Bao Tong, the most senior Chinese Communist party official jailed over the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, has died four days after his 90th birthday.
The former top aide of the reformist leader Zhao Ziyang, a sympathiser of the student-led movement that was crushed by the military in 1989, died early on Wednesday morning in Beijing, his son Bao Pu said in a brief Twitter post.
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.”
The dissident journalist Gao Yu, a close friend of Bao’s, said in a post that he had died of Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a type of rare blood cancer. Gao, who is under constant police surveillance, said she hoped she would be allowed to attend Bao’s funeral on 15 November, although she was barred from attending Bao’s wife’s funeral in August. The funeral is likely to be a highly sensitive event, which dissidents and activists would be barred from attending.
Bao was the director of the Communist party’s Political Reform Office before the government used armed troops and tanks to crush the pro-democracy movement. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for “leaking state secrets” and “inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda” – charges he said were fabricated. He was detained for a further year after his release in 1997, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
He had become one of the most vociferous critics of the Communist party in the past two decades, writing essays and talking to journalists when he could while under surveillance. In recent years, he used Twitter to air his criticisms of Xi Jinping’s policies and ideological tightening.
Bao, who played a key role in Zhao Ziyang’s economic and political reforms in China’s “reform and opening era”, was a member of the party’s central committee and would have been a leading candidate for entering the powerful politburo were it not for the crackdown. He said the crackdown that killed hundreds, or thousands, on 4 June 1989 must be “completely repudiated” if China was to move forward.
Bao later said he had no regrets about his personal fate, but grieved for his countrymen, who had been deprived of free speech for more than two decades, and said the silencing of dissent had had disastrous consequences.