Former Top Communist Party Aide Visits Grave of Late Ousted Chinese Premier

china-baovisit2-102519.gif Bao Tong, former aide to ousted Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, visits Zhao's grave with Zhao's grown children and friends, Oct. 22, 2019.
Photo provided by friends of Zhao Ziyang

A former top aide to late ousted Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang has been to visit his grave after the family were finally allowed to lay his ashes to rest in a private cemetery outside Beijing.

Bao Tong, who served a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student movement, visited the grave of his former boss and political mentor on Tuesday.

Zhao's ashes were interred along with those of his wife Liang Boqi in the privately run Tianshou Garden cemetery in Changping, a suburb on the outskirts of Beijing, last Friday.

Bao was prevented from attending the ceremony that day, but later received approval from the powers-that-be to visit the grave, accompanied by Zhao's grown children Zhao Erjun and Wang Yannan, he told RFA.

Bao touched the tombstone, appearing to recall memories of Zhao, before performing the ritual of respect to the dead: bowing three times in succession towards their tomb or photograph.

"Zhao Ziyang had no freedom 14 years ago [when he was alive]," Bao told RFA. "Then he enjoyed 14 years of freedom, but without peace. Finally, now, he can rest in peace."

"This place is forbidden ground, but also holy ground," he said. "Anywhere you can rest in peace and freedom is holy ground: it's also a kind of heaven."

Bao said he was also prevented from paying his last respects before Zhao's body was cremated 14 years ago, and from visiting the former premier's Beijing residence on the anniversary of his death for each of the 14 years since.

A stain on China

Bao said the fact that Zhao had to wait until death to gain freedom was a stain on China.

"Right now the Chinese people should have freedom and be able to enjoy peace while they are still alive, not just after they die and are laid to rest," he said.

Veteran political journalist Gao Yu was also prevented from attending the interment ceremony.

She recalled that police shoved Bao's wife on Jan. 29, 2005 after the couple tried to pay their respects after Zhao's death, causing a spinal injury.

"It is very gratifying that Bao Tong and his wife have been allowed to visit Zhao Ziyang's grave," Gao said. "Bao was Zhao's right-hand man, and was included in Zhao's downfall."

"Zhao Ziyang would rather resign his position as general secretary [of the ruling Chinese Communist Party] because he didn't agree with the Tiananmen crackdown ordered by Deng Xiaoping," she said.

"We have a lot of respect, and passion, for Zhao Ziyang, and the second half of our lives has borne the imprint of the Tiananmen massacre," Gao said. "We have been in and out of jail this whole time because we were against the use of guns [and tanks]."

Brief show trial

After People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops quelled the weeks of student-led protests with machine guns and tanks on the night of June 3 and 4, 1989, Bao Tong was detained and given a brief show trial before serving seven years in Beijing's Qincheng Prison for his association with the disgraced Zhao, who died under house arrest at his Beijing home in 2005.

Bao's son Bao Pu remains one of Hong Kong's last independent book publishers, and recently published a book of documents apparently leaked from the highest echelons of Chinese politics in the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen massacre.

The documents show leader after leader rallying behind Deng following the massacre, in which hundreds, possibly thousands, died.

According to Gao, top leaders pledged loyalty to Deng at a June 9, 1989 Politburo meeting. There, the official verdict that the protests were "a counterrevolutionary rebellion ... incited by a small clique of people" and were the result of "an organized conspiracy" was born.

Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are still largely banned in China, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained and veteran dissidents placed under police surveillance or detention ahead of each anniversary.

The Tiananmen Mothers victims' group have written annually for more than 20 years to China's National People's Congress (NPC) with demands for a change in the official verdict, compensation to victims' families, and a public inquiry into the massacre, but have never received a reply, only police restrictions on their movements.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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