‘You must do whatever you can. Do it today, and do it well’


Memorable extracts and epithets from late top Communist Party aide and dissident Bao Tong.

'You must do whatever you can. Do it today, and do it well'

Bao Tong, former Director of the Office of Political Reform of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee and the Policy Secretary of Premier Zhao Ziyang, gestures during an interview at his home in Beijing on April 27, 2009.

Bao Tong, former top Communist Party aide to late ousted Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, died in Beijing on Wednesday at the age of 90, just four days after his 90th birthday.

Bao Pu tweeted that his father had said on his 90th birthday: “Human lifespans on this earth are so short in historical terms; my 90 years aren’t important. What’s important is the future everyone is striving for. You must do whatever you can. Do it today, and do it well.” At the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Bao Tong served as director of the Office of Political Reform of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

A key ally of premier Zhao Ziyang, he later served a seven-year jail term for “revealing state secrets and counter-revolutionary propagandizing” in the wake of Zhao’s fall from power.

A keen political essayist, Bao was a long-term contributor of political commentaries to RFA Mandarin, wielding acerbic political commentary and gentle humor by turns, as well as providing contemporary accounts of key moments in the history of modern China.

RFA has compiled a selection of comments from Bao’s essays dating back to 2013:

On the 1989 Tiananmen protests

“The student-led mass popular protests of 1989 are the thing I am most proud to have experienced in my entire life. A power struggle is just that — a struggle for power. To succeed is to be defeated. Good and evil, right and wrong, are another matter. Power gained by evil means is still evil. And just demands that result in a massacre are still just.”  

– from a commentary on Li Peng’s diaries, June 3, 2022

“Actually, we need to get something clear. China was stable. The students weren’t opposing the Chinese Communist Party; they were supporting it, but they thought it had flaws, and they were making some suggestions.”

“Just imagine, if June 4, 1989 had never happened; if we had never used guns or tanks or the army … if we had used dialogue to resolve the issues the students raised … would there have been such a lot of social tension today? Would we have such rampant corruption?”

– from “The ideas the students came up with were very good,” June 4, 2019

On Taiwan

“I just don’t get the mood on our side of the Taiwan Strait … It’s hypocritical to claim that someone is your flesh and blood, but to display not even an ounce of goodwill towards them. Where’s the glory in that? Where’s the meaning in forced unity?”

– from “Why Han chauvinism isn’t working for China,” April 22, 2016

On Mao Zedong

“After 60 years of testing, everyone should be pretty clear that Mao was running a scam … It’s a shame that that consummate showman Mao Zedong sang his siren song of democracy, but walked the road of fascist dictatorship instead.”

– from “How Mao’s lie changed my life, and changed China,” Dec. 27, 2013

“Mao seized control of the country through a brutal military struggle, during which a lot of things got smashed … At the very least, we can say that China was pulverized under the Maoist hammer.”

– from “The emperor needs several sets of new clothes,” Sept. 8, 2014 

On nationalism 

“Throughout the 20th century, the meanings of ‘country,’ ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism,’ whether spoken by fascists or Leninists, have been more elusive than the contents of a gourd, and have had little in the way of positive impact.”

– from “Is the People’s Republic of China your homeland?” Oct. 8, 2015

On party leaders

“I have seen a lot of party leaders in my time, from production brigade and commune leaders, to village, county and provincial party secretaries, all the way up to the Central Committee. And I can tell you that not all those who become leaders deserve to.”

– from “Why the Chinese Communist Party was lucky to have Zhao Ziyang,” Jan. 17, 2016 

“Mao founded the dynasty, while Deng extended its rule. They were on the same team, because of the way they grabbed and held onto power, and how they used and protected that power. At times they may have been more focused on power; at others, more on profit. But these are differences of degree, and not fundamental.”

– from “Mao and Deng were the same, and we should ditch them,” Aug. 29, 2014

On class struggle

“The collaborations, threats and mutual assistance, not to mention the contracts and consultations, the power struggles and the checks and balances that go on between the social classes are an incontrovertible part of our society. Their effect on our history and on the realities of our lives cannot easily be obliterated.”

– from “In the ongoing class struggle, just who is oppressing whom?” Oct. 20, 2014 

“My suggestion is that we hear less from the core, and preferably nothing at all.”

“I read that China has hundreds of super-wealthy people, who have attracted the attention of the rest of the world. Not only that, there will be no poor people left by the end of the year; in just two months’ time. What I don’t understand is how the 800 million or so people who still make less than 2,000 yuan a month are going to carry on living their low-income lives.”

– from “The core will now dictate everything,” Nov. 3, 2020

On free speech and ideology

“Marx stated on three occasions that he was not himself a Marxist. What crime would he be charged with under the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the very person to whom our ruling party owes its existence, for disrespecting its legally endorsed ideology?”

– from “President Xi, is your father a thought criminal?” March 26, 2018 

On revolution

“[Mao Zedong] didn’t exchange the closed, confined world of Zhongnanhai for a commonwealth of free people. Instead, he specialized in unrelenting terror campaigns, turning the country into a vast arena for blood sports, and leading his people into the paradise of universal poverty.”

– from “What good does revolution do?” Dec. 17, 2015

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