist Party to keep a monopoly of political power.  The Tiananmen Square protests started in April 1989 right after the funeral of Hu Yaobang, a former secretary of the Chinese Communist Party who was perceived as a leader of a liberal wing inside the CCP. For almost two months events in the main square in Beijing were a central issue for all people observing Chinese affairs. It also referred to Polish intelligence station in PRC capital - codenamed “Ryż” (rice).

In the late 1980s station “Ryż” together with Polish intelligence station in Shanghai – codenamed “Karate” – informed the headquarters in Warsaw about Chinese economic reforms and its negative effects like inflation. According to several sources of Polish intelligence, Chinese ruling circles carefully studied Polish political and economic situation and wanted to avoid creation of a strong democratic opposition similar to the “Solidarity” Movement.  

Up to today, probably no one asked a question about Polish indirect influence on Chinese politics of that period so the main aim of my paper is to shed some light on this issue.

Thanks to newly declassified documents, stored in the Archive of the Institute of National Remembrance, it is possible not only to learn about Chinese authorities’ fears but we can also discover that “Solidarity” inspired at least a part of protesters gathered in the Tiananmen Square. According to those documents, during the protests there were visible signs of copying Polish oppositionist model. Maybe the most significant proof of that tendency is fact that one of student groups called itself  the “Solidarity”.

A second main research question concerns Polish intelligence ability or inability to collect valuable data from different sources in 1989. When we take into account that in February 1989 the so called Round Table Talks were initiated, future seemed to be uncertain not only for officers of the intelligence but also for their collaborators. On June 4, 1989 a partly free elections were held in Poland and resulted in an enormous success of the opposition forces. Accidentally, the same day Chinese authorities started the bloody crackdown on protesters in the Tiananmen Square.

After elections of June 4th, many people realized that it was only the beginning of the System Transformation in Poland. In mid-1989 Polish officers in China reported that majority of secret collaborators, who were Polish citizens, did not want to continue cooperation because they were afraid that in case of democratization in Poland people would discover that they had supported communist intelligence services. It was not only problem of station in China but also other stations noted similar difficulties.

The last research question refers to results of the bloody massacre in the Tiananmen Square. It is important to ask if Polish intelligence correctly predicted consequences of those dramatic events. Right after suppression of the protests, one of specialists in Chinese affairs, who cooperated with Polish intelligence, expected partial isolation of China due to international sanctions against PRC. Moreover, he recommended using this opportunity to tighten economic ties between Poland and China. A few months later Polish intelligence reported that criticism from the West pushed China to develop relations with the USSR.

Sylwia Szyc