China’s political tempest, unleashed early this year with the removal of the Chongqing metropolis’ powerful boss and party leader Bo Xilai (薄熙來), is still causing low-level disturbances which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is trying to contain. There are two elements at play.
The first is how best to deal with Gu Kailai (谷開來), Bo’s wife, without mixing her situation up with that of her husband and his relationship with the CCP. She has already been tried for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood and was given a suspended death sentence. This, in some ways, is more sinister because the issue can be revisited depending on the exigencies of the situation at a given time. She can be forced to sing any song based on the lyrics written by the CCP headquarters, implicating her husband or others.
One of the mitigating circumstances that has saved her life, for the time being at least, is that she said she was mentally unhinged at the time of poisoning Heywood because of her maternal instinct to protect her son, Bo Guagua (薄瓜瓜). Heywood had allegedly threatened to destroy him over a failed real estate deal.
This allegation, however, is dismissed by Heywood’s friends, who say Heywood did everything possible to assist Bo Guagua in his prior move to the UK.
The second issue is how to deal with Bo Xilai, who is believed to have been seeking to create a Cultural Revolution-style frenzy.
Bo Xilai was engaged in a number of campaigns targeting mafia figures, which lead to the arrest and torture of some people.
He had also played on the widening gap between the rich and the poor, using Maoist red banners as his rallying point.
His police chief, Wang Lijun (王立軍), was instrumental in a wide-ranging police crackdown in Chongqing at Bo Xilai’s behest.
Wang later sought asylum in the US consulate in Chengdu and spilled the beans on Gu’s murder of Neil Heywood.
Despite the odious side of Bo Xilai’s tenure, many in Chongqing reportedly still remember his efforts to help poorer citizens.
However, he pushed his political agenda too far in his effort to join the highest ranks of the CCP.
He apparently claimed some support within the secretive system, but this made the party leadership nervous; they felt as if he would subvert the system and tailor it to help his political ambitions.
When Wang sought asylum at the US consulate, it set off a chain of events, which eventually led to Bo Xilai’s downfall. Wang revealed the details of Heywood’s murder as well as other gruesome stories of murder and torture under Bo Xilai’s political dispensation.
These events coincidentally coincided with China’s National People’s Congress, which took place in March.
It was an opportune time for the ruling faction to strip Bo Xilai of his rank and position. Since then, he has disappeared from public view, possibly detained, to face charges as yet to be disclosed.
Gu’s case was given priority in order to remove it from the public gaze. She had been cast as China’s new Lady Macbeth, succeeding Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) wife, Jiang Qing (江青), who was retrospectively persecuted for her role in organizing Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution.
Bo Xilai will probably face a plethora of charges including breaching party discipline and corruption. Expulsion from the party is likely, but will probably only be the tip of the iceberg.
Some believe that Bo Xilai and Gu were framed, as the former threatened to undermine the existing nexus between political and economic power in the current structure.
Indeed, the CCP echelons seem divided over the way the cases should be handled.
The so-called liberals in the CCP suspect that Gu and Bo Xilai might receive lenient treatment because of their lineage, both being the children of revolutionary heroes.
While the Maoists believe that Bo Xilai has been framed and Gu’s murder charge is simply a way to attack him by proxy.
According to Chinese professor Han Deqiang (韓德強), “the group of capitalist roaders [the terminology used against Mao’s enemies in the Cultural Revolution] has brought down the socialist roader,” meaning Bo Xilai.
“This means crisis and turmoil for China,” Han adds.
The attempt to posit Bo Xilai as a kind of popular hero is overdrawn. Bo Xilai and his wife were highly privileged and powerful because of the system in which they operated. Bo Xilai’s actions amounted merely to a political power grab. However, he was outmaneuvered and now he must face the consequences of challenging power in an authoritarian state.
This might not be the last word on the subject. Bo Xilai’s image, as the personification of the Maoist ideal of an equal and revolutionary society, will likely haunt the CCP, and if he is sentenced to purgatory, he might become a martyr figure as the true heir of Mao.
Sushil Seth is a commentator in Australia.