Thursday, June 30, 2011

Atop the Tiananmen Tiger: Bao Tong

A man of rare courage and loyalty

Having today come across an article that refers to Bao Tong I was amazed to know that firstly he was still alive but secondly that he still had a voice in political affairs. I therefore thought I would reprint here an article I wrote in 2004 mainly for my online records but I think it still has interest today. Of course we no longer call it a massacre so please make allowances for that.

With the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square student tragedy looming two men in particular are sure to return in their memories to those fateful days when they were forced to mount the ‘Tiananmen Tiger’. A “tiger” from which neither they or the Chinese Communist party has ever been able to get off.

One of course is Zhao Ziyang who at the time of the Tiananmen demonstrations was the Communist Party General Secretary. With succeeding years the legend of Zhao has grown. That of the leader who apparently dared to care and as a result fell from a lofty position, at the very pinnacle of communist party rule, to a life of virtual imprisonment and disgrace.

Zhao’s story is well known and no doubt will be recounted many times over the coming weeks, however another “casualty” of Tiananmen is less well known. A man whose loyalty for his leader, and paradoxically love of his party, led to his downfall as well.

This man the second highest ranking CCP member to fall as a result of Tiananmen ended up serving seven years in jail and upon his release has swapped one prison for another. Unlike Zhao who has remained under close quarters, in what many term “house arrest”, this other man is “free” now to move about.

But so great is this man’s importance and so fearful is the Politburo of him that he is kept under constant 24 hour surveillance by teams of up to six state security personnel. No doubt his telephone, when not “mysteriously” disconnected at politically sensitive times, is tapped, so undoubtably would be his Internet access that he so enjoys until that too ‘mysteriously‘ goes offline only to just as “mysteriously” be reconnected.

Bao Tong is a man of incredible honesty, incredible loyalty and has proven over the time during and since Tiananmen to be a man of equally incredible courage.

Bao Tong was, in 1989, the senior aide to Zhao Ziyang and prior to that in the mid 80's was the Deputy Director of the Chinese State Commission for Economic Reform for the CCP Central Committee. An original revolutionary and “familiare” of Mao Zedong there was only one person higher than him to fall as a result of those tumultuous days and that was the man he so loyally served Zhao Ziyang himself.

As a result of his support of Zhao’s anti force stance, Bao was arrested and was held for two years in jail before being formally charged on supposedly unrelated charges and for which he served another five years before his release in 1996. Following his incarceration he was to endure a further 11 months under house arrest.

Not that Bao was a pro-democracy reformer or particularly pro-student. In fact he comes across even now as being, if anything, very pro party. But he was against the use of the military to break up the student demonstrators and in holding this view he placed himself at loggerheads with many of the “hardliners” of the CCP . It was this failure, or political error as he said openly himself, in not siding with the hardliners that cost him so much

In papers purporting to be a copy of his personal report after the incident to an investigative body of the CCP he describes how he felt at the time of learning of the Politburo’s decision to send in the Tanks:

“…in my heart, I believed we had made a terribly wrong move; I was afraid that we would be trapped in a very difficult situation, ’ riding a tiger, very hard to get off””

Again in that report despite having to be aware of the fate that was to befall him and Zhao he is reported to have said:

“I only felt respect for Comrade Ziyang for he had been honest and straightforward, had not concealed his beliefs and had given no consideration to his personal loss or gain”

 As a result of his stance and his loyalty Bao fell and fell heavily. A lesser man would have thanked God that he eventually was freed and would have happily settled into a life below the radar but not Bao.

One of the Most Extraordinary Letters In Chinese Modern History

Earlier this year a Dr. Jiang Yanyong sent a letter to the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party calling on them to reassess the CCP's culpability over the 1989 July 4, Tiananmen Square massacre.

Dr Jiang is a well respected, former Military Surgeon, who came to prominence during the SARS epidemic in 2003 by coming out publicly and detailing just how serious the SARS problem was. In doing so he forced the government, that was in a state of in public denial at the time, to come clean on the true extent of the problem facing the country and it’s people.

