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The dismissal of Bo Xilai

By Hsin-Yi Lo - posted Thursday, 12 April 2012


The controversial and popular Chinese politician Bo Xilai was removed from his post as Chongqing Committee Secretary after the Wang Lijun incident. This occurred when Bo's lieutenant, Wang Lijun, submitted documents to the United States Consulate in Chengdu which claimed to hold evidence of Bo's involvement in corruption. The dismissal was sudden and it made headlines around the world, due to Bo's rise to fame. Bo's discharge is perhaps welcomed by certain people around the world but his dismissal proves a loss to the Chinese Government and Politburo because Bo has been the man who has been endeavouring to remind the people of China about their culture and social equality in the midst of growing aspects of capitalism and consumerism in China. Also, his dismissal makes us wonder about China's future political directions.

Bo Xilai is the son of Bo Yibo, one of the Eight Great Eminent Officials of the Communist Party, and is part of the 'princeling' faction. He was the Mayor of the Chinese northern port of Dalian and Governor of the Liaoning Province. For his efforts and reforms, he was promoted to serve as Minister for Commerce in 2004. From 2007-2012, Bo served as the Chongqing Committee Secretary and also a member to the Politburo of the Communist Party.

As a 'princeling', which makes him the red second generation, Bo was known for his Red Culture movements and New Leftist ideas. He raised awareness of the unequal distribution of wealth in Chinese cities and urged the government to recognise the issue of the existing wealth gap in Chinese society. He was very radical about reviving the Red Culture Movement and believed it would urge the people of China not to forget their origins and the struggles and hardships their forefathers endured for their descendants. The Red Culture movement is about bringing out and honouring Chinese values in working together to achieve a common goal and having responsibilities and forbearance in one's work.

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In 2011, Bo issued an initiative in the city of Chongqing to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding Communist Party in China. Celebrations included singing red songs and Bo praised "red songs won public support because they depicted China's path in a simple, sincere and vivid way". Other initiatives included arranging students to work in rural areas and to dress up in Red Army uniforms so students understand the hardships and toils of their ancestors who wanted to make a better future .Some would say these reforms are against the current growth and vision of China.

The current generation of China is experiencing high influx of consumerism and capitalism. For example, reality TV shows such as Fei Cheng Wu Rao (If You Were The One) have taken over in Chinese living rooms. Fei Cheng Wu Rao is a reality dating show that focuses on young couples finding a compatible partner. However, the message conveyed in this show reflects certain aspects of today's young people's attitudes towards relationships. One of the contestants famously quoted "I'd rather cry in a BMW car than laugh on the backseat of a bicycle". Of course, one should not generalise that all people are adopting these attitudes but it is something that cannot be ignored because younger generations growing up in a society that promotes materialism can be directly affected by its messages. Subsequent generations may grow up believing the path to success and satisfaction in life is possessing high end products. Bo's Red Culture Movement is appropriate because it can remind Chinese youths not to forget their culture and roots but to value Chinese morals, visions and working together for common goals.

During Bo's term in Chongqing, he adopted some populist policies and approaches which are widely dubbed as the "Chongqing Model". This included implementing social housing programs, provided residency status to rural migrant workers and emphasised a need for a more balanced distribution of wealth, thus spearheading a number of government programs to assist working class and disadvantaged people. Bo had launched a massive crackdown on organised crime and corruption in Chongqing, targeting the elite and further convincing the people of China that he is a politician who cares about the ordinary people. In 2009, Bo had 2000 corrupt officials, triad members and even Chongqing's police commissioner Wen Qiang arrested. This immediately made Bo more popular.

Chinese politics has always been a deep fascination for the West. It is seen as secretive and unpredictable. Bo's populist vision was to highlight the socialist past of the party while being aware of errors that were committed in the past. The New Left highlights the limited benefits of the economic reforms that have privatised the Chinese economy. For example the New Left emphasises on closing the wealth gap and city and rural income divide. Major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing enjoy the wealth and prosperity while rural areas and other cities such as Gansu, Guizhou and Ningxia do not experience this wealth. Moreover, people living in rural areas do not get to share this affluence. A representative name Li Shun who studies income trends from Beijing Normal University pointed out that people who live in the rural areas earn one third less than city dwellers.

Bo's emphasis on focusing public service and more social equality is widely seen as a strong association with the ideologies of Mao Zedong. At the same time, critics believe Bo is reverting back to authoritarian socialism. Bo's sudden dismissal has caused wide speculations about factional and ideological divisions. For example, Pei Minxin, who is a political analyst from Claremont McKenna College believes that there is a 'rift' inside the Communist Party. As China is still undergoing new phases such as open economy and markets, capitalism and leaders have yet to find the most suited political and economic reforms that would complement today's China. Pei describes that it is now a "sensitive period in China" and leaders do not want disunity within the Party.

Since Deng Xiaoping opened up the economy in the late 1970s after the disastrous Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Government is working towards achieving the so called 'Socialism with Chinese Characteristics' model. From a political viewpoint, China is still far away from its goal.

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Premier Wen Jiabao stated at a leadership platform in 2007, "we are still far away from advancing out of the primary stages of socialism" and "the socialist system is not contradictory to democracy." At the same time, he added, "A highly developed democracy and a complete legal system are inherent requirements of the socialist system and an important benchmark of a mature socialist system". It is too early to determine whether China wants to lean towards a Western style democracy but Bo's and the New Left's political ideology certainly throws a spanner in the works.

Whether or not Bo's dismissal was due to corruption or factional division, we are not certain. But clearly, the dismissal of Bo sets the scene for China's political future. His removal certainly puts a huge question mark about the New Leftist movement's plans. It also makes us wonder about current leaders' stances – would they be moving away from Communist ideologies? At a time when consumerism is starting to show negative effects in Chinese society and with outstanding social inequality issues, it is not appropriate to remove Bo Xiliai from his post. One thing is for sure, this dismissal has given outsiders a closer perspective on Chinese political operations. We need to continue to watch this space.

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About the Author

Hsin-Yi Lo is currently serving as the Project Officer at the National Ethnic & Multicultural Broadcasters' Council and Deakin Golden Key's Communications Officer.

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