Category Archives: Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

“So, bye bye Bo Xilai. Tripped up by your wife and a dead Lao Wai.”

Rectified Name has a post about the latest turn in the Bo Xilai affair- apparently the (widely panned) rumors that Bo may have been involved in the death of a British citizen in Chongqing are true, according to Xinhua. There’s a real risk involved in switching the propaganda gears around so quickly, as Jeremiah Jenne writes:

For nearly two months after the “Lin Biao Affair” in September, 1971, the Party was able to keep a lid on the story, knowing how confused people would be to hear the Mao’s closest comrade at arms and chosen successor had in fact tried to betray the Chairman and then died in the act of defecting to the Soviet Union.[2] By contrast, the Party’s attempts to control the Bo Xilai story over the past few months has been like watching drunk chimps try to make wall art with a bucket of jello and a couple of nail guns.

The problem with rumors is that they’re usually not true. The problem with rumors in China is that people believe them anyway because most people know that the ‘state media’ is nothing but an enormous firehose of steaming donkey shit. The problem with rumors in China NOW is that rumors which at first glance seemed too crazy to be true turned out to be pretty accurate.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin both on Weibo last night and in the paper this morning has been gloating about how this whole mess is really a testament to China’s rule of law. You see, we foreigners have it all wrong. We look at the situation and see a high-ranking Party official run his own personal fiefdom, torturing his enemies and allowing his wife to take become the Tony Montana of Chongqing.[3] What we’re missing is the part where…No, I don’t think we’re missing anything here. That’s pretty much what happened.

Lin Biao’s fall from grace marked the beginning of the end of the Cultural Revolution and, indeed, the Mao era. It forced too many people to confront the very real possibility that the Party had been jerking them around for years.

People today are already very cynical. The government’s annoucement of Bo Xilai’s dismissal and the investigation into his family and associates – essentially confirming rumors that for months the censors have been working overtime to squash – just might be one of those moments.

Or at least part of an ongoing process, with other fundamentally trust-destroying moments like the high-speed disaster last year and the ensuing PR disaster serving as ongoing testaments to the real relationship between the Party and the people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

“Bo Xilai’s fall raises questions about Chinese politics”

Tom Lasseter, with an article that looks at some of the same issues as the one Minxin Pei just wrote:

Whatever the causes, the story of Bo’s rise and fall signals an ongoing dilemma for China’s central government — the lack of systemic political reform — that could present serious challenges for the world’s second-largest economy, on which global growth increasingly depends.

On one hand, the nation’s rulers insist that the party remain the unquestionably dominant force over the government and anything that resembles political speech, an approach that largely has shielded officials from accountability amid allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

The accompanying lack of political flexibility, however, makes it difficult to address public grievances in a large-scale manner, leaving issues such as corruption or abuse to fester.

The result has been a central leadership that speaks frequently about change of one stripe or the other but that, so far, continues to rely on authoritarian tactics to enforce its will. In that top-down structure, local officials are left largely beyond the law.

“If political reform had progressed normally, then the story of Bo Xilai would not have occurred,” said He Shu, a local historian of the Cultural Revolution. “If there were democratic, lawful procedures, then things like this would not happen.”

There’s little question that any leader would have faced trouble trying to sort out Chongqing. The greater municipality was carved out of neighboring Sichuan province in 1997, creating a tract of land roughly the size of South Carolina, with 30 million people, centered on a city with a reputation for corruption and organized crime.

Local TV and newspaper reporters were, of course, expected to follow the line Bo set. The same seemed to apply to prosecutors and judges. One lawyer from a well-connected Beijing firm who tried to prepare a defense for an alleged gangster was himself tried on charges of advising his client to give false testimony. The case was interpreted as a warning sign to other attorneys who were thinking about getting in Bo’s path.

“They showed a total disregard for the fundamentals of the law,” said Li Zhuang, the lawyer, who was sentenced to prison in January of 2010 and released about a year and a half later. “What they aimed to do was hide all of the wrongdoings, the unlawful things they’d done in the process of strike black.”

It sounds like rule of law and good governance are becoming even hotter topics among Chinese lawyers and intellectuals and foreign journalists, but whether or not that’s being fully reflected by the Chinese citizenry at large is a different question.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai, Communist Party

“Why is the rumor mill still spinning?”

Tom at SeeingRedInChina has a good post looking at why the censorship machine is letting so much noise get through on the Bo Xilai affair:

A second possibility, is that those in control of the Party (and no one is actually certain that there is a power struggle), want to make sure that Bo Xilai and his allies have been thrown completely under the bus. A number of stories have appeared about Bo’s Chongqing policies being reversed that support this theory. I also suspect this because my co-workers have been uncharacteristically well informed about the rumors, even though they don’t spend much time on Weibo, and don’t know how to escape the limits of the Chinese web. While there haven’t been any explicit descriptions of what has happened, there have been more nods than in the past.

