Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, served a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student movement. Since his release, he has remained under continual surveillance and frequent house arrest at his home in Beijing. He spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service in a recent interview about the effect on China of late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping's decision to send in the troops 28 years ago, which, he says, is still being felt today:
RFA: Why has there been no resolution to this part of China's recent history, nearly three decades later?
Bao Tong: The leaders won't deal with this issue, but the Chinese people already have dealt with it. Most people know pretty much what really happened back then, so this has long since been resolved ...though not on the surface. The real purpose of resolving this issue would be to break open a number of fundamental issues that exist in China today ... [Tiananmen] is one key to the really big questions we face today, but there are many others. But it can't be avoided, because if Mao Zedong turned China into a country where no-one speaks out, Deng Xiaoping turned it into a country that is now helplessly mired in corruption.
RFA: How did he do that?
Bao Tong: The rule of law by Chinese characteristics means that they say that what they are doing is legal, and that saying it is legal makes it so. It's not corruption, then. It is only corruption if they say it's illegal. The rules of the game are that anything approved by the government can't be corrupt. Only things not approved by the government are corrupt. Anyone on the government's team is right.
We have a situation where not just the law is dictated by those in power, but the whole of morality, too. The media is made in the image of the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party; so are moral codes, which must conform to what the government says, and which are constantly changing. Every official that falls from power was once on the right team. But as soon as someone gets rid of him, he's suddenly on the wrong team.
RFA: How does this relate to the democracy movement of 1989?
Bao Tong: The student movement of 1989 was a public response to corruption. It was a moral response by the masses, but also a just and legal response. So, when they opened fire, they were opening fire on morality, justice and the law. If the issue of the government firing on its own citizens isn't addressed, then that means that they are protecting corruption. That's why we can't avoid the Tiananmen crackdown. Whatever you use as the key to opening up this discussion, it all boils down to the same thing: does might have the right to choose our government, dictate our morals, and write the laws?
RFA: But the whole topic of June 4, 1989 has been banned from public discussion. How has that affected its legacy?
Bao Tong: Actually, there are quite a few people under the age of 20 who don't even know about June 4, 1989, or they have even been taught via party-approved teaching materials that the People's Liberation Army was right to open fire on civilians on June 4, 1989; that it was a necessary and decisive move that paved the way for China's economic boom. But they should know that it was that economic boom that powered this system that has since come to be driven by corruption.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.