Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

The curse of China’s big city warlords [Straits Times]


Straits Times: A Singaporean perspective on strong Chinese local leaders as double-edged swords.

It has not gone unnoticed by observers that the fall of Bo, 63, means that the last three most senior leaders disgraced in China were kingpins in major cities. “Probably it is not accidental,” said professor of political science Wang Jianwei from the University of Macau. Chen Xitong controlled Beijing city, a position regarded as local even though it is based in the capital, until his fall in 1995. 

Bo Xilai is finally expelled from the party since the drama caught public eye in Feb earlier this year. Here is a selection of headlines from domestic and international press.

Official announcement from Xinhua: Investigations have found that Bo seriously violated Party disciplines while heading the city of Dalian, Liaoning Province, and the Ministry of Commerce and while serving as a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and as Party chief of Chongqing Municipality… Bo abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case of Bogu Kailai.Bo Xilai expelled from CPC, public office, September 28, 2012

BBC: Under China’s system the Communist Party controls the media, the police, the prosecutors and the courts. The party is not subject to outside checks and balances. That’s why Mr Bo has been dealt with, by the party, in secret. The courts will now simply confirm the party’s decisions about how to punish him. Bo Xilai: China leaders try to put scandal behind them, September 30, 2012

See also – BBC timeline of events here.

Reuters agency: “Last night, one of the core members of the ruling party’s leadership was suddenly turned into a demon,” said one commentary on “Red China”, a far-left Chinese-language website that has issued a stream of commentary defending Bo. China leaders show unity after expelling Bo, September 29, 2012

New York Times: In his brief statement, posted Saturday evening on Tumblr, the younger Bo wrote: “Personally, it is hard for me to believe the allegations that were announced against my father, because they contradict everything I have come to know about him throughout my life. Although the policies my father enacted are open to debate, the father I know is upright in his beliefs and devoted to duty.” Chinese Ex-Official Snared in Scandal Is Defended by His Son, September 30, 2012

Telegraph:“With such a political aspect to it, you cannot judge this case solely on a legal basis,” said Pi Yijun, a law professor at China’s Law and Political Science university. “The sentence took into account his evidence on Bo’s case, and also the likely reaction of the public. The general public liked Wang and the campaigns he ran, which hit at the mafia. It was mostly intellectuals who were unhappy with him because of the illegal way he went about his job,” he added.Bo Xilai scandal: police chief Wang Lijun sentenced to 15 years, September 24, 2012

– – –

The curse of China’s big city warlords
Strong local leaders a ‘double-edged sword’ for the central government
by By Peh Shing Huei China Bureau Chief News Analysis
Source – Straits Times, October 1, 2012

CHONGQING: Bo Xilai was expelled from the party last week. — PHOTO: AP in Straits Times, 2012

BEIJING – In recent years, as his star shone in south-western Chongqing city, Bo Xilai enjoyed an online nickname – ping xi wang, or Prince Who Pacifies the West.

It was the title of famous Qing Dynasty warlord Wu Sangui. But the moniker was also an early sign of trouble for Bo, who was purged last week.

Wu was a rogue general who declared an independent kingdom in 1678, and such unilateral breakaways – perceived or true – do not sit well with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

As early as 1954, only five years after the founding of the People’s Republic, the CCP’s first major internal purge was based on such alternative power centres. Gao Gang, party leader in Manchuria in China, was accused of an attempted coup and building his own fiefdom in the three north-eastern provinces.

A civil war hero, and only 49, he committed suicide and Chinese history records him as a traitor. But his legacy is felt even today. Nearly six decades after the “Gao Gang Affair”, the party remains ambivalent, or even suspicious, of its regional chiefs.

It has not gone unnoticed by observers that the fall of Bo, 63, means that the last three most senior leaders disgraced in China were kingpins in major cities. “Probably it is not accidental,” said professor of political science Wang Jianwei from the University of Macau. Chen Xitong controlled Beijing city, a position regarded as local even though it is based in the capital, until his fall in 1995.

He was followed by Shanghai boss Chen Liangyu in 2006, who ran the country’s most glamorous and wealthiest metropolis.

Bo joined them last week, expelled from the party and condemned to a likely long jail term for his indiscretions as Chongqing’s high-flying chieftain. All three were members of the elite Politburo. But none had a day job with the central government when their careers ended.

“The pattern emerging is that… these regional party bosses have too much power and listened to nobody. No checks and balances to restrain their abuses of power,” said Prof Wang.

The party tags it shantou zhuyi, or mountain stronghold mentality. It has its roots in the party’s early days. When it was a guerilla underdog battling the ruling Kuomintang in the 1920s and 1930s, it had troops scattered across the country. Often, due to poor communications, the chains of command were localised.

“The tension between the central and the local can be traced to those early days,” said Peking University analyst Zhang Jian. It improved after the communists took power, but never went away. Besides Gao, others like Beijing party boss Peng Zhen and Sichuan leader Li Jingquan were also later accused of building “independent kingdoms” in the 1960s.

Such an overt accusation does not surface these days. But as the examples of the two Chens and Bo show, regional titans must tread carefully. “Bo, like Gao, has become a victim of the power of centralised rule,” said Professor Sam Crane of Williams College in Massachusetts.

It is a systemic problem, the result of a highly centralised government in a large country.

“Authoritarian rulers are fearful of rebellion from local leaders, especially in a big country like China,” said Texas’ Southern Methodist University analyst Hiroki Takeuchi, who researched the “Gao Gang Affair”. “Strong local leaders are a double-edged sword because they can raise the legitimacy of the regime by governing well while they can undermine the legitimacy by challenging the central authority.”

That this should happen with Bo ought to alarm the top leaders. Unlike the two Chens, who had deep roots in their fiefdoms, Bo was almost alien to Chongqing when he arrived in late 2007, parachuted in by Beijing. Yet, he managed to build up such a strong base quickly. His incident could influence how the party picks the new leaders of these major cities at next month’s power transition.

“The leadership will be more careful,” said Prof Wang.

“At the institutional level, they need to develop a mechanism that will make these party bosses more accountable and less powerful.”

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Filed under: 52 Unacceptable Practices, Beijing Consensus, Bo Xilai, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Corruption, Culture, Democracy, Law, Media, Nationalism, New Leadership, Politics, Reform, Straits Times, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Godfree says:

    A good thing, too. Remember that, when Nixon went to China he visited Shanghai, where the local leadership refused even to serve him food, so divorced were they from the national interest. Even Nixon’s Chinese translator was appalled and mortified, and only Zhou’s intervention saved the diplomatic day.

    Fast forward to today: China’s President-elect is the man who cleaned up Shanghai – apparently permanently, since we have heard nothing from that quarter since – and that was one of his cited qualifications for leadership.

  2. ferylbob says:

    Indeed, and it was not too long ago when self serving warlords tore apart China at a time it was so vulnerable. The lessons stick.

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