TIME’s Fareed Zakaria reminds China watchers that for all the deserved attention given by the media to escaped blind activist Chen Guangcheng in recent days, the Bo Xilai saga remains “part of a much larger and potentially disruptive trend in China.” In his column for the magazine, Zakaria traces the history of the Chinese Communist Party and examines why Bo’s rise and fall has injected politics back into the regime:
We don’t much think of the party as a political organization these days. It is dominated by technocrats obsessed with economic and engineering challenges. These men–and they are almost all men–are comfortable talking about detailed economic and technical data, but they are not skilled politicians, adept at handling large crowds or palace intrigue. This apolitical system is a recent phenomenon and the outcome of a conscious decision by the founder of modern China, Deng Xiaoping.
Eventually, politics had to re-emerge. China has reached a level of growth and development at which the big questions it faces are not technical engineering puzzles but deep political, philosophical ones.
Bo represented the revival of politics in at least two ways. In a system of colorless men, he was charismatic, conniving and political. He was comfortable in front of crowds, eager to push himself forward, and he rubbed against the grain of consensus decisionmaking. Money was, as in U.S. politics, the grease that smoothed Bo’s rise. But he also represented the “new left,” an ideological movement that emphasized social and cultural solidarity, the power of the state and other populist issues. Whether he truly believed in these stances is irrelevant. Like all good political entrepreneurs, he saw a market for these ideas in modern China and filled it. And there are other would-be leaders–military nationalists, economic liberals, even more-full-throated populists–who are debating China’s
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