Bo Xilai may be gone from Chongqing, but his legacy and popularity remain very much intact. When Bo was appointed to run the mega-city four years ago, many China watchers (and Bo himself) considered Chongqing a backwater post from which he couldn’t cause too much trouble. But Bo was undeterred, and as he made his mark on Chongqing, this industrial powerhouse of a city began to make its mark on China.Bo devoted his reign to massive infrastructure projects, cracking down on crime, improving the environment and implementing the beginnings of a social safety net. He also had a deft populist touch, on display when he stepped in to resolve a taxi drivers’ strike by reducing the amount of money the drivers paid the taxi company. These accomplishments contributed to what the Washington Post says is a “sense of shock that Bo has been fired and embroiled in scandal.”
“Before Bo came, Chongqing was like a little girl. After Bo, we grew into a young beauty,” said Ding Rui, a 43-year-old tourist-van driver and Chongqing native. In January, Ding, his wife and their daughter moved into a brand-new, government-subsidized, 785-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment—thanks to one of Bo’s pet projects: to build housing for low-income residents.“He made a lot of dramatic changes that ordinary people can feel,” Ding said. “As for the new party secretary, we don’t even know what he looks like.”
In order to prevent a recurrence of Mao’s arbitrary tyranny and one man rule, the Chinese Communist Party since his death has developed a leadership-by-committee style. There are no cults of personality and the family lives of the leadership are kept quiet. The men who govern China aren’t noted for charisma or for reaching out to the common citizen.It is very hard to lead a great nation without charismatic leaders who give ordinary people someone to admire. Bo filled that niche brilliantly. He had a flair for political symbolism and knew how to stir the emotions of citizens. For just that reason, he threatened to accumulate enought power to challenge the current bland and colorless leadership system.A void cannot govern a nation for long, but in a land without an independent judiciary or a settled constitutional structure that limits the power of leaders, it’s hard to contain the ambitions of a charismatic politician. Bo is gone—and gone apparently, though not certainly, for good. But the leadership vacuum in the Chinese political system remains.