China

Bo Xilai First to Fall Ahead of China's 18th Annual Party Congress

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A leader for China no more

The shifting political landscape in China ahead of this autumn's 18th Party Congress has claimed its first victim. Bo Xilai, once a "rising star" in the Chinese Communist Party, was suspended from the 25-member Politburo as well as the 300-member Central Committee, key governing bodies of the Communist Party, and the Communist Chinese State, for "serious disciplinary violations," and his wife is a prime suspect in the murder earlier this year of a prominent British businessman, Neil Heywood, according to Chinese officials.

Bo Xilai's troubles probably began earlier this year, when Wang Lijun, a regional Party official, sought "temporary sanctuary" at the U.S. consulate. He was seized by security officials upon exiting the consulate. China's Communist government, of course, is highly secretive, which naturally, in the age of social networks and microblogging, means rumors spread across the Internet in China quickly.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government would not comment on the nature of Wang Lijun's visit to the consulate, either. Speculation arose that Wang Lijun was in fact seeking to escape the clutches of the powerful Bo Xilai. Bo Xilai was dismissed from his post as a regional Party Secretary less than a month later in a single sentence announcement from the state news agency, which was followed by rumors his son had crashed his red Ferrari and died. That busy week also saw persistent rumors coming from China of some sort of military coup.

Bo Xilai had been leading a Marxist "revival" campaign in China writing revolutionary operas, Tweeting quotes from Mao's Little Red Book, and organizing mass performances, for example requiring his hometown of Chongqing, a city of 30 million, to learn "red songs" ahead of the Party's 90th anniversary last year. In a country without democratic elections, the very public "revival" efforts by Bo Xilai were interpreted as a campaign for the Politburo's Standing Committee, a 9-member governing body being almost completely replaced at this autumn's Party Congress.

Today's announcement of his suspension from all Party posts as well as his wife's suspected involvement in a high-profile murder disturbs the illusion of a well-oiled transition ahead of that Congress. The period from now until China's new leadership is in place at the end of the year ought to be watched carefully by the many fans Chinese governance seems to have, from Tom Friedman to Andy Stern to the United Nations.

More from Reason on why China bashing is for losers, and how China's used as a punching bag.

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  1. Sounds like this would make a good Brian De palma film.

    1. No kidding! “Mrs Gu was part of the party’s aristocracy. Her father was Gu Jingsheng, a renowned general…. In her early career, Mrs Gu was one of China’s most famous lawyers, even appearing as the subject of a patriotic television film.” “According to the Wall Street Journal, however, Mrs Gu had become ‘increasingly neurotic’ after being investigated for corruption in 2007 and had at one point demanded that Mr Heywood, as a member of her inner circle, divorce his wife and swear an oath of loyalty. Mr Heywood refused.”

  2. China and its well-oiled transitions.

  3. Someone here keeps saying that mainland China is not Communist. They say over and over that the majority of Chinese people would laugh at you if you asked them if they were Communist. Now, look here at who runs the place, nine commies.

    1. Many communists try not to identify as communists anyway.

      And they would laugh if you asked if they were communist, because they try to be polite but have no idea of what the hell you just said.

    2. The leadership of a country does not determine what the people are.

  4. Bread and roses

  5. “Tweeting quotes from Mao’s Little Red Book”
    Now THAT has to rank with vermin shit pitching hunting-gathering on the internet!

    1. And ironically, he was tweeting on a phone made largely in China, only because China abandoned Maoism and went semi-capitalist….

  6. Ed – Just a nitpick, but… Chinese names list the family name first, the personal name second. So if you’re referring, say, to Mao Zedong or Bo Xilai, you’d say “Mao” or “Bo,” not “Zedong” or “Xilai.”

    As for the issue of whether China is still “Communist,” it’s a bit complicated. Yes, if you ask anyone from China, especially Party members, they’ll swear, with all sincerity, that they have a Communist system. They might hedge a bit and call it “Communism with Chinese characteristics” or with some other modification, but that’s what they’ll call it.

    Some people who study China say that the “Communist” label is now just sort of an empty piece of symbolism. It’s not like the Chinese get free healthcare, university educations, or the like. The Chinese may as well call their leading party the Confucian Party – it’s about as accurate.

    1. But the fact remains that whatever China is economically, politically it’s still very Communist, or to be more precise, Leninist, in how the government power structure is set up. The Party is still presented as a vanguard of sorts, even though it doesn’t really have any coherent ideology other than a commitment to its own legitimacy and to Chinese nationalism. And it’s hard to overstate just how central the Party, as opposed to formal government office holders, is to running the regime. The military, for example, is technically a branch of the Party and under its leadership, not the government’s. In provinces, there are governors, who are often ethnic minorities like Tibetans and Uyghurs, but all the real power belongs to the local Communist Party chief. This is all very classically Leninist.

      The only real difference is that leadership of the Party isn’t really so heavily invested in one man, like it would’ve been back in the day. If Mao, for example, decided to recognize the independence of Taiwan, it would’ve been a fait accompli the moment he made the announcement. If Hu Jintao tried the same thing, he’d soon thereafter curiously “resign”, and his policy rescinded. So the real change in China is that it’s transitioned from a dictatorship to a Politburo-led oligarchy. Most of the President’s policies only happen because the President’s faction within the Party is dominant, or convinced enough other factions to support what he wants to do.

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