The nature of CCP purges
It is interesting that the media writes about numerous reasons former Chongqing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) is at the center of the latest purge of the CCP. One thing seems to be very apparent: The last time a significant internal purge happened in the CCP (excluding the results of 1987) was in the 1970s.
Why did the 1970s purge happen? Because of the political vacuum formed by the death of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and his disastrous policies, in which power was consolidated under Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平). During this consolidation, competing interests were purged for the sake of “China.” Once consolidated, Deng set China’s political course. The interesting thing is how far into the future he set it.
Deng basically chose who was going to run China right up until Chinese Premier Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Notice the similarity? The purge in the 1970s brought Deng to power. His political and economic policies resulted in him becoming a sort of deity within the CCP.
Now, we have Hu leaving this year and taking his place is [expected to be] Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平). This has resulted in Deng’s “children” trying to find their own way in the world and Xi is the proverbial flag flapping in the wind, which they are trying to keep upright. It is highly likely that Xi will fall.
However, if the party cannot manage the political-economic environment in an effective way, we may see a rise in the influence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the CCP as tensions with China’s neighbors increase. Deng seemed to not be quite as admired by the PLA as he was by his party.
The purge of the past year marks the exit of the ghost of Deng. The result is a power vacuum that has muddied the political waters just as Mao’s exit did. Deng, like Mao, could not control politics beyond his corporeal limits. His arm reached only as far as Hu. Deng’s status ensured that no one dared challenge his “pious” proclamations — tantamount to a “will” — even posthumously. However, Xi was not appointed by Deng and so there is opportunity for strong ambitions, which Bo probably tried to take advantage of.
Bo is likely getting punished because he saw that a significant amount of the power was up for grabs. There are significant reasons this could be true: First, Deng only set the big picture until Hu; second, the CCP is not really communist anymore, as the market has become “god,” and finally, the unintended consequences of Deng’s reforms have made the world a much less certain place for decisionmakers within the CCP.
The result is that there is no clear heavenly sanctioned political roadmap in place within the party at the moment. Deng is less real than he once was. He is now more myth and legend, although his apostles still live. His stabilizing presence is weakening and there is likely less trust among China’s important actors. Will we be seeing the search for a new deity made in the image of Deng?
Stability is the mantra of the CCP. There is likely a real need for a stable roadmap within the leadership as there are no public mechanisms to decide China’s future leaders. There are only closed doors. The result is likely a purge that goes far beyond this year and Bo’s immediate circle.
To understand Bo’s actions, we need to recognize that they are the result of the CCP using Deng’s legacy as a crutch, of communist ideology being at a crossroads and, more importantly, of him not recognizing that political ambitions are never best served when action is unrestrained — something the justice system seems to be structured to facilitate rather than constrain.