NIGHTWATCH: China Trends

02 China, Blog Wisdom

China: Special Comment: A day after Premier Wen Jiabao delivered his valedictory address to the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party’s Organizational Department announced that Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai had been replaced by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang.

Chongqing (previously Chungking) is one of five national core cities – with Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou — and a major inland industrial center, in southwestern China. The city is a modern metropolis and the municipality has more than 28 million people.

International analysts of Chinese leadership trends, such as those writing for the Financial Times, have provided excellent insight into the misdeeds of Bo that brought him down. All cite his flamboyant, charismatic personal leadership style as out of step with the sober men in dark suits who are the members of the standing committee of the Communist Party Politburo that rules China.

Bo was something of contradiction in modern China. He behaved like a western style grip-and-grin politician, but used authoritarian Maoist, or even imperial, tactics, including torture, to root out organized crime. He is quoted as having said, “If only a few people are rich, then we are capitalists. We’ve failed.”

Bo seems to have been a true believer. He instituted in Chongqing songfests featuring the revolutionary songs his father, Bo Xilai who was a colleague of Mao Zedong, taught him as a child. As a son of a revolutionary hero, he was on a fast track to higher positions, until a recent scandal gave his factional opponents, including Premier Wen, an excuse to demote him.

For six years, NightWatch has maintained a theory of contradictions that limit China’s advancement. The contradictions are longstanding, unresolved issues that work against each other to limit China’s potential.

The replacement of Bo showcases several contradictions. First is tension between party authority, local popularity and Wen’s promotion of Chinese-style democracy, including direct local elections, in his valedictory speech.

Wen’s democracy looks like an opiate of the electorate, because nine old men in Beijing can change the policy direction of a city of 28 million people by their collective decision, regardless of the will of the people of Chongqing. That is not a conventional understanding of democracy.

A second contradiction involves what constitutes orthodox Chinese communism. Bo represented an updated version of Maoism, but that has now been suppressed through Bo’s dismissal. Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic version of communism, as modified by his successors, remains the prevailing orthodoxy, but it is not true to Mao’s writings. What is worth noting is that Mao’s version of communism, remarkably, still has a strong following.

A third contradiction is that Chongqing’s economic success is the result of capitalist influences and practices, but Bo was almost a self-proclaimed Maoist in his management style and ideology. The Soviet experience indicates that capitalism eventually destroys top-down authoritarian orthodoxy.

The Chinese communist leadership structure benefits from capitalist practices, but it also is threatened by capitalism, which always pits market forces against ideological orthodoxy.

These are only three of many contradictions that China has yet to resolve. For now, the nine old men in Beijing have made clear that a return to Maoist-style campaigns and practices are not the wave of the near future. Chinese-style capitalism will continue. Without another revolution, Chinese-style democracy will never replace the power of the politburo standing committee to remove summarily a popular senior official.

Nevertheless, the Beijing leaders have only kicked the can down the road, gambling that prosperity and generational change will square the circles of China’s multiple internal contradictions.

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