China Power

Bo Xilai’s Big Impression

Bo Xilai looks like he might be trying a first in Chinese politics – a popular campaign to join the Politburo.

China Leadership Monitor has an interesting new report out about middle-rung promotions in the Chinese Communist Party, a wave of which will take place next year to fill spots left vacant by the top-level leadership transition. It’s worth reading in full for detailed analysis (96.4% of China's mid-to-high level leaders are men, apparently), but extracts from this section about Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai’s amazingly open campaign to join the Politburo standing committee are especially interesting:

‘The challenge confronting the Chinese leadership in general, and the Party apparatchiks in particular, on the eve of the 18th National Congress is remarkably overwhelming. Never has the country witnessed such extraordinarily open political lobbying by a Politburo member as that being engaged in by Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, whose aggressive self-promotion campaign is known for its two idiosyncratic initiatives: “Striking black triads and singing red songs.”
‘Bo’s political campaign methods are not entirely new. Many critics call them “Cultural Revolution–style social mobilization” in both format and substance. Having Chongqing serve as a political model for the nation is just a small part of Bo’s objective. Even people on the street seem to recognize Bo’s political ambition: to obtain a seat on the next Politburo Standing Committee. In recent months, five of the nine current Politburo Standing Committee members have visited Chongqing to endorse his campaign. 

‘On the ideological front, there is also a remarkable—and to a certain extent unprecedented—display of disunity in the leadership. Premier Wen Jiabao’s favourable view of the “universal” values of democracy and the necessity for democratic elections, his outspoken criticism of the official seizure of farmers’ land for property development, his serious concern about the prevalence of the worship of money and the moral decay in society, and his well-articulated reservations about the “China model” of development and growing Chinese assertiveness on the world stage all sharply contrast with many of the views of his colleagues in the Politburo.’
When we covered Bo a few months ago, we thought his audience was the standing committee. But I've heard arguments recently that Bo is making a genuine mass campaign, trying to force a reluctant Politburo to accept him by winning popular support. Personal political campaigns haven’t happened in public in China since the days of the republic, so if he makes it onto the standing committee next year it may have huge implications for the way China’s top leaders compete for power.
Read the full report here.