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New Chinese Crackdown on… Communists

In his nationally televised farewell address last week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged his country to safeguard its tremendous economic gains by adopting a more liberal political structure. Failure to do so, warned Wen, could cause the country to descend into the chaos of another Cultural Revolution. The next day, in timing that was almost certainly not a coincidence, Bo Xilai—a popular Communist Party chief from the province of Chongqing—was sacked. Bo had accumulated significant influence in recent years, and he was widely believed to be angling for a seat on the powerful nine-member Politburo Standing Committee. He advocated for a return to Maoist principles, appropriating many of its slogans and symbols, to the extent that Chongqing came to be viewed as the “epicenter of a Maoist revival”, in the words of the LA Times.

The sacking of Bo appears to be the beginning, not the end, of an orchestrated campaign to dilute his message. The LA Times also reported a widespread crackdown on China’s leftists:

Maoist websites have been shut down, ostensibly for “maintenance.” A public park in Chongqing where retirees sang and twirled to patriotic anthems while waving red flags posted a notice saying the music was now banned because it disturbed the neighborhood. A former television host, known for his Maoist views, found his scheduled speeches abruptly canceled.

Chinese officials are clearly concerned. But the question is: concerned about what, exactly? It’s hard to tell if the agita is a result of Bo’s very public campaign for power (a novel phenomenon in China), or his Maoist policies. As with most political maneuverings in China, it may be some time before we know the answer. 

Bo was as big a threat as he became to the Chinese ruling elite precisely because he stood for something. Today’s Chinese Communist Party is united within by its determination to hold onto power and the perks that come with it; it justifies itself to the public at large by pointing to rising prosperity and nationalist pride. Bo understood that people grow weary of this kind of governance, even when it works, and look for more from their governments: more ideological or religious fervor, more engagement, more drama.

Bo reached for a particularly dangerous and destructive type of politics: Wen was not wrong to remind his listeners of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. And his ambitions seem ultimately to be personal — Bo does not seem like the type to be contented with the kind of faceless, distributed power with which the Party has sought to prevent anyone assembling the kind of unlimited personal power that Mao once had.

Nevertheless, Bo was the first Chinese political leader in some time to reach out beyond the technocratic authoritarianism that currently dominates official politics and he showed that even in China genuinely political messages, however flawed, speak to the body politic in ways official ideology cannot. There is a hole in the heart of China’s political system; Bo tried to exploit it.

Now China wants to stamp out the fires Bo lit; good luck, but it is in the nature of human beings to burn.

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  • Douglas

    Why did the Party leadership turn against Bo? We still can only speculate, but one answer might lie in his attempts to exercise military power outside of Chonqing: “Bo, then the Chongqing Party secretary, tried to prevent Wang from getting away by ordering hundreds of his armed security troops to cross into neighboring Sichuan province to surround the Chengdu consulate.” If this report is accurate, Bo committed two sins: he almost created an international incident involving a US consulate, and he threatened Beijing’s monopoly on armed force. The unification of China and the elimination of competing armed local warlords is the Party’s primary claim to fame – and permitting regional chieftains with private armies to re-emerge would be a huge step backward. Even worse would be the risk that Bo might mount an armed coup, a risk that can’t be discounted if he was prepared to send armed forces into a neighboring province.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Now China wants to stamp out the fires Bo lit; good luck, but it is in the nature of human beings to burn.”
    I have to agree, the Chinese political situation is schizophrenic, with Communists in charge of a Capitalist economy. I can’t imagine this condition being resolved in a peaceful way, and I expect a large amount of blood to be spilled as a Capitalist middle class demands a say in the running of the country. In China the youngest generation has been preselected for males, and there are 15% more men coming of age in China than women, and men are far more prone to violence than women.

  • Lest we forget, China is still a totalitarian society:

    “You, as a foreigner, can live here and learn to use chopsticks and learn Chinese perfectly but you might not know how Chinese people think, especially in sensitive areas. If you ask ordinary people about a sensitive thing, how they react is different than how you’ll react. It’s hard for you to imagine their sense of fear. You might be expelled but it’s not like being here. The system of language has to be analyzed. The CCP created a parallel language system (of untruth) that is on an equal basis with the language of truth. You have to analyze what it’s like to grow up in this kind of an unfree country. This is the only way to really know this country.”

  • New Lawyers Forced to Pledge Allegiance to Communist Party:

    “I volunteer to become a practicing lawyer of the People’s Republic of China and promise to faithfully perform the sacred duties of a socialist-with-Chinese-characteristics legal worker; to be faithful to the motherland and the people; to uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system; to safeguard the dignity of the constitution and the law; to practice on behalf of the people; to be diligent, professional honest, and corruption-free; to protect the legitimate rights and interests of clients, the correct implementation of the law, and social fairness and justice; and diligently strive for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics!”

  • ‘Medical barbarity,’ Chinese Organ Harvesting, & The Lancet:

    “In an interview with the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television, he said “I haven’t read anything like that since looking at Japanese war crime experiments in the 1940s or German war crime experiments in the 1940s, experimentation for the purpose of trying to understand how to get living people maximally to give organs. ”

  • Naiveté?

    “*The U.S. respected and welcomed China’s rise, but expected that it would be consistent with international rules and norms, and would not destabilize the region;”

  • A FORMER OBAMA administration official deeply involved in the U.S.’s China policy over the last several years:

    On the question of China’s political evolution, Mr. Bader laughed and said that he had not been asked to vote about the matter in the Central Committee. This was slightly amusing, though we all know of course that the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee would never hold a vote about whether to dissolve Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee. He emphasized the priority of dealing with China on global and strategic issues, and said the United States was “distinctly limited” and unwelcome in deciding the political future of the Chinese people.

    It’s an “interesting intellectual argument,” he said, but has never been, and in his view, is unlikely to be in the future, “a real argument.”

    But the key is in the way he discounted U.S. meddling: because it would be attempting to decide the political future of the Chinese people. This seems to presuppose that the Chinese people at the moment have any say about their political future. They do not, under the present institutional arrangements. Of course, they would if there was a vibrant democracy movement, open discussions of the reality of a post-CCP China, or U.S. public statements to the effect that China must at some time turn a new leaf and shed its Leninist encumbrances.

    Perhaps the President’s next China advisor will bring that little idea up?

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