Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, May 04, 2009

More on Charter 08

Bao Tong is a personalized connection between events in China's Tiananmen Square twenty years ago and politics today.

The most dangerous man in China

"A visitor to Bao Tong's apartment – with armed guards in the parking lot and another checking the identifications of guests – might think they're about to meet one of China's most dangerous criminals, rather than a former top official in the Communist Party.

"But to the men who rule this country, Mr. Bao is both, which makes him a bigger threat than the sprightly 76-year-old looks like he could be. To them, Mr. Bao is the party official who, along with his boss, former Communist Party secretary Zhao Ziyang, almost brought down the whole system 20 years ago by daring to agree with the students demanding change in Tiananmen Square...

"Mr. Bao's main “crime” was a speech he wrote 20 years ago... The instructions Mr. Zhao gave him were as delicate as they were monumental: a speech making it clear there were factions in the government that sympathized with the students calling for more freedoms and an end to official corruption...

"The speech... criticized China's 'flawed legal system' and 'our lack of democratic supervision as well as our lack of openness and transparency.' These were historic words that caused an eruption of joy among the nervous and weary protesters on Tiananmen Square.

"If the reformers had won out, the May 4 speech might be celebrated today as the moment China's one-party state started to dissolve, as other such regimes fell apart in Eastern Europe that same year. Instead, it is a speech that few young Chinese have heard of and no one is allowed to publicly discuss...

"Mr. Bao believes...the students were very close [to succeeding]. 'They were just one step away...'

"Mr. Bao still manages to make waves. He was one of the key drafters of Charter 08, a manifesto released late last year that called for democracy and freedom of expression in China.

"The government's firm response – all discussion of the Charter has been banned, and Mr. Bao's close friend Liu Xiaobo was jailed for his role in writing and circulating the document...

"Mr. Bao is frustrated at how the Chinese government has managed to suppress nearly all domestic discussion of what happened here 20 years [ago]...

"'But I believe that as long as society is unfair, as long as there is inequality, people will chase freedom and democracy.'"

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