Zhao Ziyang’s Longtime Top Aide, Bao Tong, dies at 90

Four days after his 90th birthday, Bao Tong, the most senior Chinese Communist Party official imprisoned due to the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, passed away.

A supporter of the student-led rebellion that was put down by the military in 1989, the former top adviser to reformist leader Zhao Ziyang passed away early on Wednesday morning in Beijing, according to his son Bao Pu’s brief Twitter statement.

His daughter Bao Jian said in another post that “he was still full of hope for this land”. She quoted him as saying on his 90th birthday on Saturday: “Man has a minor historical existence in the world … whether I turn 90 or not is insignificant, but what is important is that we strive for today and the future … and to do what we can, should and must do.”

A close friend of Bao’s, the dissident writer Gao Yu, said in a post that Bao had passed away from a rare blood malignancy called myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). Gao, who is constantly being watched by the authorities, expressed her hope that she will be permitted to attend Bao’s funeral on November 15 despite being prevented from doing so for Bao’s wife’s funeral in August.

Dissidents and activists would likely be prohibited from attending the funeral because it is likely to be a very delicate occasion.

Bao Tong’s role in the economic reform

Before the government utilized armed forces and tanks to put an end to the pro-democracy movement, Bao served as the director of the Communist party’s Political Reform Office. For “leaking state secrets” and “inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda,” charges he said were false, he was given a seven-year prison term. After being freed in 1997, he was held for another year before being placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

He had developed into one of the Communist party’s most outspoken opponents in the previous 20 years, penning essays and speaking with journalists when he could while being watched. He has expressed his disapproval of Xi Jinping’s ideologies and actions on Twitter in recent years.

As a member of the party’s central committee and an important player in Zhao Ziyang’s political and economic reforms during China’s “reform and opening era,” Bao would have been a top contender to join the politburo had the crackdown not taken place. He declared that for China to advance, the crackdown that resulted in hundreds or thousands of deaths on June 4, 1989, had to be “totally repudiated.”

Later, Bao claimed to have no regrets regarding his own life, but he expressed sorrow for his compatriots who had been denied the right to free expression for more than two decades and claimed that the results of putting down opposition were terrible.

Bao Tong’s early life and education.

Bao Tingw as born on November 6, 1932 in Haining, China. He was raised and completed his basic and secondary education in Shanghai, despite the fact that he was born in Haining, Zhejiang Province.  

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When Bao was still a high school student, Wu Shichang, an influential political commentator in the 1930s and 1940s and a significant contributor to The Observer, a key publication for Chinese liberal intellectuals, influenced him to turn to political liberalism and the left-wing ideology supported by the CCP.

He met his wife Jiang Zongcao while a student at Shanghai Nanyang High School.

Bao Tong’s wife and children.

Bao Tong was married to his wife Jiang Zongcao with whom he had 2 children; Bao Pu and Bao Jiangxi.