I think this is probably pretty close to the mark, given how many fronts opened up so quickly in the attack on Bo. Some kind of anti-Bo coalition is definitely trying to inflict maximum damage on his political base, patronage lines, and ideology while he’s down.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai, Communist Party

Bo Xilai and the Coup that Wasn’t: More Post-Mortems

With a few more days space having gone by, more writers have chipped in with opinions on what we can learn from the event and the subsequent non-event. From Caixin Online:

Even after the fall of the Gang of Four, in 1976, China struggled for a time before finding the right path to development. The decision on reform and opening up was reached at the third plenary session of the Eleventh Central Committee in 1978 and was affirmed by the resolution.

No one can refute this decision. No matter how difficult the project of reform has been, China cannot turn back. The painful lessons of history are too raw.

Today, the multiple frustrations of daily life are feeding into public discontent, which can easily turn into mob rage. We’ve seen how, during the Cultural Revolution, ambitious politicians and fanatical populism ended up destroying civilization. Just recently, Vice President Xi Jinping warned in an essay against party cadres who play to the crowd for personal gain. History cautions us that regression for China would be dangerous. It reminds leaders of their responsibility to press on with reforms – they must face up to problems and win people’s support for reforms.

Political reform is not frightening. Reform should be gradual but firm. Two tasks in the government’s work report directly relate to political reform: to hasten administrative reform and enhance measures to fight corruption. Both hold the key to a breakthrough in reform progress. The government must, as Wen pledged, press on.

The Communist Party will soon hold its 18th party congress, where some progress on promoting intra-party democracy is expected, including competitive elections. The recent political events underline the urgency of political reform. It is time for a responsible government to act.

From the LA Times:

Jin Zhong, a veteran political analyst based in Hong Kong, dismissed the more fantastic rumors, while acknowledging the underlying tension between economic reformers and Maoist traditionalists.

“It hasn’t reached the point where you are going to hear gunshots. It is not like when China arrested the Gang of Four in 1976, but there is a very strong conflict going on,” Jin said.

Zhou had been a strong supporter of Bo’s law-and-order campaigns in Chongqing, where thousands were swept up in a gang-busting dragnet and retirees had been gathering in a public park for now-banned patriotic singing and dancing. According to Jin, Zhou made several visits to the Chongqing delegation at the recently concluded National People’s Congress, fighting for Bo’s political future until the very end.

Like most of China’s senior leaders, the 70-year-old Zhou is due to retire at the 18th party congress in October. Until recently, Bo was thought to be a likely replacement. Jin said he doubted that Zhou would be removed from the Standing Committee because he is already set to leave.

“They won’t touch anybody on the Standing Committee before the congress. It is too risky. They’ve put in a big effort trying to present a picture of stability,” Jin said.

From Jerome Cohen:

Many Chinese legal experts took grim satisfaction at Bo Xilai’s removal from office as Party leader of Chongqing. Bo, after all, had created nostalgia for the national nightmare that was the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long, lawless trampling on the lives of over one hundred million people. Even more obnoxious to Chinese law reformers was Bo’s endorsement of Chongqing police, prosecutors and judges who violated the rights of suspects while pursuing his highly-publicized campaign to snuff out alleged Mafia and corruption. Bo and his henchman, public security chief Wang Lijun, subjected detainees to hideous torture, coerced confessions and unfair trials, also intimidating and punishing defense lawyers.

The central government’s public response to those blatant illegalities was virtually nil. Yet the mysterious halting in mid-trial of a second prosecution against lawyer Li Zhuang, who had already been convicted and imprisoned for supposedly instigating false testimony by claiming that his alleged Mafia client had been tortured, may have signaled Beijing’s impatience with Chongqing justice. That second case had evoked unusual protests from prestigious lawyers, law professors and others.

What Chinese criminal justice urgently needs is a reformer with the power, energy, vision, ability, personality and determination of a Zhu Rongji, the former Prime Minister who in the late 1990s saw the need to transform the traditional socialist economy and, through relentless effort, brought it about.

Is there such a leader on China’s horizon? Communist officials do not reach the apex of their system by advocating human rights and criminal justice, and none would show his hand before attaining power. Khruschev’s introduction of “de-Stalinization” in 1956 stunned many observers who, before his ascension, had mistaken him as Stalin’s “running dog”.

This may be the unrecognized tragedy of Bo Xilai. Before turning Chongqing into a “leftist” base for his ascent, Bo had impressed foreign observers with his intelligence, education and sophistication. Had his risky campaign succeeded, he might have seen that China’s new stage of development requires not a return to Maoism but greater respect for the rule of law, and seized the opportunity to play an historic role by doing for criminal justice what Zhu Rongji did for the economy. Surely, Bo had the charisma and boldness required to mobilize both bureaucratic and public support for this momentous change.

