The Bo Xilai Drama Continues
Image Credit: Chinese National People's Congress

The Bo Xilai Drama Continues


As details leak out, it appears that corruption will play a central role in the saga of former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai. Bo, who was summarily ousted from his position on March 15, apparently attempted to derail the investigation of his police chief, Wang Lijun, into corrupt practices by Bo’s family members.

Yet corruption is hardly enough of a reason to scrap one of the country’s most senior and well-known leaders. Scratch the surface of almost any senior official in China and a family member or two will likely have crossed a law or two. Bo’s sins ran much deeper. The dramatic and charismatic Bo was simply too big a personality in a leadership that prides itself on facelessness and colorlessness. And his politics were too disruptive and, in the end, corrosive for a political system that prizes least common denominator consensus.

Between Vice President Xi Jinping and Premier Wen Jiabao, the Chinese leadership signaled Bo’s demise well before his formal ouster. Xi attacked Bo’s political character in a March 1 speech before the Communist Party School, and then in an essay published two weeks later. In his speech, Xi noted that leading officials should “fairly use their power, keep incorrupt [sic] in their work, and resolutely oppose the tendencies of …hedonism, and extreme individualism.” The article made things even more explicit, raising the dangers of self-promotion and seeking personal fame through the Party.

Bo’s political proclivities also ran afoul of China’s top leaders. Bo brought Mao Zedong back to life with grand-scale mobilization campaigns to root out corruption and plant trees, as well as singing “red” songs. While popular among some segments of Chongqing’s population, for others – including some within China’s most senior leadership – Bo’s red reminiscing put a positive spin on one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history. Wen took center stage on the last day of last week’s National People’s Congress in rejecting Bo’s revisionist tendencies: “Without successful political structural reform, it’s impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform…China risks another historical tragedy like the Cultural Revolution unless it enacts political reforms.”

Where does this leave politics in China? Certainly Chongqing is getting the short end of the stick. Bo led Chongqing to 16 percent growth in 2011. Little about his replacement, Zhang Dejiang, suggests that such a performance will be repeated. Zhang, one of the most faceless, colorless members of the Politburo, received his university economics training in North Korea. He served an embarrassing stint as Guangdong Party Secretary during the SARS outbreak and, most recently, held oversight responsibility for China’s high speed rail, a story of mixed success at best.

The broader Chinese public is divided on the merits of Bo’s ouster. Despite Weibo’s blocking of Bo Xilai’s name, Chinese voices on the Internet have gone wild. Some decry Bo’s departure: “Bo Xilai leaves, the masses cry. The dream of common prosperity is shattered! Corrupt officials laugh, they can keep squeezing the masses and extorting their money.” Others have taken up Wen’s call: “Now it is the 21st century. 1.3 billion Chinese people have entered the modern era…yet unexpectedly people are still crying out for a savior, for a good emperor. What we need is exactly as premier Wen said. We need to wake up! We need a good system not a good man. We need rule of law not rule of man. We need openness and transparency! Do you agree?”

In Beijing itself, political life is in flux. Bo is in limbo – deprived of his position in Chongqing but not of his seat on the Politburo. It appears to be a real victory for the more reform-oriented officials within China’s senior leadership, but whether they can capitalize on it over the next six months by ensuring that the next Standing Committee looks more like Wen and less like Wu Bangguo remains to be seen. In the near term, however, they must be busy struggling to develop a politically viable narrative to explain Bo’s downfall. Based on the voices of the people, the truth would be a good place to start.

Elizabeth C. Economy is C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is an expert on Chinese domestic and foreign policy and U.S.-China relations and author of the award-winning book, 'The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future.'  She blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared.

March 27, 2012 at 13:20

You believe a ‘hit-man’ like Wang would bring top secrets that could topple China if US expose/exploit them. LOL.

The chapter on Bo and his proteges is closing fast.

India has a narrow window before Nov. US election and we all see the scrambling and plea articles. Be a man.

March 27, 2012 at 00:58

@Yi Long: You’re correct about most of CCP ruling members and their families. Only now that Bo has gone off track with the ruling party, his bad deeds are alowed to be published. With regard to live organ harvesting, ist’s not just Wang. This is a very profitable “business” for the ruling party, which has been going on for decades. Please don’t tell me that the CCP government didn’t know about this (they’re not that incompetent). Wang has just become CCP’s perfect scape goat for this terrible crime.

