BEIJING (Reuters) - China's revered reformist leader Deng Xiaoping said the government had to "spill some blood" to quell student-led protests in 1989, according to newly published memoirs of the watershed events by former premier Li Peng.
Deng's commanding role in the armed crackdown that remains taboo in Chinese politics 21 years later is described in new memoirs by Li, the hardline head of China's government, which faced the student-led movement that erupted across China in 1989.
The standoff culminated in a June 4 sweep against protesters centered on Tiananmen Square, who were galvanized by calls for democracy and a purge of corrupt officials. Troops mobilized under a martial law proclamation killed hundreds of protesters and bystanders, according to witnesses and rights groups.
"The measures for martial law must be steady-handed, and we must minimize harm, but we must prepare to spill some blood," Deng told officials on May 19, according to the memoirs.
Li's account, suppressed from publication by current leaders, removes the veil imposed on decisions preceding the crackdown. It will be issued by a Hong Kong publisher, which sent an advance copy to Reuters on Friday, the anniversary of the crackdown.
Chinese dissidents and families of victims continue to mourn and denounce the use of tanks and guns against the protesters.
Beijing has never issued an official count of those killed and current leaders reject any discussion of the "disturbance."
Around the anniversary dissidents and families of victims are held in their homes by police.
The memoirs show Deng and his Communist Party successors were unyielding, saying that quelling the protests was unavoidable and provided years of stable economic growth.
As China faces strikes and public disquiet over corruption and inequality, the memoirs are a reminder that the party sees threats to its control as a threat to the country's very future.
"If that political disturbance was not handled decisively and correctly, the stability and prosperity of today would be impossible," China's now President Hu Jintao said during a meeting in 2001, according to Li's memoirs.
Li hoped the book would help China's leaders stop threats to their rule from reappearing, he wrote in a 2004 afterword.
"If there are any sprouts that may lead to turmoil, we must adopt decisive measures based on the law to crush them in the bud," he wrote.
The memoirs suggest Deng, seen in China and abroad as a pioneer of market reforms, believed bloodshed was unavoidable.
"If imposing martial law is a mistake, I assume primary responsibility," Deng told senior officials.
The publisher of the memoirs, Bao Pu, last year released memoirs of the 1989 events by Zhao Ziyang, the then Communist Party general secretary, who Premier Li helped push from office for being too soft on the protesters.
China's State Council Information Office did not respond to faxed questions about the memoirs' reliability. The publisher Bao told Reuters that he had no doubt they were authentic.
Some accounts have suggested Deng, old and befuddled, was misled into supporting a hardline against the protesters. But Li's memoirs belie that view, said Bao.
"Deng was the undisputed leader, the ultimate decision maker in China," said Bao, son of the most senior official jailed for sympathizing with protesters, Bao Tong, who was ousted by Deng and remains under tight surveillance in Beijing.
The memoirs show "he (Deng) actually engineered the whole thing from the beginning to the end. There was no misinformation," said Bao.
Deng was paramount among Party elders who dominated behind the scenes of China's formal political leadership. He coaxed officials to break up the rural communes and bans on private business that Chairman Mao Zedong made his legacy.
Deng died in 1997 at age 92, after reviving his market reforms with a dramatic tour of southern China in 1992.
Li, now 81, was premier from 1987 to 1998. He wrote the memoirs in an apparent effort to rebut claims that he maneuvered Deng into backing an armed crackdown.
Bao said he was given a copy of the memoirs by an intermediary. The Chinese book will be published this month.
Editing by Ken Wills and Ron Popeski