The Rise and Fall of Bo Xilai

Solid article by Jamil Aderlini on the rise and fall of both Bo Xilai as well as his father Bo Yibo in today’s Financial Times.  It’s been fascinating to follow this case; and it’ll be interesting to see how it finishes.  There was initially quite a lot of dramatic reporting about its implications for the upcoming leadership transition, but this article’s current assessment is that the transition is currently back on track:

Given Bo’s enormous popularity among ordinary people, an unconvincing official account backed by threadbare evidence could lead many Chinese to assume the entire affair was a stitch-up and Bo was the victim of political infighting. On the other hand, if the case against him is presented too fully, with gory details of corruption, murder and plots, then the public may question how someone so craven and deranged could rise to the top of the political system, and scrutiny may turn to other senior leaders. For now, the once-in-a-decade leadership transition scheduled for October or November appears to be back on track. Some analysts are even saying that without Bo’s destabilising presence, a more harmonious and effective leadership will emerge.

The extreme swings in the careers of political leaders that China’s system produces is quite astonishing.

His father during the cultural revolution…

Bo Yibo was sent to prison, where he endured torture at the hands of his fanatical captors, while Bo Xilai’s mother, Hu Ming, killed herself or was murdered while a captive of Red Guards, according to differing accounts.

But after the death of Mao…

His father was the revolutionary Red Army commander Bo Yibo, one of the all-powerful party elders, known as the “eight immortals”, who controlled Chinese politics from behind the scenes throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

And Bo Xilai during the cultural revolution…

The chaotic tide soon turned against their children and Bo Xilai was thrown into prison at the age of 17. He spent nearly five years in jail and in Camp 789, a labour camp for children of disgraced senior officials.

In the 1990s…

[I]n 1993 Bo Xilai was named mayor of Dalian, thanks in part to lobbying by his father, who by this stage had taken a keen interest in promoting his son’s political career.

But his father’s death in 2003 set him back…

By most accounts, Bo was one of the people considered at the 17th Communist party congress in 2007 for advancement to the nine-member politburo standing committee, which in effect rules China, and he had his sights set on being named at least a vice-premier at that time. But his father’s death in January that year reduced his political clout, and staunch opposition from many serving and retired officials, including Premier Wen Jiabao, ultimately ruined his chances. Bo was sent out to the provinces – to the steamy south-western metropolis of Chongqing on the banks of the Yangtze River.

And before the Heywood case he was tipped to join the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee…

The death of an obscure British consultant had brought down one of China’s most powerful politicians, a man who had been favoured to ascend to the ruling nine-member Communist party politburo standing committee at a once-in-a-decade power transition later this autumn.

Of course individuals rise and fall in democratic systems (the recent Republican primary!), but the swings are certainly not as extreme and the processes driving the swings are very different.

The full article is available here: Bo Xilai: Power, Death and Politics.

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