Rising social problems over the past decade have led China into a critical era in civil rights protection, with the establishment of a democratic government being the only way out for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, according to Bao Tong , a former top aide to the late deposed leader Zhao Ziyang .
In his book, A Collection of Essays, published on Tuesday, the former political reform director in Zhao's administration in the 1980s advises the party leadership to learn from Taiwan's late president Chiang Ching-kuo and end one-party rule and media censorship to help it deal with the current political and social crises.
Bao says the party's legitimacy is now being challenged by the same kinds of political and social crises that faced the Kuomintang before it lost power in 1949. Worsening social and economic conditions, he says, have forced all kinds of people - landless farmers, homeless people, underpaid manual labourers, religious activists, victims of pollution and petitioners - to join a huge civil rights movement across the country.
'In this country, leadership belongs to the [communist] party which seized political power [by force]. People must obey the party's orders absolutely, while the right to decide ownership of land remains with party leaders [because] civil rights were just some words written on paper,' writes Bao, who is partially blind and will turn 80 in November, in a preface ghostwritten by the editor of the publisher, New Century Press.
'Freedom of speech has been silenced ... while freedom of assembly has been throttled by 'stabilising forces' [armed police established by the party to suppress dissent and silence people in a bid to maintain a 'harmonious society'].'
In another preface, Bao reminds the Communist Party that it only rose to power by hitching itself to popular democratic movements such as the students movements of 1919 and 1935, and the great labour strikes of 1923 and 1925. Only then was it able to defeat Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang in 1949.
'The rights protection movement will only be suspended when the earth stops rotating,' Bao says in the preface. 'If [the Communist Party] wants the international community to forget China's rights problems, then it means it also wants humans to abandon civilisation.'
Bao's advice comes as a slap in the face to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao who, earlier this year, were lauded by Communist Party mouthpieces for a 'golden decade' under their rule, one typified by Hu's 'harmonious society' and Wen's double-digit economic growth. These accomplishments, Bao writes, are mere 'myths' and 'dreams' created by the party to paper over its leadership crisis, as its ultimate goal is not democracy but staying in power.
However, the party's legitimacy has been challenged throughout its more than six decades in power, Bao says.
Mao Zedong launched the anti-rightist movement in 1957 and the decade-long Cultural Revolution in 1965 to put an end to the democratic aspirations of open-minded party members, while Deng Xiaoping's economic opening-up and Hu's 'harmonious society' also echoed democratic demands in the past three decades.
'The darkness of corruption and despotism will perish under the rights protection movement, while justice and freedom, reason and vitality will be created through the democratic experience,' Bao writes.
'That's how the modern world was created, so too will China's modernisation be accomplished.'
At just 22, Bao was a secretary of the Communist Party's Organisation Department, the personnel ministry responsible for all senior state appointments.
Three years later, in 1957, he was purged in the anti-rightist movement due to his liberal thinking. During the Cultural Revolution, he was again labelled a 'capitalist roader' and sent to a labour farm for seven years.
On May 28, 1989, a week before the bloody Tiananmen crackdown, he was sent to Beijing's Qincheng Prison, where he remained for seven years, the highest-ranked official jailed over the pro-democracy protests.
Today, 14 years after his release, Bao remains closely watched. But, in his book, he says he is still willing to 'shake hands' and co-operate with the party's new leadership if they sincerely aspire to political reform.
'The Chinese Communist Party is sick, so what are we to do? Since Mao Zedong once appealed to cadres to help comrades who had made mistakes with an attitude of 'curing sickness and saving lives,' I wish to make a prescription,' he wrote in June, 2001. 'The only remedy for the party is to abolish one-party rule, and introduce democratic elections.'
Bao has reiterated this view in many articles, stressing that true democratic reforms would not only save the Chinese people and the country, but also help the Communists become a real political party representing farmers and workers.
Zhang Weiguo , an exiled dissident journalist and Beijing bureau chief for the World Economic Herald in 1989 who was jailed for 20 months after the Tiananmen crackdown, said Bao's book had been published in the hope of making an impact on leaders ahead of the party's 18th congress this autumn.
'Bao is the only surviving intellectual who understands the party well, and still advocates democratic reforms despite his long suffering from the 1950s until Tiananmen,' Zhang said. Almost all intellectuals who were purged in crackdowns over the decades have since become part of the party's collective corrupt system, he said.
'Bao's fate is a tragedy, but it is also a loss for all Chinese people... The Chinese government not only missed the opportunity to let him [develop his talent] in 1989, but has also tried to silence him for the past 23 years.'
The book includes more than 100 articles penned by Bao over the past decade or more.
A poem accompanies his portrait on the book's cover: 'With a knife over my pen, rather than be mute. The heart's true expression is always poetry.'