The Bo Xilai saga gripping China is now making waves in London as well. According to Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, the city’s tabloids are exhibiting an unprecedented level of interest in Chinese politics, splashing the story across their front pages:
Of course it is not so much the power struggle at the top of the Communist Party that interests them. Rather it is the salacious details of the case: a murdered old Harrovian in a hotel room in China; hints of a sex scandal; allegations of corruption; a son who went to Balliol College, Oxford and enjoyed parties and fast cars.
He goes on to note that Bo’s ouster has serious ramifications beyond tabloid appeal. Rachman, who is based in London, recounts a dinner he attended with a group of Chinese academics and journalists (a group, Rachman stresses, that is not overly fond of the former Chongqing chief). Although none of the guests were sure of the exact reason for Bo’s expulsion from the party, they did agree that his popularity was real and widespread:
[A]s one man put it to me – “Chongqing is the only Chinese city I’ve ever visited, where all the taxi-drivers loved the guy in charge.” Bo was regarded as somebody who was trying to improve living standards for the poor by providing better social services – and who was cracking down on the rich and the corrupt. Even the famous use of Maoist slogans – which sent shivers down the spine of many Chinese intellectuals – was interpreted as a nod towards a more egalitarian age.
While it is clear Bo was a stark departure from typically publicity-shy top Chinese officials, what most intrigued Rachman’s interlocutors was “whether there was (and is) a broader ideological and power struggle going on within the Communist Party.” Until recently the Chinese government had maintained the appearance of unity. But as the Bo scandal continues to unfold, and as the country moves closer to its once-in-a-decade leadership transition, that facade is crumbling. The coming months should be extremely revealing.