Scrubbing of Bo’s Legacy Continues as Trial Looms

The campaign to clean up in the aftermath of Bo Xilai’s spectacular fall from power has already seen the reexamination of hundreds of court cases and the removal of former police chief Wang Lijun’s calligraphy from the gates of the Chongqing PSB headquarters. Now, according to Carol Huang at the AFP, it has reached a Dalian museum:

The Dalian Modern Museum once boasted exhibits on the achievements that brought renown to the city and its former mayor Bo Xilai. Not any more, with China’s propaganda machine dismantling Bo’s reputation as his trial approaches.

Any references to the one-time political star at the $24 million museum have disappeared, along with once-prominent displays showcasing signature features of Dalian, which Bo is credited with transforming in the 1990s.

[…] Although some locals still remember him fondly, the makeover is emblematic of the way the ruling Communist Party is scrubbing away the vestiges of the disgraced politician, whose trial on bribery and other charges is scheduled this month. [Source]

Among the former exhibits was a display on the attractive young policewomen on horseback who appeared during Bo’s tenure, whom Tong Lam at the Los Angeles Review of Books identified as part of a “cute policing” trend “of masking the ever penetrating state power with softer and more benign images.” Huang notes that while this police unit outlasted Bo’s time as mayor, there have been recent calls for its abolition. A similar cohort of female police was recruited in Chongqing under Bo’s rule, but they too have since suffered a backlash. At France24 last week, Lu Haitao reported that 30 of the policewomen were beaten and arrested after protesting the decision not to renew their contracts:

The female officers began their protests inside a high school. Chongqing’s police chief ordered the school be sealed-off, but the women managed to get out and regrouped outside the Communist Party’s local headquarters, where they blocked the road and stopped traffic. According to several witness accounts, police officers slapped and hit the women with truncheons, before arresting them and taking them to the police station. They also confiscated the protesters’ phones, preventing them from taking and distributing photos of the incident.

The women were detained over Wednesday night and, according to one of their colleagues, are currently under house arrest in police dormitories. They are forbidden from communicating via social networks.

In June 2011, the former police chief, Wang Lijun, who received a 15-year prison sentence for his involvement in the Bo Xilai scandal, hired 150 female police officers responsible for traffic control and street patrols. They were handpicked from 1,700 hopefuls. Following four months of training, they received formal police uniforms and equipment, and headed out on their first patrols. At the time, the media praised the women, deeming them positive symbols for the city. [Source]

While the steady erasure of his legacy has been drawn out, Bo’s impending trial is expected to be swift, according to The Guardian’s Tania Branigan, its progress greased by careful planning.

“In Bo’s case, a not guilty verdict is completely out of the realm of possibility,” said Margaret Lewis, an expert on Chinese criminal law at Seton Hall University.

[…] Legal experts say 99% of Chinese cases end in conviction and trials routinely focus on appropriate punishment rather than guilt or innocence. While procedure will be followed carefully, the sensitivity of Bo’s case means sentencing will have been decided in advance at the highest levels, scholars and diplomats say.

“It’s mainly a political process,” said Cheng Li, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution. “The leadership cannot afford this case to be out of control. It’s only a show.”

[…] After such a long wait, said Li, the trial was likely to be an anticlimax. But he said there remained a very faint possibility of the scripted process going awry. Despite the careful arrangements, one factor cannot be completely controlled: the defendant. [Source]

If Bo himself remains a potentially rogue element, the authorities are determined to ensure that he is alone in this: journalist Song Yangbiao was arrested on Monday after calling on fellow supporters to gatecrash the trial and free the accused. At The Diplomat, Mu Chunshan explores the reasons for Bo’s enduring popularity and the continued insistence of a few that the charges against him are “ridiculous.”

I have a friend who is a reporter in Chongqing. He notes that a lot of people there accept that Bo may have been corrupt, but then ask: “Isn’t all of officialdom?” In other words, they do not see corruption as the real reason for his arrest. Before he was apprehended, Bo was already a member of the Central Committee, and one of the 25 most powerful figures in China. If not for serious political differences, it is difficult to imagine that colleagues who had met and joked with him would be so determined to throw him into prison.

It’s not just in Chongqing either. In the coastal city of Dalian, where Bo spent the largest part of his working career, many people think the coming judgment is already preordained. A former classmate in Dalian even told me people are concerned about the city’s future with Bo gone. Dalian residents take delight in talking about the old picture of Bo with a football team in the city celebrating a victory. Under Bo’s governance, Dalian became a “soccer city,” and that is still its calling card even now.

