Bao Tong, an aide to former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang and the highest- level official imprisoned following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, has died aged 90.

Bao’s death was announced on Twitter by his son, Bao Pu, on Wednesday evening, saying that his father “passed away peacefully” that morning, four days after his 90th birthday.

Bao Tong
Bao Tong: Photo: Bao Pu, via Twitter.

Bao and Zhao, who was also a former premier, opposed the use of force to crack down on student-led protests in China sparked by the death of former leader Hu Yaobang.

The central government, led by Deng Xiaoping at the time, eventually decided to deploy the People’s Liberation Army to crack down on protesters in Beijing on June 4. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died.

Bao was dismissed and arrested in May 1989, just before the crackdown, and sentenced to seven years in prison in 1992. He was released in 1996 and placed under house arrest, and had since pushed for the rehabilitation of Zhao until the latter’s death in 2005.

Despite his detention, Bao became a strong critic of the Chinese government in articles he wrote and in comments to the international media. He was also a co-signatory of “Charter 08,” a manifesto calling for, among other demands, democracy and better human rights in China.

Bao’s daughter Bao Jian said on Twitter that the activist still had “hope in this piece of land.”

“As he said four days ago on his 90th birthday: ‘Humans have a very small historical existence in the world… whether I am 90 or not is not important, what is important is that the future and today that we have to fight for, and to do well things that we can do, should do, and must do’,” Bao Jian’s Twitter post read.

Zhao himself was purged after Tiananmen and placed under house arrest until his death. Mention of the Tiananmen crackdown is mostly censored in China, with families of the victims, and ex-officials closely monitored by authorities around the anniversary.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.