I mentioned a few months back the rise of Bo Xilai, something of a political rock star in China with his good looks, articulateness and ease in front of camera.
Bo is the son of Bo Yibo (one of the Eight Elders of Communist Party of China) and was imprisoned as a teenager along with members of his family during the Cultural Revolution. And despite some questions being raised about whether his high profile might be seen by colleagues as grandstanding, the Chongqing Communist Party boss is still a leading contender for the Politburo’s Standing Committee for the 2012 leadership transition.
And he’s not letting up with his populist campaign. At the end of June, he delivered a speech that warned the country needs to do more than simply focus on making money. According to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency (in Chinese only), Bo said:
‘Happiness in people isn’t just about the scale of the economy, but is also related to the national environment, living conditions, safety and human relationships…(So) some cities, even though their economic development might be slower, could improve quickly if people feel ownership of them.’
‘Effectively improving people's lives won’t be a drag on the economy, but will continuously push the economy forward in a sustainable way.’
This focus on a more ‘spiritual’ approach to growth will undoubtedly strike a chord with those worried about the path the country is currently on, worries that were reflected, according to an article in the South China Morning Post this week, in an email doing the rounds in China entitled ‘Has China Gone Mad?’ that highlights examples of both official and individual bad behavior.
The foray into spiritual well-being follows Bo’s much-publicized crackdown on gangsters in Chongqing, which has resulted in the arrest and conviction of thousands of gangsters, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The campaign, known as dahei, began last June and as Xinhua reported, ‘Put the spotlight on organized crime and how it had infested local businesses and law enforcement agencies through bribery, extortion, blackmail and violence.’
Of course, like any good politician Bo is sensitive to criticism and defended himself in March against accusations from ‘cynics’ that the crime crackdown was a publicity stunt.
Arguing that such comments are ‘heartless’, Bo said: ‘I wonder what was on their minds when they described the battle against crime and graft as a publicity stunt.’
But is Bo taking his populist crime fighting too far (or at least allowing law enforcement officials to)?
According to the group ‘Chinese Human Rights Defenders’, Fan Qihang, who has been sentenced to death after being convicted of murder and involvement with triads, was first taken into custody last June as part of Bo’s crackdown.
However, the group says that rather than being taken to a regular detention centre during the police investigation, Fan was instead taken to an unofficial facility in the Chongqing suburbs.
There he was allegedly:
‘(S)ubjected to numerous forms of torture. Chongqing police shackled his hands behind his back and hung him by his wrists from an iron window grille for as long as five days and five nights at a time, with the handcuffs cutting deeply into his wrists. Police also forced him to stand in a bent position, with his hands cuffed behind his back and then attached to his leg irons, for as long as 10 days at a time. During this period of torture, Fan attempted to kill himself by biting his tongue and twice hitting his head against a wall. He sustained injuries to his head which required hospitalization.’
The group says Fan was by no means the only one subjected to torture as part of the crackdown. If Bo means what he says about improving people’s livelihoods then presumably encouraging officials to follow the rule of law is a good place to start.