Jack Nitschke, STATE Magazine, University of Western Australia
In a few weeks of mania, China’s overly secretive Communist Party has undertaken a thorough purge of one of the nation’s most prominent and divisive political figures. As Party Chief of the city of Chongqing, Bo Xilai was the closest thing that China had to a political celebrity. His prominence, revolutionary pedigree (his father was one of the old Bolsheviks who fought alongside Mao in the Civil War), and the popularity he earned fighting corruption in Chongqing, had all but guaranteed him a spot in the Politburo’s inner circle in this year’s upcoming reshuffle. His apparent purge is the first of its kind to be waged against a senior official in over six years, and paints the party in an unsteady light at a time when it seeks to portray itself as a paragon of political stability. It appears that the imperative to destroy Mr. Bo overshadowed any such concerns.
The first signs of trouble came in February, when Bo’s lieutenant Wang Lijun had to be escorted from the US embassy in Chengdu after allegedly trying to defect. A few weeks later, after being publicly criticised by Premier Wen Jiabo, Bo was stripped of his job as Chongqing Party Chief. On April 10th, it was announced that Bo had been relieved of all his duties within the party, and also that his wife, Gu Kailai, was a suspect in the alleged murder of a British businessman last year. There is no realistic possibility of Mr. Bo being rehabilitated after such a throttling; his political career is over. Xinhua, China’s state news agency, employs its usual, chilling doublespeak when it reports upon Mr. Bo’s “serious violations” and promise to investigate such violations further. The accusations against his wife point to a broader attack upon his family that bodes ill for his future. This is a man resigned to a fate which has already been determined for him.
The reasons behind this purge are mysterious, as are most of the internal machinations of the Chinese Communist Party. Rumours flew about in the wake of this scandal that Mr Bo had attempted a coup. The imminent reshuffle of the Party leadership gives currency to the inference that the Party’s destruction of Mr Bo was a move to on the part of his political enemies to preclude a future power struggle. So little is known of the parties inner workings that it is futile to try and map out the factions that exist within it, but seeing what is at stake, it stands to reason that they would be at each other’s throats.
Bo earned great renown and popularity for his fights against corruption within Chongqing and for the social welfare meted out under him. However, such programs were not without their critics. There were concerns that Bo used his crackdown upon Chongqing’s “mafia” as a pretext to purge political enemies and consolidate a stranglehold on power. He also drew fire for his perceived dalliances with Maoism, most evident in his championing of “Red Songs” over the vile extravagance of the West, and his perceived preference for state-owned enterprise. It was perhaps to this that Mr. Wen was alluding when he warned, in his thinly veiled criticisms of Mr. Bo, of a potential return to the hysteria that accompanied the Cultural Revolution if China failed to engage in political reform. This is mere hyperbole on Wen’s part. Although it was a rather notable concern that such a prominent party figure as Mr. Bo should give China’s diehard Maoists so very much to cheer about, Mr. Bo is hardly Mao Zedong, and China is very unlikely to return to the frenzied insanity that it was gripped by in the 1960s and 70s.
Whatever their reasons, the Party is now rid of Mr. Bo. His celebrity will no doubt linger, he had many fans in his native Chongqing, but this is of little consequence now. Things will no doubt continue to get worse for him, his family, and any stalwart allies he may still possess. He has become a totem by which the Party can measure the accountability of its senior cadres to the rule of law. Xinhua conveniently captures the remarks of a senior Party official within Chongqing, “There is no privileged citizen before the law. No one can interfere with law enforcement and anyone who violates the law cannot be at large.” This is a lesson which Mr Bo now serves to teach, whether he likes it or not.
Photo © The Shanghiist