“Political rivalry reflects a split within China’s Communist Party”

A good piece from the Globe and Mail about the ongoing Chongqing/Guangzhou split:

“For a mature ruling political party, it’s more important to study and review its history and strengthen a sense of anxiety than just to sing the praises of its brilliance,” Guangdong’s Party chief, Wang Yang said in remarks that were published in the official People’s Daily newspaper.

By Western standards, that was a very subtle poke at Bo Xilai, the singing boss of Chongqing. But in the murky world of Chinese leadership politics, Mr. Wang’s jab was rare for its directness. Here was one top Party official taking public aim at another’s leadership style, on a day that was supposed to be set aside for celebrating the Party’s successes.

The remark drew back the curtain a hair’s breadth on a behind-the-scenes rivalry that could shape the direction the world’s rising superpower will take in the coming decade.

Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang are not only provincial Party bosses, but rivals for coveted spots on the nine-man Standing Committee of the Politburo – the top of China’s power pyramid – during the once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle set to take place over the next year.

Since Mr. Bo took over as Party Secretary in Chongqing four years ago, he has won wide praise for smashing the region’s crime syndicates. But he is even more notorious for his nostalgic embrace of “Red culture” – which includes not only revolutionary songs but bureaucrats being sent to the countryside to work alongside farmers, and Mao quotations being sent to millions of mobile phones by Mr. Bo himself.

Mr. Bo’s campaigns have made him a hero of the country’s “new left” but also unnerved some prominent intellectuals, who hear unsettling echoes of the Cultural Revolution, when tens of millions were violently purged in the name of ideological purity.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wang – who preceded Mr. Bo as Chongqing party boss before moving east to Guangdong – has recently emerged as the new hope of the country’s liberals.

Guangdong, particularly the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, famously gave birth to China’s economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. Now the region is home to the country’s freest media and has become an incubator for civil society.

“Bo’s approach is a populist approach based on appealing to the masses with historical nostalgia,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based analyst of Chinese politics. “Wang’s efforts are no less populist, but they rest upon the notion that the Party’s legitimacy will have to rest on more than simply economic growth.”

Some Chinese see the coming battle as critical to whether their country continues its lurching reform, or takes a dangerous step backward. “Chongqing is on the way to becoming North Korea. Guangdong is on the way to becoming Singapore,” said Yu Chen, an investigative journalist at the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, widely considered one of the country’s most independent newspapers.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Guangzhou Model, Maoism

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