Tumult in the Year of the Dragon?

Emory University’s Tonio Andrade writes that while China has seen a period of relative political stability over the last several decades, the recent downfall of Bo Xilai and the subsequent coup rumors that flooded the web may signal a broader factional struggle that could threaten the Chinese regime as we know it . From The Diplomat:

Now it seems possible that the party that has enabled that peace and prosperity may be in danger. The trouble started with the sudden dismissal of rising star politician on March 15. As has been previously noted in The Diplomat, he was the charismatic party chief of ; telegenic, ambitious, and connected. He had been viewed by many as a shoe-in for a seat on the nine-strong Standing Committee, the highest ruling body in China. His removal from power was a rare public humiliation.

His ouster seems to have set off a larger factional struggle. Precisely what is happening is impossible to say for sure, but according to Chinese microblog reports, which have since been removed, the conflict appears to involve two factions. On the one hand is the current leadership, those who ousted Bo Xilai and who have since spoken out against him. They are a group of pro-modernizing high officials who have held important positions in the Politburo for decades, including Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao. On the other is a much less clear coalition of a nationalistic bent, which appears to include generals in the People’s Liberation Army as well as officials close to the Minister of Public Security, Zhou Yongkang.

If a faction that supports Bo does manage to seize leadership, the implications are profound, because Bo represents worrisome trends. He was a partisan and chief architect of a neo-Maoist ideology, and he proclaimed publicly that the party should return to the values of Maoism. It was, indeed, Bo’s espousal of this ideology that worried party officials enough to have him ousted.

Ever since Deng rejected Maoism for pragmatic policies of economic and technological growth, the moderate, modernizing strand of party ideology has held the upper hand. A pro-Bo coup could signal the end of the China we’ve known for the past thirty years, namely the more open, engaged, market-oriented, modernizing China.

The dominos have continued to fall this week, first on Monday with the news that the UK had asked China to open an investigation into the mysterious death last year of a British businessman who may have had ties to Bo’s family. Today, state media reported that the city will scale back the “Daily Red Songs” television program that Bo implemented to stir up “red culture” in the city, and the Communist Party removed a senior official and standing member of Chongqing’s party committee.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports on the “disturbing details” that have emerged about the anti-crime initiative that defined Bo’s tenure as party chief of Chongqing. Stories from the crackdown, such as a scathing account published in The Financial Times at the outset of this month’s National People’s Congress, paint a Cultural Revolution-like portrait of state security and violent justice:

Since Mr. Bo was fired last month after a scandal involving his police chief, a starkly different picture of his sweeping campaign to break up organized gangs — called da hei, or smash black — is coming into focus. Once hailed as a pioneering effort to wipe out , critics now say it depicts a security apparatus run amok: framing victims, extracting confessions through torture, extorting business empires and visiting retribution on the political rivals of Mr. Bo and his friends while protecting those with better connections.

“Even by Chinese Communist Party standards, this is unacceptable,” said Cheng Li, an analyst of the Chinese leadership at the Brookings Institution. “This is red terror.”



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