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Bo Xilai: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

For China watchers and human rights activists, the continued harassment of Chen Guangcheng’s family members is receiving considerable attention, and rightly so. But of more long term significance may be the latest head to roll in the Bo Xilai aftermath: Zhou Yongkang.

Until recently, Zhou was head of China’s vast domestic security apparatus, responsible for the country’s police, courts, and, ahem, the internal security apparatus. He was a member of the elite nine-man Politburo Standing Committee and was said to be a strong supporter of Bo; before Bo himself was purged there had been widespread speculation that Zhou was lobbying for Bo to replace him when Zhou’s term expired toward the end of the year.

Judging from how Bo ruled Chongqing with an iron fist, it is clear that China may have dodged a bullet — specifically, a bullet in the back of the head, which is how Communist regimes in the past handled pesky opposition figures.

That Zhou has been politically decapitated is significant (and that his ouster has become public knowledge only weeks after the event is noteworthy, too). Zhou was one of many hardliners opposed to any attempts to liberalize the political system, and his removal is another sign the modernizers, led by Premier Wen Jiabao, are gaining ground.

Let’s hope the new leadership can push the Chinese internal security forces to more subtle and less thuggish behavior than has been reported out of Shandong. Even for its own sake, the Communist Party needs to be exploring ways to open space up for discussion and dissent; China badly needs a constitutional order and a political system that is robust and flexible enough to ride out the bumpy road ahead.

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  • Jim.

    So, is this a script for how nice guys win a revolution? Or, is it evidence that the winners here aren’t nice guys?

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “China badly needs a constitutional order and a political system that is robust and flexible enough to ride out the bumpy road ahead.”

    The only political system robust and flexible enough to meet modern challenges is Democracy, as only it can fire the failures in a timely manner, and provide the legitimacy to chart new paths. I see even the so called modernizers in the Chinese Communist Party, as maintaining the status quo, and unwilling to disrupt or cause dislocation to the present systems of patronage and corruption, most of which have taken a lifetime of politics to develop. My view that China is quickly headed for the wall is becoming more and more accepted. I just read another article today that expresses the same view. see link

  • Luke Lea

    “China badly needs a constitutional order. . .”

    Too bad they never had one — ever. In my ongoing China studies I am surprised to learn that “voting” is an absolutely alien concept in Chinese history. As is the concept of an independent judiciary. Or an independent anything for that matter including regional, city, and county government. This is pretty amazing when you consider that China’s nineteen provinces are larger than the largest European countries, most of them. It’s always been from the top down and from the center out in China with no concept of consent, countervailing powers, legislative as distinct from executive functions, etc.. True, the emperor could lose his mandate of heaven but that was only a fancy phrase for violent revolution or foreign conquest.

    Meanwhile corruption is and always has been an accepted part of Chinese society. Today it is so pervasive that, according to Wikipedia, “It is nearly impossible to conduct significant business in China without participating in corruption.” I don’t think we’ve quite realized what we have gotten ourselves into.

    Meanwhile here is a nice story on guanxi in case you don’t know what it is.

  • Luke Lea

    Headline in the Telegraph, three years ago: China corruption trial exposes capital of graft. (At that point Bo was the hero with the white hat who just rode into town to clean up the crooks.)

    Here is what happens in the biggest town in the world when you plant a tree on the wrong side of your neighbor’s property line:

    “”People who do not live here cannot imagine what goes on,” said Liu Liangli, a 35-year-old employee at a state company who had joined the 300-strong crowd calling for justice outside the court house. “The gangs were shooting people down in the city centre in broad daylight or hacking them to death. Their victims could never report the cases to the police for fear of revenge,” he added. One incident saw 100 gangsters attack passengers as they disembarked at the airport in the middle of the day. The police were too stunned to intervene.

    For Mrs Huang, 47, there was no protection on the night when the local gang arrived at her house on the fringes of the city. “We had a dispute with a man named Zhao Wenxue, who said our trees were planted on his land. I refused to move them, and he hit me with a spade,” she said.

    Her husband, Tian Hongmo, knew nothing of the dispute when he returned from work. “He was in the back of the house washing his hands. I was arguing with three people in the front. Then another four people came along, holding machetes and bars. It was dark at the time, and my husband didn’t have the chance to say a word before they slashed him across the back of his skull.

    “I was so terrified I didn’t know what to do. I felt too weak to move. I saw seven people crowded around him, hacking at him. He couldn’t speak, I only heard his broken cries of help. I felt numb in my legs.I opened the door to shout out but my voice broke and was husky and low.” Two other men, outside her house, threatened to mete out a similar fate to any neighbours who tried to fetch help. When the case finally came to trial, none of the neighbours dared to stand witness. One suspect was given a suspended death sentence and released. Another was given a mere six years. The remaining gangsters manager to flee.”

    BTW, it’s estimated that an official’s chance of getting caught is one in thirty. OTH, if you are arrested your chance of being convicted 99% (unless your are really big, in which case you are sent on vacation: that’s the top 1% in China!)

  • Luke Lea

    “his removal is another sign the modernizers, led by Premier Wen Jiabao, are gaining ground.”

    Keep in mind that the Premier is a figure head in China. It’s the chairman of the party who is numero uno.

  • Kris

    Gotta say, I love this line from @4: “One suspect was given a suspended death sentence and released.”

  • Lorenz Gude

    I remember my father explaining to me in the late 40s that China had failed repeatedly to gain a foothold in the modern world because of corruption. If that notion is reasonably accurate, then the post Mao ‘capitalist roaders’ managed something amazing by succeeding spectacularly despite widespread corruption. I also think it is fair to say that the US is highly corrupt and major segments of our society are blind to it. The Tea Party and OWS are the best we can muster for what our Marxist friends used to call ‘the vanguard’ at this sorry juncture.

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