The United States Capitol, December 10, 2018
I’m proud to present the Citizen Power Award of the Thirteenth Interethnic Interfaith Leadership Conference to Bao Tong.
Bao Tong is an important reformer from the 1980s, the reform period of Hu Yaobang and the early Deng Xiaoping. He was the Director of the Office of Political Reform of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and Policy Secretary of Zhao Ziyang, the Premier from 1980-87 and the party General Secretary from 1987-89. He was also the Director of the Drafting Committee for the 13th Party Congress, which launched the market reform opening under Deng Xiaoping.
But real political reform was blocked by the Communist Party and Bao Tong was arrested just before the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989. We are now approaching 30th anniversary of that shattering event. Zhao was held under house arrest for the rest of his life, and Bao Tong was convicted in a show trial in 1992 for “revealing state secrets and counter-revolutionary propagandizing.” He was the highest government official charged in connection with the uprising. He was imprisoned for five years, after which he was constantly guarded and controlled by security.
He appealed for the restoration of Zhao Ziyang’s political rights from 1998 until Zhao’s death in 2005. And he was instrumental in the publication of Zhao Ziyang’s memoir based on audiotapes he made secretly while under house arrest and discovered only after his death.
He was also a signatory of Charter 08 and called for the release from prison of the Charter’s main author, the Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Today he continues to write articles and speak critically of the government and its policies, including calling for political reform in China and real democracy in Hong Kong, as promised by the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration that promised “One Country, two systems.”
Bao Tong and his wife were attacked by twenty plainclothes security agents when they tried to leave their home to pay their respects to the family of Zhao Ziyang after his death on January 17, 2005. They were injured but were told that they would not receive medical attention if he did not remove the white flower that was pinned to his vest as a traditional symbol of mourning. Of course he refused to remove the flower.
In mourning Zhao Ziyang, Bao Tong said that “His life formed part of a heroic and mighty task, that of pioneering the protection of human rights and democracy for the Chinese people….To mourn Zhao is to defend human rights. To mourn Zhao is to pursue democracy and the rule of law.”
To honor Bao Tong now is also to defend human rights in China, and to pursue democracy and the rule of law. This is our obligation, and we do so not just to defend the rights of the people of China but also the cause of world peace that China now threatens. We honor him for our freedom and for his and for our common future.