Bo Xilai and The Cultural Revolution

As China’s top leaders decide the fate of disgraced former Chongqing party chief and one-time Politburo Standing Committee hopeful Bo Xilai, and as observers debate his legacy, Chris Buckley looks back to Bo’s childhood and explores how the chaos of the Cultural Revolution may have shaped his rise and fall. From Reuters:

At the start of the Cultural Revolution, the man at the centre of China’s worst political scandal in decades was a student at the Number Four High School in Beijing, an elite cradle for “princelings”, the sons of Communist leaders who had risen to power with Mao.

The school became a crucible for conflicts unleashed with Mao’s call to rebel in the name of his unyielding vision of communism. The era paralyzed the country politically, trigpicturgering social upheaval and economic malaise.

One day in 1967, Bo and two brothers were paraded at the school by an angry group of student “Red Guards”, and accused of resisting the Cultural Revolution just as their father, Vice Premier Bo Yibo, had been toppled along with dozens of Mao’s former comrades and accused of betraying their leader.

Their persecutors twisted their arms behind them and pressed their heads nearly to the ground while pulling back their hair to expose their faces, Duan Ruoshi, a fellow student at the Number Four school, wrote in a memoir published last year.

“Despite the shouts of condemnation from all sides, Bo Yibo’s sons exuded defiance and twisted their bodies in defiance against their oppressors,” Duan wrote in the memoir published by “Remembrance”, an online magazine about the Cultural Revolution.

The ordeal was a lesson for Bo in the capricious currents of Communist Party power, which only a few months before seemed to promise him and other princelings a bright future as inheritors of the Chinese revolution.

The accounts in the report serve as a reminder that Bo has seen his share of turmoil in the past and any jail sentence that might result from the present investigation would not be his first. One retired academic who overheard comments from Bo’s wife’s sister told Buckley that Bo had “been through much worse than this. He’s been through the Cultural Revolution. This is nothing.”

Separately, The Wall Street Journal profiles Chinese Billionaire Xu Ming and details his ties to the Bo family from their time in Dalian, ties which likely led to his detention shortly after Bo’s sacking in March. Xu’s fortunes have risen and fallen along with Bo, a common feature of the grey area between Chinese business and politics:

Many business leaders in China rely on close relationships with party officials, who have sweeping powers to set policy, allocate government contracts, distribute credit from state banks and control the police, media and courts. The business leaders often nurture these relationships with various gifts and favors.

Such relationships rarely are exposed, under a system in which the party forbids public scrutiny of its affairs. Business ties are often hidden through shell companies and offshore vehicles.

The close relationship of a businessman with a political leader “was not anything unique to Bo Xilai,” said Victor Shih, an expert on Chinese politics at Northwestern University. “It happens at every level of government. Find me a Chinese mayor who doesn’t have these special relationships.”

The risk the entrepreneurs run is that when the party does periodically make an example of someone, as it has now with Mr. Bo, the person’s associates and relatives are compromised as well.

See also a report, via CDT, that Bo’s wife has confessed to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.