For Foreign Policy, John Garnaut takes an in-depth look at the thirty-year history between Premier Wen Jiabao, his mentor Hu Yaobang, and former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, which culminated in the recent dramatic dismissal of Bo:
This October, the Communist Party will likely execute a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in which President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen hand over to a new team led by current Vice President Xi Jinping. The majority of leaders will retire from the elite Politburo Standing Committee, and the turnover will extend down through lower tiers of the Communist Party, the government, and the military. Wen hopes his words influence who gets key posts, what ideological course they will set, and how history records his own career.
Wen Jiabao and Bo Xilai have long stood out from their colleagues for their striking capacities to communicate and project their individual personalities and ideologies beyond the otherwise monochromatic party machine. The two most popular members of the Politburo, they are also the most polarizing within China’s political elite. They have much in common, including a belief that the Communist Party consensus that has prevailed for three decades — “opening and reform” coupled with uncompromising political control — is crumbling under the weight of inequality, corruption, and mistrust. But the backgrounds, personalities, and political prescriptions of these two crusaders could not be more different.
Bo has deployed his prodigious charisma and political skills to attack the status quo in favor of a more powerful role for the state. He displayed an extraordinary capacity to mobilize political and financial resources during his four and a half year tenure as the head of the Yangtze River megalopolis of Chongqing. He transfixed the nation by smashing the city’s mafia — together with uncooperative officials, lawyers, and entrepreneurs — and rebuilding a
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