Former Communist Party aide Bao Tong.
Charter 08 was signed and published online this week by more than 300 prominent scholars, writers, and rights activists around the country. It called for concerned Chinese citizens to rally to bring about change, warning of an increasing loss of control by the ruling Communist Party and heightened hostility between the authorities and ordinary people. Citing an unbroken chain of human rights disasters, it said China now needed to move to genuine constitutional rule, greater freedom, and respect for human rights. Bao Tong, former political aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, signed the Charter, styling himself "A citizen." He published this essay from his Beijing home, where he has been under house arrest for nearly two decades, in response to the detention and interrogation of several of the Charter's signatories:
1. I call on the Chinese government to to answer me this: "Where is the crime in Charter 08?" The basic concepts of the Charter are freedom, human rights, equality, republicanism, democracy, and constitutional rule. So would the powers-that-be please tell 1.3 billion people why freedom is a crime, why human rights, why equality, or republicanism, and what is criminal about democracy and the rule of law under the Constitution? "Charter 08" puts forward 19 propositions. Not one of them is the invention of the people who signed it. They have all already been implemented in modern, civilized countries, and they have shown themselves to be part of a worthwhile system with beneficial effects. If the authorities care to examine each of the propositions closely, under a magnifying glass, under a microscope, in the hall of mirrors, they could perhaps tell us which crimes are being committed by each article? The aim of the Charter is to call on any Chinese people who still have a sense of purpose, whether in the corridors of power or in remote parts of the country, regardless of personal status, to take part in a movement of citizens, to help realize a dream that has gripped the people of this country for more than 100 years. How is that a crime?
2. I, as the former director of the Chinese Communist Party's think-tank for reforms of the political system, who have also served time in jail as a political prisoner of former premier Li Peng, who brought illegal charges and fake evidence against me, I can tell the Chinese government that there is nothing criminal in Charter 08. The main concept, and what it calls for, are not criminal. We do not live in Imperial China, nor do we live in the Bureaucracy of China, nor even in the Communist Party State of China. We live in the People's Republic of China. All that Charter 08 seeks to do is to extend the original meaning and influence of the Constitution. According to an old dictum of Mao Zedong, the key to the problem lies within the problem itself. There may be a great many flaws in the Charter, but they do not lie in the question of its legality. Fortunately, we live in a republic where all power is in the hands of the people. Its Constitution protects the rights of its citizens, and forbids the authorities to trample on their rights. Under such circumstances, the news that some of the people involved with the Charter have had their homes searched and been subjected to detention and interrogation cannot but come as a shock. One might say that these actions are a challenge to Chinese citizens, but it would be better to say that they are a challenge to the Republic and to its Constitution.
3. The government carried out these searches, detentions and interrogations. I don't know exactly who they are, this 'government.' I just know that if a problem arises at the grassroots level, then it's up to the next level up to correct it. If an incident occurs higher up the chain of command, then the highest level of authority is called in to sort it out. If there is a problem at the highest level, then it's up to the people to do something about it. There should be a mechanism for correcting problems in a republic. A republic in which wrongs are just allowed to be wrong, and in which wrongs are piled upon wrongs is not worthy of being called a republic.
4. While I sit here quietly waiting for them to search my home, waiting to be detained and interrogated, I am also waiting quietly for a reply from the authorities. I call on all those who have already signed the Charter, and all those who are about to sign, to stay cool-headed and logical, optimistic and resolute. I send my regards to Zhang Zuhua, who has already returned home, and his wife Tian Yuan. Also to Liu Xiaobo, who is still in detention, and to his wife, Liu Xia. I wish them all peace and good health.
Original essay by Bao Tong, broadcast on RFA's Mandarin service. Director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.