Far-fetched? Remember, it was Richard Nixon, the arch anti-communist, who had the foresight, nerve and political freedom to move toward the future by traveling to what he earlier called “Red China”. Sometimes, cynical politicians become statesmen – if they reach the top.

Although yeah, still kinda far-fetched.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

Beijing Coup: Not Really.

Zhou Yongkang has been spotted out and about a few times, so it looks like he didn’t really try anything. As a few days have gone people have started asking how the rumors got so out of hand, and to what extent they actually reflected tensions with the Communist Party. From The Economist:

The party, which normally tries to suppress any expression of sympathy for purged leaders, is either failing this time, or else it is not trying very hard. It could well be a sign that Chinese leaders themselves are divided over how to handle Mr Bo’s case and the public reaction to it.

Uniquely among Chinese politicians in the post-Tiananmen period, Mr Bo had acquired a vocal and genuinely admiring fan club. Silencing this group will not be easy. It happens to include people whom party traditionalists regard as hailing from the most venerable sectors of the population: workers laid off from state-owned factories, retired cadres, and intellectuals who remain doggedly committed to old-fashioned communist ideals. Before Mr Bo was sacked, articles praising him and his “Chongqing model” were a staple of websites controlled by die-hard Maoists in China.

For several days after Mr Bo’s dismissal, some Maoist websites ceased functioning. It is unclear whether they were ordered to shut down, or whether they prudently decided to keep quiet while they assessed the political mood. But they are now back in business, not in the least cowed, it would seem, by the disgrace of their hero.

The nationwide upheaval of 1989 started when supporters of Hu Yaobang took to the streets to mourn his death, two years after he had been dismissed as party chief. But any such displays of sympathy on behalf of Mr Bo are highly unlikely this time. The Maoists could probably mobilise protests involving disparate groups of marginalised citizens. But they enjoy little support among the urban middle class or intellectuals. And they would likely resist causing unrest, for fear of appearing disloyal to the party. These are, however, volatile times politically as the party prepares for a sweeping transfer of power at a congress late this year.

On March 23rd, the party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, published an article on its front page which says that Mr Zhou sent a letter to a conference in Shanghai in which he expressed support for Mr Hu’s leadership. This may have been an attempt to scotch rumours that he was involved in a coup, though it has been widely noted that Mr Zhou did not turn up for the meeting in person. And then Mr Zhou was to be spotted again on an evening broadcast of CCTV, on “Xinwen Lianbo”, as if to prove that he is not under house arrest, or anything of the sort.

From CNN, on how censorship ended up fueling the rumors:

What is happening in Beijing?

This is a question that has China watchers and Chinese themselves puzzling and pondering.

“In the absence of transparency and credible official media, rumors fly,” noted Bill Bishop, an independent analyst who closely follows China’s Internet and social media industry.

Even a traffic accident report triggered political rumors. When a Ferrari reportedly crashed on one of Beijing’s “Ring Roads” last weekend, Weibo was abuzz with wild speculation about the driver — rumored to be a godson of a top communist party official.

By Tuesday, the English-language edition of the Global Times — a newspaper affiliated with the official People’s Daily — one reported that “almost all online information” about the crash had been deleted overnight, “triggering suspicions as to the identity of the deceased driver.”

For days, the word “Ferrari” was blocked.

On Weibo, bloggers who type in Bo’s name, or even his initials BXL and homophones, typically get an automatic reply: “Due to relevant regulations and policies, search results for ‘Bo Xilai’ are not being displayed.”

Censorship has been inconsistent, experts note. “Rumors were blocked and unblocked,” recalled Bishop. “For most of the day at the height of the coup rumors, you could search for ‘zhengbian’ (coup) and on some days it was blocked.”

Such erratic censorship has created confusion compounded by questions of where the rumors originated.

“It’s the first time in China that a political power struggle has played out in the era of Weibo (micro-blogging),” said Bishop. “It’s as important to get information out on Weibo as it is to publish it on CCTV or the People’s Daily.”

But cyberspace censorship, Bishop argues, is not good for China’s global image — nor for the rest of the world.

Finally, Reuters on what happens to Bo now:

Accounts vary of when the party leadership decided Bo had to go, but most sources said the curtain fell within 72 hours of his combative news conference.

At a post-parliament news conference five days after Bo’s performance, Premier Wen Jiabao suggested Bo was culpable not only for Wang’s flight but also for conjuring up false nostalgia for Mao’s era. China needed political reform, without which “such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again in China”, Wen said.

“Wen’s words revealed the split,” said the former Chongqing official. “It turned this into a line struggle.”

The next day, the government announced Bo had been removed as party secretary of Chongqing.