His letter was widely applauded with the general consensus that here was an extremely brave man indeed, one who dared, so publicly, to call the present CCP leadership to task over probably the most sensitive incident in Chinese Communist Party history. And so he was.

But in March 1999 Bao Tong , only three years out of jail for his role in Tiananmen and a man obviously of tenuous circumstance, also authored a letter to the Politburo that was been described at the time as "one of the most extraordinary letters in modern Chinese history". ( March 27 1999)

Like Dr Jiang was to do five years later Bao took the unprecedented step, for one in his precarious position, to send his own letter to the Politburo. In it he called on the CCP to admit that the Party had made one of the most significant mistakes in it's history over it’s handling of Tiananmen and one, no matter the passage of time, would haunt it and the people of China unless it received appropriate closure. That closure could only come with the CCP openly admitting culpability over the outcome of the decision to use force, the death and destruction it was to cause and the resultant rent it has caused in the fabric of Chinese society.

In the letter, alluding obviously to many sitting on the Politburo in 1989, he likened the Tiananmen Square students to other young and impassioned men from the 1940’s who also were not without their own mistakes

He said also that at all times the students in Tiananmen were “orderly, their demonstrations constituted neither riot or rebellion” and inferred that they were no threat to national security as claimed after the massacre.

He spoke of how Ma Zedong had the courage to openly admit that the Cultural Revolution was the nadir of the CCP’s post 1949 history but that the very admittance of the mistake was it’s highest point. He stated that Tiananmen had now become the current Party’s nadir, but, like Mao, the leadership of 1999 could make amends and raise the esteem of the CCP in the eyes of an otherwise unforgiving Chinese people by admitting errors of judgement

History tells us that his plea to the Politburo went unheeded. Despite what has to be considered an incredibly heroic stance and one fraught with immense danger, Bao was not punished though he was warned that unless he kept his own counsel he would be charged with treason.

But true to the man that he is he has not to this day heeded the warnings. In March this year he was prompted to write a fairly reasoned missive, though one laced with cynicism and a degree of pathos, questioning the present leadership’s statements that now, 2004, is the best period for Human Rights in China’s history . .In this letter he speaks of having his own freedom of movement limited and having his phone and Internet disconnected during the National People’s Congress. He even talks, as an aside ,of trying to contact Dr Jiang to offer his support and congratulations over his own stance.

In another instance in a radio interview conducted by the “Voice of Hope” radio programme “Voice of San Francisco Bay Area” also reported in March this year Bao openly talks about one of the most touchy subjects for the CCP, the Falun Dong. And says: 

“I think there is insufficient evidence to label an organisation with tens of millions of members a “cult” I consider these millions of practitioners exemplary Chinese citizens.”

He even goes on to blame in part the Chinese Government’s poor health care system in forcing people into alternative medicine and “well being” practices such as Falun Dong.

As recent as this month the Washington Post carried a report on Bao 

Mr. Bao, a de facto spokesman for liberals among China's political elite, said that since Mr. Zhao stepped down amid the 1989 crackdown, 'many things stopped progressing. On the contrary, some things have even gone backwards.' He cited the party's putting itself back in charge of 'judging and making arrests in political cases' and its beginning to interfere again in the media and publishing sectors -- areas in which the party had minimalized its involvement under Mr. Zhao.

I do not know whether we can hold Bao Tong up as a democracy reformer I think that his unrequited loyalty to his party (as distinct from some of it's members) would rule that out. But one wonders what China would be like today if people like Zhao and Bao could have held sway within the upper echelons of the CCP back then. Would the outcome have eventually been different? What would China be like now? An interesting intellectual exercise that.

Regardless of his politics one has to admire the man for his incredible courage and loyalty to what he believes in and the fact that he chose, like Zhao, to prefer other avenues of resolution than that of violence. A violence so pervasive in Chinese Communist Party history and culture.

As an aside I wonder what Wen Jiabao, now Premier of China, thinks of this man considering they both served Zhao at the time in question but who managed to remain unsullied by the association with both.

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