Live low close surveillance since his arrest in 1989, in connection with protests against the government of China in the iconic Plaza de Tiananmen, in Beijing. And he is used to obstacles.
So when journalists are prevented from entering his home, he has no problem going outside and sitting down to chat at a nearby fast food restaurant in the Chinese capital.
Bao Tong (Haining, 1932) is the highest office to be incarcerated in connection with the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations for their support for a negotiated solution in China.
And he says that in the street it is easier for the authorities to keep up with what he says to the international press.
His mental acuity more than makes up for his partial blindness, despite which he insists on demonstrating the physical autonomy he enjoys at 88 years of age. When you want to emphasize a statement, you touch the tip of your nose with your right index finger.
Bao Tong speaks to the press at a bar in Beijing, China. Photo: EFE
In 1989, Bao Tong was the first secretary of the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CCP), the ill-fated Zhao Ziyang, deposed for his predisposition to dialogue with protesters and who lived under house arrest until his death in 2005.
Bao Tong too it was then member of the CPC Central Committee and director of the Office of Investigation and Reform of the Political System. This man an exception to the silence of the Chinese leadership. Bao Tong is perhaps the biggest dissident in the country.
“They watch me 24 hours a day“, he affirms.” Not only people, but also cars, because they are afraid that he will take a taxi.
It is not because an old man who speaks slowly has the almighty Chinese government in check, he says: “They are not afraid of me or what I say, but that other people know.”
Bao was purged in 1957 during the anti-rightist campaign, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and, finally, days before it began. the massacre of June 4, 1989, whose number of protesters killed by the Army remains unknown 32 years later.
The bodies of civilians killed in the repression of protests on June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square, in the Chinese capital. Photo: AP
Seven years in jail
They arrested him on May 28 of that year and until 1992 he was not tried and they sentenced to 7 years in prison, accused of “revealing state secrets” and “counterrevolutionary propaganda”.
They released him in 1996, but he spent two more years in a military accommodation.
Today’s China, he says, is far from that of 1989, when hundreds of thousands of people, not only university students – and days, millions -, took to the streets of the capital and other Chinese cities to demand an end to corruption and political openness.
Bao believes that that June 4 when derailed Chinese political reform It was a turning point in the Asian country: “Since then, people are afraid to fight.”
At that time, there were many who expressed their opinions, and it was even clear that within the government itself and the CCP there were also different conceptions, among which – and to the regret of Bao and many others – the most reactionary ended up prevailing.
The massive demonstration on June 2, 1989, in Tiananmen. Photo: AFP
However, despite the perception of a monolithic leadership in today’s China, Bao maintains that there are still “different voices both in the country and in the Party”, only that “in some countries it is forbidden to express it.”
If asked about the changes needed for today’s China, Tiananmen’s biggest political victim is clear: “First, freedom of the press. It is what we need the most. There are many necessary changes but for that it is essential that there is freedom of the press. “
From there, Bao believes, “we should get rid of ‘Chinese characteristics’,” a recurring dialectical twist used by Beijing to justify adapting foreign systems to its own needs.
Tanks on a Beijing street on June 6, 1989, two days after the massacre of protesters in Tiananmen Square. Photo: AP
Do you think the government is going to allow these changes? “Right now, I don’t see it, but maybe because I have poor eyesight …”, he says.
His wish is that “everyone tells what they know about June 4, but people are talking less and less and many leaders have passed away.”
And in schools, in the press, on social media, that dismal historical episode is heavily censored.
Bao Tong argues that when Chinese schools can educate about Tiananmen, children will learn “freedom.” A greater freedom that he could never enjoy, and that has been filed in several different ways throughout his life.
With so many years of misery and behind bars, under surveillance and criticized simply for thinking as you think, do you regret anything?
“It is very normal that in China you are persecuted for your ideas. I cannot say that I regret it. And there are many people who have suffered more than me. Many died, and I am still alive,” he concludes.