Top Aide Speaks Out For Late Chinese Party Boss

Zhao's former political secretary, Bao Tong, giving an interview in 1999. File photo: AFP

WASHINGTON—A former top aide to the late ousted Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang has published a eulogy calling his political mentor a "great man" and one of China's most enlightened reformers.

Bao Tong, whose essay was aired exclusively on RFA's Mandarin service to coincide with the traditional Chinese grave-sweeping festival, appears to be adding his voice to those of leading Chinese intellectuals and exiled dissidents. They accuse the current Chinese leadership of turning the clock back on human rights and political reform.

Neither he nor Zhao has been heard of by ordinary Chinese since 1989, and a whole new generation of young people has grown up never having heard of Zhao. Zhao died in January, amid official controversy over how to bury him.

'A great reformer'

"Zhao was one of China's greatest reformers," Bao wrote. "He saw his status and job description as defined by his ability to carry out reforms. Anything outside of this simply did not matter."

"It was Zhao's ability to push forward with reforms during the decade that he held high office which made him outstrip both Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong. While both those men had far greater power than Zhao...they were a stumbling block on China's road to development," he said.

Zhao Ziyang in July 1987. Photo: AFP/Files

Bao, whose wife was injured in a scuffle with security officers after the couple tried to leave their Beijing home to pay their last respects to Zhao's body, has long staunchly defended his former boss.

Both were ousted from power following the armed crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy movement in 1989.

Bao, who has remained under house arrest at his Beijing home since 1989, is a staunch critic of the regime, saying Zhao's plans would have led China eventually along the road of greater freedom and a less corrupt government.

"Zhao was highly enlightened: He knew that the lead actors in the national economy were not the government, but the farmers and industry. The government should serve the main actors; if they forgot this, then all would be lost," Bao said.

"During his time in office, Zhao didn't agree with the massive scramble for power and profit that was going on in central and provincial levels of government at the time. He resolutely stuck to a policy of decentralization of power, loosening restrictions, lessening burdens, and apportioning profit... He slashed the number of government officials at every level, while strengthening the markets, and society."

Zhao's fall a major blow to China

Bao also praised Zhao's single-mindedness in carrying out his political vision for China, which included doing away with the personal power struggles which had proved so disastrous during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and strengthening the legal framework governing China's institutions.

"Zhao pursued reform under very special circumstances. As soon as he'd set his sights on a goal, he wouldn't let it rest," Bao said.

Bao characterized the fall of Zhao as a major blow to China's political and economic development.

"Even though Zhao had helped Deng out of a difficult situation following his ouster of Hu Yaobang in 1987, he was the one who was illegally detained following the military order to crack down in 1989, and the momentum of reforms was lost, the progress of reforms stopped dead in its tracks," he wrote.

Zhao Ziyang died on Jan. 17 at the age of 85 at his Beijing home, where he had spent the last 15 years of his life under house arrest.

Original reporting by RFA's Mandarin service, directed by Jennifer Chou, and the Mandarin Web team. Translated and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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