Bo Xilai and the Networks of Corruption in Chongqing

For the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut tells the tale of the inner workings of Chongqing politics, where Bo Xilai, the Communist Party boss, has launched a high-profile crackdown on corruption but failed to eradicate gangster activity among some powerful people close to him, including Weng Zhenjie, member of the standing committee of the municipality’s NPC, who was accused of corruption by a fellow NPC delegate:

”This is the most brutal battle in Chongqing’s business community since liberation,” says a manager at one of Chongqing’s largest and well-connected private companies, who knows both protagonists well.

This, after all, is the thriving Yangtze River metropolis where China’s only maverick leader, Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, has gained nationwide acclaim by reclaiming the streets from the city’s mafia. Bo has thrown thousands of lesser ”black society” gangsters and their Communist Party protectors in jail and executed several, including the vice-president of the Supreme Court.

As well as ”striking black”, Bo Xilai has been “singing red” by leading his city in rousing cultural revolution songs. He has launched an ambitious ”red GDP” campaign to strengthen state ownership, build public housing and accelerate China’s (already breakneck) urbanisation by coaxing and pushing peasants off their land.

And yet, throughout it all, Weng Zhenjie has managed to grow bigger.

The ascendencies of big brother Weng and comrade Bo reveal the alchemy of power in China today and a signal as to where the country may be heading. Both men have spun astonishingly complex webs of loyalty and patronage through the Communist Party and its red-blood aristocracy. They have exploited every lever at their disposal and chosen their targets carefully.

The article goes on to detail Bo Xilai’s family’s tragic history with the Communist Party, which he appears to have overlooked in order to curry favor for his own political career:

Foreign business and political leaders tend to be struck by Bo Xilai’s charm and political acuity or surprised by his reluctance to read briefing notes, in a country where officials routinely memorise their lines. But even those who closely followed Bo’s mercurial career have been rendered speechless by the audacity of his tack towards the Maoist left.

Bo spent much of the Cultural Revolution in jail with his family. His father was mercilessly beaten. His mother committed ”suicide”, to use the official term, frequently a euphemism for murder.

Suicides, like party verdicts, were tantamount to proof of guilt. If the victims were really innocent they would not have killed themselves, as the logic goes, or the party would not have shot them.

In a strange but potentially important twist of modern Chinese history, Bo Xilai has not only imbued his policies and style with a Maoist red but also forged a personal alliance with Mao family members, including those at the front of the Red Guard movement that caused his mother’s death.

Read more about Bo Xilai and the crackdown on corruption in Chongqing, via CDT.


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