What’s Happening in Sichuan?

Posted on February 11th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Since Wednesday the China commentariat has buzzed with a juicy bit of news: Wang Lijun, until recently the ┬áPolice Chief of Chongqing , appeared to defect at the United States consulate in nearby Chengdu. Later, we learned that Wang in fact did not defect but simply remained at the consulate for awhile before leaving “on his own volition,”. Wang apparently now is in Beijing’s hands; he is apparently receiving “vacation-style medical treatment” for stress.

Defections are rare in China, as the Communist Party imposes tremendous discipline over its members. But what makes Wang’s case even more unusual is the identity of his former boss: Bo Xilai. Largely unknown outside of China-watching circles, Bo is a veritable rising star in Chinese politics and has been widely expected to capture an elite seat on the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party, China’s highest governing body.

Wang Lijun’s maneuver has raised a few questions. For one, what does it have to do with Bo? And more importantly, what will it mean for Bo’s future?

Bo Xilai isn’t just another Chinese official. His good looks and charismatic manner has made him popular in a country whose leaders are often faceless apparatchiks, and his crackdown of organized crime in Chongqing earned him plaudits in a society especially wary of lawlessness and disorder. Bo is also among the most prominent “princelings” in the Chinese government, referring to a political faction dominated by children of past leaders. In his capacity as Chongqing party chief, he also began a program to “redden” the city, re-introducing songs and slogans from the early Communist era and suggesting young urban-born Chinese serve in the countryside.

Bo’s vision of China- nationalistic, outwardly socialist, proudly “red”- stands athwart the country’s movement toward even greater economic liberalization. His appointment on the Standing Committee this fall would have vindicated his policies to a certain extent and implied its official approval (or else recognition that his views hold considerable sway in the population). If Bo is not appointed- perhaps due to this business with Wang Lijun- it’d be a repudiation of not only the official himself but also his vision.

At the moment such speculation remains premature. Wang Lijun’s antics over the past few days could have derived from other forms of political pressure. But it’s difficult to imagine this incident not reflecting on his former boss. Alas, we’ll have to wait for the new Chinese government to be introduced this autumn before we understand the real extent of the fall-out.

For additional information and commentary on the incident, please see:

ChinaGeeks for more links and analysis
Danwei on the birth of a new Chinese internet meme: “vacation-style medical treatment”
Danwei on a purported open letter by Wang Lijun
Commentary and a possible explanation by Chongqing-born blogger Xujun Eberlein.

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