March 26, 2012 at 20:32

I must admit that Liang1a has shown courage for being consistant with his conviction, not as those who feel safe now of the “politically correct” way to comment to throw stones at a man who is down from the piedestal, and not as some Chinese bloggers who prefer to take refuge in embarrassed silence.
One may think that it is only justice that Bo (and perhaps his family too) has to endure the type of treatments he had used against dissidents. But it is not. Not in our 21st century, not in a modern country.

Yi Long
March 26, 2012 at 08:20

Like most CCP ruling members, Bo Xilai and his family members are very corrupted and reckless. The below stories and pictures of Bo Guagua (Bo Xilai’s son) could tell us a lot about how corrupted his family is.

How the playboy antics of Chinese politician’s Harrow-educated son have fuelled rumours of a coup in Beijing

For Wang Lijung, he is a complete coward, nasty cop and a 2 faces traitor, who would ready to sell anything including China’s most top secrets for some personal gains.

Live Organ Harvesting and Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai Steeped in Bloody Crimes

John Chan
March 26, 2012 at 00:36

CCP decided to take Bo out before 18th People Congress due to his numerous political agenda reasons; corruption was the smallest part of all. Bo’s plan to block Xi Jinping chance to take over the top spot and advancing his political faction was the most serious issue. Being the right hand man of Bo in the past, this would make it very difficult for Beijing faction to trust Wang.

Wang chosen to take refuge at the US Consulate with lots of CCP’s insider information in Chengdu instead of Chongqing (which has other countries’ Consulates, like Great Britain, Canada, etc) because of those information would be most valuable to the US. It’s believed that Wang intended to exchange those top secret data for his safety and his family’s protection. In the end, Wang had to give up his freedom and left the US Consulate voluntarily because of all the serious threats to his family members. Being an ex-Chief Police, Wang knows what all those threats mean.

March 25, 2012 at 09:42

If this is a contest between Mao and Deng then I’d side with Mao because Deng is a traitor who have sold out China to America. Deng was the first luo3 guan1 who sold out China so that his children can run off to America. Nobody dared to say anything about the crimes of Deng and his handpicked Dengists. Deng’s so-called reform is nothing more than a thinly disguided sell-out. Deng’s reform include such anti-Chinese things as joining the WTO and opening up China by allowing foreigners to capture the majority of China’s economy such as 80% of China’s car market. Now the foreigners are pressing China to allow foreigners to sell things directly to the Chinese government which will allow them to buy even more luo3 guan1′s and subvert even more of China’s government.

Of course China must reform. But Dengist reforms are traitorous and not true reforms. Under Dengist sell-out even nationalism and patriotism have become dirty words and national and economic independence are derided as foolish, impossible and dangerous. Anybody who call for defending Chinese sovereign territories are accused of foolish hotheads who will derail China’s economic “miracle”. Unfortunately, the Chinese people have been brainwashed into linking Maoist independence with starvation and backwardness. The backwardness of the Maoist era was the result of centuries of war and foreign invasion and the lack of advanced technologies. As a result Chinese people’s productivity was very low doing all things by hand and manual labor. Obviously Mao must bear some blame for closing the Chinese universities which set back China’s technological development for decades. But coupled with advanced technologies and fervent patriotism China can develop much faster and sustainable by urbanizing the farmers and developing the domestic economy. It is simple math that China cannot develop a $100 trillion economy was exporting a few trillion dollars of processed products that relies on imported foreign parts and components where China benefits only to the degree of selling cheap labor. Chinese people can only become as rich as the Americans by using tools and machines as efficient as theirs to produce as much as the Americans can but for the consumption of the Chinese people themselves. And in producing as much as the Americans the Chinese can deserve incomes as high as theirs. Indeed Chinese people can be even more productive than the Americans because 1/3 of the Americans are minorities who underperform the American national average by some 1/3. This means Chinese can produce some 1/3 more than the Americans on the average and so deserve 1/3 higher incomes.

