Bao Tong: Fighting during the Cultural Revolution, stepping down in 1989 – Zhao Ziyang’s two great realizations

Narrator: Bao Tong|Former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Zhao Ziyang Political Secretary

Zhao Ziyang, born in 1919, is a former Chinese Premier, former General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, and reformist leader of the CPC. He was removed from his post and placed under house arrest until his death in 2005 for opposing the crackdown and the use of military martial law during the peaceful protests against corruption in Beijing in 1989. Chinese officials have so far forbidden the public to commemorate him publicly.

Born in 1932 in Haining, Zhejiang province, Bao was the political secretary to Zhao Ziyang, then general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), during the protests in Beijing and elsewhere in China in the spring and summer of 1989. At a time when Deng Xiaoping, the de facto leader of the Communist Party, was proposing to deploy the military to suppress and quell the protests, Bao supported Zhao Ziyang’s idea of solving the problem on the track of democracy and the rule of law, and took practical action to instruct the Chinese media to proclaim this idea. Bao was secretly arrested a week before the top Communist authorities began their crackdown on June 3. In July of that year, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of leaking state secrets and counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement. After his release from prison, he was placed under house arrest for a long time.

Bao believes that during Zhao Ziyang’s tenure as general secretary of the Communist Party, he did his best to move China toward the rule of law and political freedom, even though Zhao was not the de facto supreme leader of China. As a result, that period was the most politically liberal period in mainland China since 1949, when no one was criminally punished for speaking out.

In Bao Tong’s view, Zhao Ziyang was open-minded because he was a rare serious-minded and reflective person among Communist Party cadres, especially senior ones. Among those rare people who have the ability to reflect on what the CCP regime has done and who have done so seriously is Xi Zhongxun, the father of the current CCP leader Xi Jinping.

I think the first thing that should be done for the centennial of the Party should be to say that we apologize to those who were killed, starved, fought and killed by the Chinese Communist Party, so that the centennial of the Party will be commemorated. If I beat a gong and drum, saying how many people I killed and achieved a great victory, then I think Comrade Xi Zhongxun is probably not happy and will not approve of it.

Ziyang was not highly educated and had not actually experienced anything earth-shattering in his early years. I really don’t know how Ziyang came to be himself, but I know that Ziyang had two things that made him come to a great realization.

One thing, he said, is that the Cultural Revolution has brought people to great enlightenment. Many people say the same thing, the Cultural Revolution has brought great enlightenment. How did Ziyang say that the Cultural Revolution was a great enlightenment? He said, when I was the secretary of the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee during the Cultural Revolution, people fought me very fiercely, and they fought unreasonably. I thought about it, we also fought others very fiercely, and also fought unreasonably.

I think in many leading cadres is not this idea. Ziyang said, why do people fight so fiercely, fight so unreasonable, fight me very aggrieved? He said, we ourselves fight people so fierce, so unreasonable. I think this is a very common idea, but I was very surprised to hear it coming from the mouth of a Communist Party leader.

Li Nanyang, daughter of Mao’s former secretary Li Rui, told the Voice of America in an interview that Bao Tong had said: Hu Yaobang’s reflection was to vindicate wrongdoings, which is very remarkable, but Ziyang’s reflection was thorough. Zhao Ziyang said, “There is something wrong with our Party’s basic theory, and our Party’s philosophy of struggle is wrong.” He saw from the root that the Party line and the Party’s working methods were consistently leftist and wrong, and this was the basis of his great enlightenment.

Bao Tong also said that many victims of the unjust and false cases of the Cultural Revolution, many old cadres, believed that the rebel faction was the maker of the unjust and false cases and that they were persecuted by the rebel faction. In this way, the evils of the Cultural Revolution were the evils of the rebel faction. Zhao Ziyang said, “No, the rebels who fought the old cadres were also victims, and all the people of the country were victims. People have become inhumane, have become bestial, and this is not a victim? In the end, Mao’s wife also became a victim and became a counter-revolutionary. In the end, he himself (Mao Zedong) was also a victim. Why was he a victim? Because he became a counter-revolutionary family member. All Chinese people, one billion people at that time, including Mao Zedong, were all victims, all victims of the Party’s theory. The rebels of the Cultural Revolution revolted according to the Party’s theory. So to solve the problem at the root, we have to start with the basic theory of the Party.” This was Ziyang’s great enlightenment after the Cultural Revolution, and he found the root cause.

Du Guozheng, an old subordinate of Zhao Ziyang and former president of Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, also wrote an article saying, “Ziyang said that he used to be very leftist, indeed. During the anti-rightist, communalization, Great Leap Forward, anti-rightist, rural social education and other movements of an extreme leftist nature, Zhao Ziyang was not passive”, but the ten years of the Cultural Revolution had made his human enlightenment a great sublimation.”]

Once again, I think it was after he stepped down from power that he shut himself up in his house, looked at the world, read a little, and thought a little. He thought about one thing: Aren’t we the Communist Party? Aren’t we communists trying to transform China and the world? Why can’t we transform ourselves? I think this is a very ordinary, an ordinary person’s ordinary idea. However, in many leaders, probably lived a lifetime without thinking about these two issues. Zi Yang considered these two issues as an ordinary person, which is different from others.

When Ziyang considered many issues, I think he had a kind of, how to say it, agriculture to get up, how to do? Farmers’ autonomy. The economy has to go up, Ziyang said enterprise autonomy. Who is going to review the film? By the audience to review, by the audience to review. What should be done about the case? Ziyang said, the prosecutor to investigate, the court to judge the case. What if we encounter social conflicts? It should be the social groups to negotiate and dialogue. I see that Ziyang encountered the problem is such a solution – the rights of citizens, the initiative of the people. Since Mao Zedong has been a consistent idea is that any problem led by the Party, decided by the Party, listen to the Party orders, unified thinking, unified action. Ziyang has said that our society, the subject of this society is the people, the citizens of this society.

I think there is nothing great about China’s problems, that is, there is no room for dissenting views. Xi Zhongxun said that China is to establish a law to protect dissenting views, which makes me respectful, I think this captures the root of all problems in China. Once this problem is solved, I think all of China’s problems are solved. People will be happy and free from fear, the government will be able to speak, public opinion will be conveyed, the leaders will not be dazed and confused, and I think Chinese politics will be clear. In a word, as long as we can protect different opinions, all problems in China will be solved. That’s why I admire Xi Zhongxun. I think this one sentence of his can solve all the problems of China, there is no problem that can not be solved, better than a thousand words of others.

I think the first thing to do in the centenary of the founding of the Party should be to say that we apologize to the people who were killed, starved, fought and screwed to death by the Chinese Communist Party, so that the centenary of the founding of the Party will be commemorated. If I beat a gong and drum, saying how many people I killed and achieved a great victory, then I think Comrade Xi Zhongxun is probably not happy and will not approve of it. I think about if old Mr. Xi Zhongxun were still alive now, he would say that he would repent, correct himself, and never kill again.