Why are so many Chinese people still so fond of Bo, all the allegations notwithstanding? It’s an intriguing question. The answer has three parts [….] [Source]

At Bloomberg, Minxin Pei looks back to a time when Bo’s admirers seemed to include Beijing’s highest elites, and argues that “the Bo Xilai affair has exploded several important myths about one-party rule in China” and the supposed orderly meritocracy that governs it.

Among these myths, the most alluring and widespread is the idea that the post-Mao leadership has perfected a system of managing internal conflict and maintaining elite unity. Proponents of this idea, dubbed “authoritarian resilience,” argue that China’s leaders have bypassed the need for democracy. Instead, they employ devices such as term limits, a regular rotation of appointments, systematic screening and mandatory retirement as effective means of divvying up power among competing groups and individuals.

On paper, these arrangements seem flawless. But in practice, they can be gamed, and the competition for power inside an opaque regime that resists binding, well-acknowledged rules can be especially fierce. As Bo’s case shows, in such a system, the greater the prize, the more ruthless the fight. Winners prevail not because of their merits, but because of their ability to cobble together a more powerful coalition.

[…] Despite the image of a consensus-driven leadership, there is simply no political loyalty at the top — just as in the bad old days of Mao’s rule. When Bo was riding high between 2009 and 2011, practically all the senior Chinese leaders — except for Hu Jintao, then the general secretary of the party — visited Chongqing to endorse Bo’s neo-Maoist model of development. But once Bo’s political prospects were doomed by his police chief’s attempted defection to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, these supposed friends and allies instantly turned against him. [Source]

Jeffrey Wasserstrom also wrote recently that Bo’s downfall, like the death of fruit vendor Deng Zhengjia, undermines the Party’s narratives about its place in history and relationship with the people. But as The Economist explains and CDT described last month, Beijing remains intent on turning Bo’s story to good use:

IT IS hard not to admire the chutzpah. The Chinese Communist Party is trying to turn the worst embarrassment it has suffered in recent years into an advertisement for its virtues. The imminent trial of Bo Xilai, a high-flying politician who was disgraced in March last year, is being trumpeted as, in the words of China Daily, an official paper, “reassuring proof that the leadership’s tough stance on corruption is by no means empty talk”. The paper goes so far as to claim that Mr Bo’s indictment is a “credible demonstration that all people in China are equal in front of the law”. More accurately, it is just the latest evidence that some are more equal than others in front of a legal system that does the party’s bidding. Mr Bo is paying the price not for his undoubted crimes, but for having come off worse in a factional struggle.

Presenting his case as a landmark in the struggle against corruption, however, serves at least three main purposes. An anti-graft campaign has been the most popular policy of the regime led by Xi Jinping, who took over as party leader last November and as China’s president in March. Bans on lavish banquets and the building of ostentatious palaces for offices do something to appease a public seething at the arrogant flaunting of ill-gotten official wealth. Better still to show that the drive can net a man of Mr Bo’s former stature: son of one of the party’s “immortal” revolutionary heroes; Politburo member; and leader of the provincial-level municipality of Chongqing. It helps the party claim, as Mr Xi and others like to say, that high-ranking “tigers” as well as humble “flies” are in the new leaders’ sights. [Source]

A likely lynchpin of the corruption charges against Bo emerged this week in the form of his alleged and thickly veiled ownership of a $3.5 million villa in Cannes. From Edward Wong, Jonathan Ansfield and Scott Sayare at The New York Times:

Officials intend to present the villa as evidence of significant bribetaking in a coming criminal trial that is expected to signify the end of Mr. Bo’s political career, according to three people with ties to the Bo family. Mr. Bo’s downfall began when accusations emerged that his wife had murdered Mr. Heywood in 2011. The trial of Mr. Bo, who is facing three criminal charges, is expected to begin within weeks or days.

[…] The most serious charge against Mr. Bo, 64, is that of taking bribes worth more than $3.5 million, mainly from a young billionaire, Xu Ming, who was listed by Forbes in 2005 as China’s eighth-richest person. The charge rests largely on the villa, which the Chinese authorities allege was bought by Mr. Xu and given to the Bo family, according to the three people with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate politics of the trial. [Source]