Bao Tong, a 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 that prompted the fall of his boss. Under continual surveillance and intermittent house arrest since his release from prison, Bao spoke to RFA on Thursday about the recently concluded 19th national congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and President Xi Jinping's claim that he is ushering China into a new era in its history:
RFA: What is the significance of the lack of a successor to President Xi Jinping among the new leadership lineup?
Bao Tong: I don't think we need a designated successor. I don't know of any other republic that has one, only the palace politics of where the emperor or king is decided by dynastic succession. I think we should come back into the international mainstream. But of course, you don't need a successor if you have a system of lifelong rule by one person anyway. I think hardly anyone in the world regards China as a genuine republic.
RFA: How do you see President Xi's reference to 'a new era' for China?
Bao Tong: To my mind, there is only one era, the Leninist era. As Lenin himself said, and Stalin said it after him, using the word to dismiss Leninism. Once you have Marxism, why do you need Leninism? Because the times are changing, capitalism is in its death-throes, and the workers of the world are making revolution. So we have a new ideology for a new era, and that is Leninism.
RFA: So what characterizes this era?
Bao Tong: What characterizes this 'new era' is the new ideology that the party must be in charge of everything: party, state, military, people and intellectuals, and every corner of the country. But that's not a new idea; it's an old idea that's been around for 50 years, and is already in the party constitution. It's Maoism. You can't get much older than that. How it has supposedly become a new idea, I have no idea.
RFA: What do you make of President Xi Jinping's apparent welcoming of journalists to make constructive criticisms. He said after the 19th party congress: "We do not need more words of flattering praise."
Bao Tong: Historically, the Chinese Communist Party has always had a taste for words of flattering praise, for having its praises sung. This has been the case ever since the rise of international socialism. The notion that the Communist Party doesn't need them any more is a new one, admittedly. If, from now on, there are no more words of praise, then we really will have entered a new era.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.