The voice of the Communist Party of China has come through loud and clear in the Bo Xilai case: Bo is stripped of all titles and factional battles are alive and well within the Chinese Politburo. PRC internet sources are alive with rumors regarding the most public downfall of a powerful Chinese politician in recent memory while scholars look to factional struggles within the Politburo to explain the dynamics of the Bo Xilai scandal.
The Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo, has become a battle ground between the central government’s message and random, relatively unreliable, speculation regarding factional struggles within the Politburo. After the attempted defection of Bo Xilai’s Police Chief, Wang Lijun, to an American consulate, the Chinese Communist Party was forced into the public forum regarding a growing problem with an increasingly powerful and popular politician rumored to be guilty of a number of abuses in power, including extortion, intimidation, and murder.
Such a fall from grace has not been seen since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 but the increasing prevalence of the internet and information technology has allowed the spread of news outside of official party channels.
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Bo Xilai, 62 year-old former governor of China’s southern megalopolis of Chongqing, was removed not only from his post as governor of Chongqing but also from the 25-member Politburo. While rumors of abuses of power existed prior to this very public scandal, the wick for the flame of the current maelstrom tearing through Chinese politics begins with accusations that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was involved in the murder of British national Neil Haywood, a businessman and fixer of sorts for the Bo’s and their ambitious plans for a Western-style education for their son, Bo Guagua.
While it is now impossible for Bo Xilai to hold a spot on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, it is also impossible to quell speculation that his fall is linked more to an internal power struggle centered on a party leadership transition set for later this year than his wife’s suspected involvement in the death of a British businessman. Bo’s life in the People’s Republic of China was very much unlike that of many Chinese, both in terms of privilege and struggle with the PRC government.
The descendant of revolutionary general Bo Yibo, who marched alongside Mao during the “Long March” (长征) from October 1934 until October 1935, Bo Xilai is literally Communist royalty. While Bo Yibo and his wife were purged during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (文化大革命 1966-1971), as were many Chinese, the family was later rehabilitated under Deng Xiaoping when he assumed control in 1978.
This prominence within the party allowed Bo to obtain a Master’s degree in journalism, while most of his peers in the Politburo have engineering and science degrees, and set him on a political career that led him to become the leader of one of China’s fastest-growing and most dynamic cities, Chongqing.
While Bo moved from position to position as administrator of various Chinese municipalities, it was not until he became head of Chongqing that he truly dominated the limelight.
Bo’s crackdown on organized crime, coupled with his revival of Maoist era ‘Red Songs,’ first popular during the Cultural Revolution, drew attention to him both from the people and Beijing. Very much the populist, his public persona was that of the ideal communist while other circles saw him as a renegade and unknown quantity.
His revival of Cultural Revolution-era songs not only scared those leaders who feared a return to the backward days of Maoism, but also shocked those who knew of his family’s own struggles during the Cultural Revolution.
Bo’s detractors call him a ‘princeling,’ one of the privileged members of the Chinese Communist Party who is the descendant of a revolutionary hero. His heavy handed actions with the mafia in Chongqing, carried out under the slogan “Smash black, sing red,” are now seen as naked power grabs and symptoms of a ruthless nature.
In many ways, Bo fashioned his leadership after that of Mao and was reported to have given busts of the Chairman as gifts during his visits to People’s Liberation Army camps. The disintegration of Bo’s power, coupled with revelations of a corrupt and venal inner-circle, are as sensational as they are tragic.
In the aftermath of Neil Haywood’s death a political power struggle has emerged, pitting new China against a reinterpretation of Mao’s China. To the winner, the helm of the people’s revolution and the future course of the Earth’s most populous state.