Unfortunately, Dengist “reform” has turned China into an American lackey. The Dengist motto was “ride the American hegemonic ship and get rich quietly”. This was the basis for the “hide the light” policy. But only a few compradors and luo3 guan1′s got rich while the majority of the Chinese people are condemned to perpetual poverty because cheap exports require cheap labor. The Chinese reformists are all luo3 guan1′s whose first master is America. So how can the “reforms” implemented by these traitors benefit China? The answer is obviously that they can’t! The Dengist “reforms” have taken China into a trap. What China now needs are real reforms that will take China out of this trap and embark on a truly independent developmental path. And the Dengists will fight tooth and claw to prevent China from becoming independent or else they would have failed their American masters. I don’t know exactly what Bo’s policies are. I certainly condemn corruption. But it is time to bring back more Chinese nationalism and patriotism and stop the dangerous sell out that will inevitably turn China into a colony where Chinese and dogs will not be permitted to walk in Chinese parks.

March 25, 2012 at 07:19

Sure, how stupid!
Wang, an ex-chief of the police, must be familiar with China’s methods to force suspects to “cooperate”. So why did he walk in the US Consulate? Just to handover some documents, becomes a traitor and walk out?

Damn it! How naïve in believing all this narrative (a high ranking official having a nerve break-down and walked into a US consulate to seek refuge)?
It could well be that his plan was to walk in, handover the documents and walk out. But what went wrong with this plan was that the US did not release the documents.

No holds barred.

March 24, 2012 at 14:07

“They (US, I presume) would leave the China side to simmer over guesses whether Wang had handled them any compromising secrets, and more importantly which?”

You mean Wang would not cooperate!

HMMMM! What Stupidity!

March 24, 2012 at 08:01

Latest news was that 19 banking officials had been dismissed from their posts. Other proteges would likely be acted upon shortly, imo.

For your comfort, Le is colorful and was splashed across the news:

Le Van Bang, who was caught illegally digging for clams on Long Island, New York, in 1994 while he was ambassador to the United Nations. Bang and his driver “acted like they didn’t speak English when they were confronted by the harbormaster”, according to the local prosecutor.

Ultimately, no charges were applied when Bang claimed diplomatic immunity. (Bang went on to become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s first ambassador to the US when Hanoi and Washington normalized relations the following year.)

Will Collins
March 23, 2012 at 14:13

Wang most certainly tried to escape to the US consulate because he feared for his life. He knows better than anyone what Bo Xilai is capable of. He told the Americans that Bo Xilai was going to try to unseat Xi Jinping. That is why the Americans have not said word one about what went on in the consulate. They want things to calm down as quickly as possible. The spirit of Jiang Zemin lives on.

Constantine Tung
March 23, 2012 at 03:43

According to China obeservers, the Bo Xilai case is the most critically important case in China’s political arena since the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976. Wang Lijun, a trusted subordinate/”comrade” of Bo Xilai, would not run to the U.S. Consulatr in Chengdu for protection if his political career and/or his life were not threatened. Wang is alo quoted by saying: I am just like a chewing gum. The metaphorical implication is vecry obvious. Wang knew what would fall on him if he escaped into the U. S. Consulate for “protection”. This showed Wang’s desperation that left him without a choice. I believe the U.S. must have made copies of the documents, etc Wang brought with him to the U.S. Consulate. This might be a turning point in China’s politics.
Mark, what do you think of this?

March 23, 2012 at 01:07

Hmmm… I bet they would not. They would leave the China side to simmer over guesses whether Wang had handled them any compromising secrets, and more importantly which? In diplomacy as in war, the threat is more effective than the move.

Leonard R.
March 22, 2012 at 08:52

@Economy: “Zhang, one of the most faceless, colorless members of the Politburo, received his university economics training in North Korea. He served an embarrassing stint as Guangdong Party Secretary during the SARS outbreak and, most recently, held oversight responsibility for China’s high speed rail, a story of mixed success at best.”

Three success stories, North Korean economics, SARS and Chinese high-speed trains. It’s only right he should be promoted to the next level. I can’t wait to see what he will accomplish in Chongqing.

March 22, 2012 at 03:31

The article leaves out another very important ‘piece of the pie’ as to why the party had to get rid of Bo Xilai, the possibility that the ‘documents’ that Wang Lijun left at the US Consulate in Chengdu, was so full of the CCP’s ‘darkest secrets’ that they had no choice but to get rid of a liability!

I hope the US releases those documents during China’s transitional change!

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