Tinker, Tailor, Hero, Traitor?

15 02 2012

Nobody’s sure what the truth behind Chongqing gang-buster Wang Lijun’s (王立军) Beijing ‘vacation’ really is. But whatever the case, it is bad news for Bo Xilai’s (薄熙来) Politburo prospects.

The microblog rumour mill has been in overdrive for the last week, with the intriguing tale of Wang Lijun, former superstar police chief under Chongqing Party boss/professional self-promoter Bo Xilai. Wang took refuge in a US consulate, before being whisked off to Beijing amidst a scuffle between Sichuan police and central authorities. For a good overview of the story so far, see the China Digital Times’ coverage here.

While I enjoy a good scandal as much as the next person, with so little known I am choosing instead to focus on the wider political ramifications of the event. Crucially, this has been a huge loss of face for the populist Bo Xilai, who had hoped to ascend to the shining ranks of the Politburo Standing Committee at this autumn’s Party Congress. Ming Pao 明报 commentator Sun Ka-yip (孫嘉業, pinyin: Sun Jiaye) links Bo Xilai’s woes with recent attacks on Hong Kong Chief Executive hopeful C Y Leung (梁振英, pinyin: Liang Zhenying). In the following article, he interprets both cases as a Party backlash against those who dare to seek promotion based on popular support, rather than (presumably) inner-Party bootlicking. If correct, this offers an interesting insight into how much the CCP values ‘the will of the people’ (民意 minyi): in ascending the ranks, subservience to the Party centre still comes first, popularity a poor second.

CY Leung and Bo Xilai’s Political Troubles (Ming Pao, 14/02/2012)

“CY Leung and Bo Xilai, one a Hong Kong political figure, the other a senior CCP official; one from Shandong, the other Shanxi; CY is year of the Horse, Bo Xilai is year of the Ox. You could say that “the horse and the cow in heat do not look at each other” [风马牛不相及feng ma niu bu xiang ji, i.e. they have nothing in common]; yet the two men do have many similarities. Both are part of the establishment, yet their actions seem to be somewhat at odds with standard establishment behaviour. This year is a key year for both men, but both are currently encountering political difficulties…

C Y Leung broke with the establishment norm of putting forward just one candidate for the Chief Executive election [sic], and deviated from the … [norm] of focusing on winning over the election committee, going instead for the grassroots vote, … raising eyebrows among many businesspeople and government officials, until at last the government revealed a decade-old issue involving integrity in judging a competition in West Kowloon, and his response is looking weak.

When Bo Xilai was sent to take over Chongqing four years ago, it was thought that he had been removed from the centre of power and marginalised, but he surprised us by refusing to be packed off. On the contrary, he went against the iron rule within CCP circles of adopting a low-key, restrained attitude of ‘people should fear fame, as pigs fear fattening’, with his ‘singing red, fighting black’ [唱红打黑 changhong dahei = singing revolutionary ‘red’ songs and fighting the ‘black hand’ of the mafia]. This went on and on, until the ‘Chongqing model’ had attracted a certain popularity in the Mainland, but then suddenly disaster struck, with his beloved general Wang Lijun entering the US consulate. The incident is still playing out, and as for Bo Xilai’s chances of entering the Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th Party Congress, everyone is keenly looking on to see if this cooked duck will be able to fly.

I’m not sure which animal metaphor I enjoyed the most.

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