Bo Xilai: Our Observers in China reflect on the superstar politician’s downfall

This caricature of Bo Xilai playing with a bird - which in Chinese means he's "over" - circulated on Chinese social media.
 
The sudden sacking of one of Chinese politics’ rising stars, Bo Xilai, has become one of China’s biggest scandals in the past two decades. Three of our Observers in China tell us what this charismatic figure meant to them, and illustrate why his downfall has rattled so many.
 
Until recently, Bo served as party secretary in the mega-city of Chongqing, home to about 30 million people, located in central China. He was slated for a top job in the country’s leadership come autumn, when the party will replace about half of its retiring leaders. However, he was fired by the national Communist Party leadership last month for alleged breach of party rules; his wife, meanwhile, was charged with the murder of a British expat under murky circumstances.
 
Bo was well-known throughout China for the sweeping changes he made in Chongqing. Under his rule, he launched a series of large-scale campaigns – one against crime, another to promote public housing, and a more controversial one to bring back “red culture” – a throwback to the Cultural Revolution, complete with public singing of Mao-era songs. Meanwhile, the city did very well economically – its GDP rose by over 16 percent in 2011, outpacing other major Chinese cities.
 
Since he’s been fired, much in Chongqing has changed. Signs in public squares now ban the singing of “red songs,” and advertising has replaced the propaganda messages that were broadcast on local television during his rule. His supporters, meanwhile, claim crime is starting to make a comeback. Some of them even attempted to hold protests over his firing, which were quickly dispersed.

“Before Bo Xilai, our city was infested with thieves”

Zhang (not his real name) is a citizen of Chongqing.
 
People here in Chongqing support Bo Xilai. He brought about several major changes during his term here. First, he made patrol police and traffic police much more present on the city streets. Then, he took measures to lower housing prices. [Bo had announced measures to build housing for low-income residents, giving them the option of buying the property after three years.] Also, he rid us of the mafia. In China, high-ranking officials usually use the mafia as a shield, which is why they don’t crack down on it. But Bo broke this trend. Before he rose to power in Chongqing, the city was infested with thieves; they robbed people in broad daylight. Afterwards, I never saw any thieves anymore. He brought us social order and security.

“Bo will be back”

Ye ST (not his real name) is a Maoist. He lives in Shangrao, in Jiangxi province. He cautioned that he could not speak too freely, as he was afraid of running the risk of the authorities removing his business’s website from Chinese search engine results. (See our earlier story on the crackdown on Maoists in China).
 
I believe Bo Xilai is only facing a temporary setback, and will return to power in the future. Right now, the government is afraid of him because Maoists are rising too quickly, and they are afraid this could cause China to lose its balance.
 
Bo achieved a lot in Chongqing. He is widely respected, even outside Chongqing. But he made very sudden changes, which is what caused his downfall. China needs gradual changes.
 
It seems like authorities could find no evidence of Bo being corrupt, and that’s why they went after Bo’s wife. I believe these charges were trumped up, and that this whole scandal was orchestrated by the United States. [Shortly before Bo was fired, his one-time ally, Chongqing’s former police chief Wang Lijun, spent a night at the US consulate, before being taken into custody by central government officials. The US is coveting China’s riches, and now the US is attempting to create internal conflict between Maoists and people on the right in order to plunder us. However, if we persevere and stay united, the US will fall and China will take the lead on the world stage. If Bo is still alive then, I think he will come back and be able to do great things.

“Maoists love him because they are nostalgic for the old days”

Hulcher (not his real name) is a student living Wuhan, Hubei Province.
 
Bo Xilai is a power-hungry populist. Singing “red songs” is totally meaningless in this day and age. It’s a form of regression. And his so-called crackdown on the mafia appears to have been a method to expel his enemies. [He has been accused of using his power to intimidate opponents].
 
Maoists love him because they are nostalgic for the old days, which Bo managed, to a certain extent, to revive in Chongqing. However, I think at present, there is not much space for Maoists in China; few people really believe in Maoism, and it does not conform to the current government’s interests. No doubt, then, Bo’s sacking was caused by internal conflict within the Communist Party. The fact that the state media have been calling for solidarity with the government’s decision seems to support this. In any case, this decision effectively ends Bo’s career and ensures Maoism does not move into the mainstream so that we do not regress into the age of Mao, which I am grateful for.
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