Yuan Mu was born in January 1928 in Zhaoyang, a town in the eastern province of Jiangsu, the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao reported. He joined underground activities of the Communist Party while studying at Fudan University in Shanghai and later worked as a journalist for several party-run newspapers before joining Xinhua, the official news agency, said the Hong Kong China News Agency. In the 1970s, Mr. Yuan moved into government work and put his journalistic background to use in drafting party and government documents and then as a spokesman.
As the government’s public face during the tumultuous late 1980s, Mr. Yuan had to navigate the leaders’ shifting and divided positions as students and intellectuals mobilized to demand political liberalization and an end to official corruption.
In the early spring of 1989, Mr. Yuan spoke sympathetically about the students protesting in Beijing. But a few weeks later, he defended the party leadership’s decision to impose martial law in the city — a prelude to the bloody mayhem when soldiers moved into Beijing and other cities to quell the protests.
James R. Lilley, the United States ambassador to China from 1989 to 1991, later told an interviewer that Mr. Yuan had been Mr. Li’s “hatchet man” against the student protesters. Mr. Lilley also wrote in his 2004 memoir, “China Hands,” that Mr. Yuan had a reputation among the foreign press corps for being “reptilian.”
After the crackdown, many people in China believed that the number of civilians shot or beaten to death by the military was in the thousands. Mr. Yuan, however, told reporters on June 6 that an estimated 300 people had been killed, including “troops, thugs and spectators.” He also said that the injured included not only 2,000 civilians, but more than 5,000 soldiers.
As for the international outcry over the bloodshed in Beijing, Mr. Yuan said that China could put up with any reprisals by foreign governments.
“We are not afraid of this,” he said. “We Chinese people will not allow them to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, either by condemnations or by sanctions.”