China’s leaders now appear uncertain about how to deal with the downfall of a popular politician.

“The 18th Congress outcome hasn’t been settled yet, and this makes it more difficult, because Bo Xilai represented many left-leaning voices in China,” said Wang Wen, a Beijing journalist who has met Bo.

A week after his fall, Bo remains out of sight, with unconfirmed speculation he remains in Beijing available for questioning. His abrupt departure has kindled wild rumors, including one this week of a coup attempt.

“The game is not over yet. There’s no full-stop on this yet,” said the ex-official familiar with Bo.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

“Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang were planning coup”

This is a WantChinaTimes summary of a Mingjing article, so lets just go ahead and call it probably reasonably inaccurate, but at least we get the gist of what the coup was even supposed to be about. The article ties Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai, and Zhou Yongkang’s stories together in a neat little package- what a shame it probably isn’t the case:

Detained former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun is rumored to hold evidence of a secret plot by Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang to block the expected succession of Chinese vice president Xi Jinping as general secretary of the Communist Party, according to Mingjing News, a New York-based website allegedly sourced by political insiders.

Mingjing News, a widely read news portal, has now linked Bo’s downfall to an alleged conspiracy to prevent Xi from becoming the most powerful member of the CCP.

According to an unnamed Beijing source, Zhou Yongkang, a member of the elite nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, secretly promised to help Bo join him in the country’s most powerful decision-making body and take over his role as secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee. This would have allowed Bo to control the People’s Armed Police and Ministry of Public Security, and force Xi to step down before inserting himself in the vice president’s place as expected future general secretary, the source said.

Mingjing also reported that Bo, through Wang and in the name of Chongqing’s Public Security Bureau, purchased 5,000 rifles and 50,000 rounds of ammunition from a local munitions factory last year in order to create a private army. The People’s Armed Police has already been sent to Chongqing to investigate the whereabouts of the weapons, the report said.

Wang and Kong have allegedly known each other for more than 20 years and collaborated on several business deals. Due to the closeness of their relationship, the source said that Wang has evidence of years of egregious corruption on the part of Kong, Zhou’s son and wife, and their secretaries, Yu Gang and Tan Hong. Wang has reportedly moved the evidence overseas, partly to the US consulate, as leverage to ensure that he remains protected. This is why Zhou, who fears the release of that information, has not yet handed Wang over to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, sources said. Fear of the ramifications of holding information on Kong and Zhou was crucial in leading Wang to attempt defection and to Bo’s eventual dismissal, said the source. Kong will remain the focus of whatever happens next, the source added.

Bo is now believed to be under house arrest in Beijing while his wife, Gu Kailai, has reportedly been taken by the discipline inspection committee for questioning. According to Foreign Reference News, a magazine rumored to be affiliated with Jiang’s political faction, Hu was said to have personally directed Bo’s arrest, ordering the secretariat and the director of the General Office of the Central Committee to mobilize the country’s secret security force, the Central Guard Bureau.

A Beijing observer also told Mingjing that all of Bo’s supporters are currently in the hands of the bureau, which arrested and detained them under a different set of rules.

Mingjing has been able to provide little substantive evidence to back up any claims made by it or its source. The website said it will reveal more news on Bo in due course.

Yeeeep. A foiled leftist plot would be a great way to usher in a political reformation by the victorious pro-reform camp, so no one wants this to be true more than me… but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support it at the moment.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

“Beijing on edge amid coup rumours”

FT on all the rumors that have been flying around over the last two days:

Since Bo Xilai, one of China’s most powerful leaders, was removed from his job last Thursday, the bureaucracy and the public have been on tenterhooks, awaiting the next twist in the gripping political saga.

In one rumour that spread rapidly on Monday night, a military coup had been launched by Zhou Yongkang, an ally of Mr Bo’s and the man in charge of China’s state security apparatus, and gun battles had erupted in Zhongnanhai, the top leadership compound in the heart of Beijing.

But when the Financial Times drove past the compound late on Monday night, all appeared calm and by Wednesday evening there was no indication that anything was out of the ordinary.

However, one person with close ties to China’s security apparatus said Mr Zhou had been ordered not to make any public appearances or take any high-level meetings and was “already under some degree of control”.

Adding to the air of intrigue in the capital, a report of a fatal car crash on Sunday involving the son of a top leader and a Ferrari appeared on the internet but was quickly removed by official censors.

Netizens and one source with close ties to China’s top leaders said the illegitimate son of a politburo standing committee member was killed in the crash and two young women were badly hurt.

It’s been odd seeing stories of the coup published, then retracted, then in a few cases un-retracted. The most likely scenario now is probably that in the aftermath of Bo being purged some of his ideological allies are also finding themselves in trouble, although how much trouble and whether or not it will last are very different questions.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai