China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency says Bo Xilai, the party chief of Chongqing, has been sacked and replaced by Vice-Premier and Politburo member Zhang Dejiang. The Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party has also decided to officially oust Wang Lijun, Chongqing’s former gang-busting police chief who then became the city’s vice mayor.
The sequence of political events in the past month makes people wonder whether Chongqing Model, which Bo has made a career of advocating, has now ended in failure.
The Chongqing Model stood for a more leftist approach to tackle China’s sprawling social problems and is symbolized by more equality, better public services, a more state-guided economy, and notably, a high-profile crackdown on mafia and a strong resurrection of Maoist ideologies. However, critics also point out the Chongqing Model is virtually a purge of opponents and a plunder against private enterprises.
Chongqing had in recent years enjoyed being in the spotlight of national attention, with the events like the assembled gathering of 100,000 people to sing “Red Songs” in praise of Maoism, as well as also locally airing ad-free and ideologically-soaked “Red TV” programs.
With the Communist Party scheduled to witness its transition of leadership by the end of this year, Bo was said to have employed bold moves to compete with Guangdong Party Chief Wang Yang, his more political rival considered to be China’s most liberal provincial chief.
The Wang Lijun incident
Yesterday, during his last appearance at the press conference of the National People’s Congress, Wen Jiabao said Chongqing authorities “must seriously reflect on and draw lessons from the Wang Lijun incident.”
When Wang Lijun was first reported to seek asylum in the US consultant in Chengdu, Chongqing said Wang was just on “vacation-style treatment.” However, this statement was then virtually denied by a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who claimed Wang Lijun was only “under investigation.”
Later, the South China Morning Post quoted an insider saying that Wang had been branded as a traitor.
Bo Xilai finally broke his silence on March 9th, saying, “I feel like I put my trust in the wrong person as a manager.” He defended his crackdown on organized crimes during his meeting with the press, saying, “On this issue, shall we pretend to be deaf or shall we be responsible for the people? We chose the latter.”
Apart from defending his “Chongqing Model”, he also retaliated against the perceived defamation about his family, saying his son did not have a Ferrari and that his Oxford education was paid by scholarships, who Melissa Chan of Al-Jazeera reports were given by the Dalian Wanda group.
Five days later, he was directly chastised by Premier Wen, and today, he was sacked.
The end of an era
Chongqing TV, which was transformed into an ad-free “Red TV” which promoted Communist ideals during Bo’s tenure, has already begun recruiting staff again for its advertising department.
Should it be true, Chongqing would be again as normal or ordinary as any other metropolis in China. Regardless, given the sense that Bo has been irrevocably tainted by the Wang Lijun scandal and his son’s penchant for Ferraris, some critics say it is still highly possible that Bo Xilai’s bid for the supreme leadership of the Politburo Standing Committee is done.
It might be the most transparent power transition ever since 1949, with millions of people talking about Bo Xilai’s downfall online with astonishingly little censorship. The full details on what motivated Wang Lijun to walk through the doors of the US Consulate in Chengdu on that fateful night in February, and what he told consular officials there, are still shrouded in mystery.