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Bo Xilai’s Ouster: Implications for the Country

March 20, 2012

18th Party Congress Watch (6)

Gao Wenqian, HRIC Senior Policy Advisor

The annual Two Sessions of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference had only just ended when the removal of Bo Xilai from his post as Chongqing Municipal Party Secretary was announced. The carefully worded official report stated that Bo had not been “dismissed” but, rather, would “no longer serve” as Party Secretary, and referred to him as “comrade.” But one can say that Bo’s political career is over, and it is probably just a matter of time before he is stripped of his position as Politburo member.

It was just a short while ago that Bo was a mover and shaker in the Party. But now it appears that he has been reduced to living under residential surveillance in Beijing, unable to go home to Chongqing. Bo has essentially become the first casualty of Article 73 of the new Criminal Procedure Law. One cannot help but lament this historical irony.

In Premier Wen Jiabao’s speech at the March 14 press conference at the end of the Two Sessions, one sensed that he and President Hu Jintao had drawn their swords against Bo. Responding to a question on the Wang Lijun incident, Wen specifically referenced the Resolution on Certain Questions of Our Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China that condemned the Cultural Revolution[1] and affirmed the Reform and Opening Up Policy set during the Third Plenary Session of the CPC 11th Central Committee in 1978. This reference implied that Bo had violated the Party’s guiding principles and had gone off on his own. For a senior Party cadre, this was a very serious charge.

At first, how to handle Bo Xilai was a thorny matter for Hu and Wen, as it would affect the precarious balance between the princelings and Youth League factions before the power transition in the upcoming 18th Party congress. Further, Bo was an admired leader among the leftists and enjoyed popular support. Mishandling him could upset the political arrangement before the power transition. But Bo’s high-profile performance during the Two Sessions—frequenting the upper echelon of the Party and trying to influence the central leadership in its handling of the Wang Lijun incident—finally forced Hu and Wen to make their move against him.

Bo Xilai's departure ended the battle in recent years between the Chongqing Model and Guangdong Model.[2] China's current party-state system is a pyramid structure with the head of Deng Xiaoping and the body of Mao Zedong. At the top is Deng Xiaoping’s governing strategy of “grasping firmly with both hands”—i.e., promoting economic reform and stabilizing the political situation—which guides official ideology. At the bottom is the one-party system established by Mao Zedong. Over the years, Deng's one-legged reform has resulted in great disparity between the rich and poor and serious social injustice.

Essentially, the Guangdong Model is a continuation of Deng's ideas for governing the country, whereas the Chongqing Model is a rectification of Deng's reform policy, which to a certain extent rubs against the interests of the power elite. By virtue of its power, the elite has benefited enormously from Deng’s reform policy. But it rejects any further reforms and, at the same time, does not want a throwback to the Mao Era—it only wants to preserve its vested interests. This is why the power elite feels threatened by Bo Xilai and the leftists in the Party. In recent years, the authorities have been completely held ransom by this enormous power elite and rendered immobile, unable to initiate any type of reform.

In short, the future for Chinese politics following Bo’s removal from power is not very optimistic. Although Bo’s ouster has created a rift in a party that had abidingly held together in the aftermath of the 1989 June Fourth crackdown, what is worrisome is that it could mean a return to a stagnant state. One can see the latter in the recent actions of Hu and Wen.

In order to protect their current policies, the authorities have made a two-pronged attack: on their left, they brandished the big stick of Article 73 in the amended Criminal Procedure Law, to cower the masses and suppress their demands for freedom and democracy; and on their right, they blocked the path to a revival of the Cultural Revolution, and forced a number of leftist websites to close so as to keep them from using the ideological high ground to challenge the authorities. To quote Hu Jintao, this two-pronged attack means “steadfastly taking the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and not the closed and rigid old path or the wrong path that will change the country’s one-party system.”[3] The path of the so-called Chinese characteristics is clearly to maintain the status quo of the fixed policy and protect the interests of the power elite. This is the biggest worry facing the country.


[1] The Resolution was adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in June 1981.

[2] The three key elements of the Chongqing Model are:  undertake work projects for the people, praise China’s revolutionary past, and crack down on crime. The Guangdong Model stands for promoting political reform at the same time as economic reform.

[3] From Hu Jintao’s speech at the Meeting Marking the 30th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Up, December 18, 2008. For the official English translation, see:

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