One of Deng Xiaoping's characteristics was that he would never, ever admit his mistakes.
Three things are proof enough:
1. Deng could still be heard to utter the words "The anti-rightist movement was correct!" even after 99 percent of the anti-rightist cases had been overturned.
2. When [People's Liberation Army Marshall] Ye Jianying conclusively repudiated the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976], causing a massive stir across the country, Deng was forced to support him, but at the same time was saying that Mao Zedong Thought was a "great banner that must be held high down the generations."
3. To his death, Deng absolutely refused to allow the true facts of the Tiananmen Square massacre to be published, slapping a gag order on the mouths of [ruling Chinese Communist] party members and the entire population.
All his life, Deng relied on others. He only took charge of a battle by himself on two occasions ... When Mao said Deng's was a talent hard to come by, this was just posturing. After the death of [Mao's second-in-command] Lin Biao, Mao called Deng back from disgrace. He had a reason, and the fact that Deng would never admit his mistakes was it.
[Revolutionary veteran] Bo Yibo ... spent a lot of time shuttling back and forth between Chen Yun and Deng Xiaoping, but in June 1987 he saw clearly how things were, and decided to support Deng. He gave a speech at the [party anniversary] celebrations on July 1, which he asked me to help him draft.
Bo told me: "I want the whole party behind [Deng] Xiaoping. China needs giants, and Xiaoping is a giant."
Of course I had to help out. But I was worried that if I used the word "giant," that this would sooner or later become a joke [about Deng's short stature]. Then there was a matter of the historical difference between Deng and Bo.
So I wrote that Deng was the "chief architect of reforms and opening up." Bo was very happy and agreed to it, and said it in his speech. It later became much more widespread.
But I was wrong. China's reforms were the work of millions of people who regained, in part, some of their sovereignty. They didn't need any architect. And that's why Deng Xiaoping killed off the reforms, just two years later.
'A tool for the party'
So what is reform? In the China of that time, it would have needed thousands of words to explain. It would be better to say that we were ditching Mao Zedong, who had shackled the Chinese people to death. Reform meant the falling away of those shackles.
For Chinese people, including the party, not to reform would have meant death by suffocation. Deng Xiaoping never really understood this.
If we're going to talk about Deng and reforms, we can't avoid mentioning these two facts. He supported reforms, but he also eventually killed them off.
Zhao Ziyang saw this clearly. There were two things fundamental to Deng: reform and opening up, and the upholding of the four principles of socialism [the principle of party rule].
As for the relationship between the two, I think Deng saw reform as a way of saving the party, as a tool for the party to use. Stability was the same as party rule.
For stability to be the top priority meant that the party was the top priority. And the party would happily send in the tanks to kill off reform, flying in the face of humanity, if it thought it necessary.
Once the reforms were dead, how to save the party? Deng's speech on his trip to southern China [in 1992] indicated a possible solution. If the overriding premise was that of party power, then it could use that power to allow and encourage the making of unscrupulous fortunes.
Of course, this would still come under the broad heading of "reform." But in reality, it would allow people with access to power to compete for trophies.
The result has been that the rich and powerful have got richer and more powerful, while those with no power have become weaker. Those with a small amount of power have become moderately wealthy, while those with a lot of power have become millionaires and even billionaires.
This arrogant and spectacular policy has variously been referred to as "allowing China to shed the stigma of poverty and backwardness," "the rise of China," and its "prosperity."
In short, we are talking about a miracle that manufactures corruption.
Nowadays, the body politic is so corrupt that it has sores all over, and pus oozing from the soles of its feet. But who is responsible?
Not [detained former security chief] Zhou Yongkang, nor even [former president] Jiang Zemin. Deng Xiaoping must bear sole responsibility.
As chairman of the Central Military Commission, Deng Xiaoping's advantage lay not in his grasp of theory, nor in his ability to implement it, but in sheer power.
It was he who decided to open fire on a population that opposed corruption, and he who gave party backing to those who made corrupt and unscrupulous fortunes.
He opened the floodgates. He created the perfect set of conditions for corruption to become endemic across China. If he's not responsible, then who is?
Deng Xiaoping enjoys an unrivaled reputation these days. The powerful laud him to the skies; scramble to lick his [posthumous] boots.
The frenzy inside China is matched by an answering music overseas, blending seamlessly into a paean of praise, a rousing hymn, a joyous ode that raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
From my observations, I'd say that Deng Xiaoping's legacy definitely helped to deepen corruption, and did nothing to deepen reform.
The only purpose of reform today should be to rid us of the shadow of Deng Xiaoping and to put right his mistakes.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.
Bao Tong, political aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.