The Guangdong Model

The Economist describes Guangdong Party chief Wang Yang’s comparatively liberal approach to government, and the contrast and contest between it and Bo Xilai’s more traditionalist “Chongqing Model”.

Guangdong has long been the most vibrant and economically liberal province in China. Now the idea that economic liberalism might be matched by greater political openness has come to be called the “Guangdong model”. A prominent supporter is Xiao Bin of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, the provincial capital. On the blackboard, he draws a picture of an egg. He makes chalk marks on the white to show how changes can be made in the way the party rules, while leaving the yolk—for which read a Communist Party monopoly on power—unmarked ….

Fans of the model fiercely defend it against advocates of its rival promoted by the party chief of Chongqing deep inland, Bo Xilai, who has a flair for publicity. Both Mr Wang and Mr Bo may join the Politburo’s standing committee next year, when seven of nine members, including President Hu Jintao and the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, will step down. Mr Bo trumpets the importance of state-owned enterprises, traditional socialist values and the inspirational power of Mao-era songs—while getting tough on organised crime. Maoist websites lionise Mr Bo; the Chongqing model is held up in shining contrast to that of Guangdong and its “capitalist roaders”.

John Pomfret at Reuters noted a relatively gentle official response to riots in Guangdong’s Wukan village in September: see Velvet Glove Trumps Iron Fist in South China Land Riot, via CDT.

For more on the battle between the Guangdong and Chongqing Models, see Cake Theory: Ideological Divisions and the Future of the CCP and CCP Divisions Intensify as Leadership Shuffle Approaches, also via CDT. The Jamestown Foundation’s Yawei Liu recently gave an account of the summer’s “war of words” between Wang and Bo, and welcomed the vigorous discussion that accompanied it:

Bo Xilai’s unprecedented politicking and Wang Yang’s open counteroffensive have established new political dynamic in China, and revealed fractures beneath the surface. It is unclear and may be too early to say if Bo Xilai and Wang Yang represent two interest groups or political forces in China, but it would appear that Chinese scholars and social commentators are lining up behind one or the other (Li Cheng, “China’s Team of Rivals,” Foreign Policy, March 1, 2009). People with more liberal ideas are supporting Wang Yang and those who identify with the “New Left” and Maoists are vociferous in their support of Bo. The public emergence of such factions representing different interests of the society—rather than different ideological leanings—may prove a good development for the future of China’s politics.

For China watchers, it is exhilarating to see what usually happens behind the high walls of Zhongnanhai come out in the open. Every developing and developed nation has to balance development with social justice, and China is no exception. To have vigorous debate among decision makers on this issue is necessary and to take it to the people in the style of a political campaign is a must in any open society. Bo Xilai and Wang Yang deserve credit for taking their policy differences seriously and appealing to the people for support.


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