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Inside China: Bo Xilai verdict avoids the obvious

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The credibility of China's official verdict on disgraced communist leader Bo Xilai is under serious challenge by China's many neo-Maoists.

On Sept. 28, the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, the supreme ruling body of the giant country, announced the expulsion of one of its members from the party, officially ending his political and public life.

Mr. Bo — the former party viceroy in the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing and a powerful, ambitious and charismatic figure in Chinese politics — also was officially stripped of all public office positions. He was handed over to Chinese law enforcement to face prosecution "for other suspected crimes."

Those charges include a suspected role in his wife's murder plot in the death of a British businessman. He also is charged with bribery, illicit sexual relations with multiple women, and violation of various party disciplines. In other words, the Politburo is painstakingly building the Bo Xilai scandal as purely a "law-and-order" criminal case.

However, nothing in the formal and lengthy Politburo announcement addressed Mr. Bo's most obvious, and most pernicious, public persona. He is China's most prominent neo-Maoist ideologue and has a huge following nationwide.

The neo-Maoists under Mr. Bo are best known for holding mass rallies to praise Mao Zedong, the founder of communist China, whose policies largely were abandoned after his death in 1976.

The neo-Maoists gather in Chongqing's 100,000-seat sports stadium to sing songs about Mao and conduct mass readings of the Communist Manifesto.

Most obvious of Mr. Bo's goals was his ambition to challenge the party's chosen heir apparent, current Vice President Xi Jinping.

The indictment's failure to mention Mr. Bo's signature ideological profile reveals how Beijing power elites are deeply ambivalent about the regime's attachment to Maoism and its repulsion of Maoism's violent and fanatical expressions. As many as 70 million Chinese are believed to have died during Mao's social upheavals of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Few among the nation's increasingly indignant neo-Maoist adherents, who still permeate many circles of the communist state, are buying the party's official indictment.

During recent anti-Japanese demonstrations that erupted across the nation over the disputed Diaoyudao — islands that Japan calls the Senkakus — supporters hung a huge banner bearing the slogan "Diaoyudao belongs to China; Bo Xilai belongs to the People!" The banner was seen widely on streets, and photos of it circulated online.

In some cases, the anti-Japanese demonstrations were used as cover for angry neo-Maoists to vent their frustration and indignation over the party's purge of their hero. Many demonstrators wore Mao-era attire and held huge Mao portraits during what were supposed to be anti-Japan rallies.

In one incident that recently gained national notoriety, Han Deqiang, a prominent neo-Maoist professor at the Beijing Air and Space University, physically assaulted an 80-year-old man who made fun of the neo-Maoist rally sign, which read: "Chairman Mao, We Miss You!"

After slapping the old man twice on the face, Mr. Han shouted, "You cursed our chairman; you are a Chinese traitor!"

The professor then took to the Internet to gloat about the incident.

Also revealing was the not-so-subtle rebuke of the Politburo's ostentatious law-and-order pretense of the Bo Xilai affair, which appeared in party's official newspaper, Global Times. The paper now appears to be a bastion of neo-Maoism.

Hu Xijin, the paper's editor-in-chief, is widely known in China as a Bo stalwart and defender.

The Politburo's Bo indictment, made public Sept. 28, was published verbatim in Global Times, as expected, but directly beneath the announcement were eight emoticons that invited readers to express reactions to the charges.

Of 7,500 reactions, Global Times recorded close to 6,000, or 80 percent, as "Laughable," indicating the responder disagreed with the party's verdict. Just 3 percent clicked the "Happy or Delighted" button, signaling approval.

On Oct. 1, Global Times ran an article from the rabidly anti-Bo newspaper Guangzhou Ribao in the southern province of Guangdong.

The headline read: "The Cadres and the Masses Resolutely Support the Politburo's Decisions on Bo Xilai."

Again, the emoticons in the Global Times indicated 75 percent of the readers dismissed the article as "Laughable," while 22 percent said they were "Angry," albeit without the ability to name the target of their anger.

By far the most daring challenge to the Politburo's Bo verdict came from China's highest-ranking forensics expert, Wang Xuemei of the Chinese Supreme People's Procuratorate, China's highest prosecution authority.

Born in 1956 in North Korea, China's communist ally, where her parents were stationed as Chinese army officers, Ms. Wang rose quickly after graduating from college to assume the important post of leading forensics expert. If anyone should be considered a member of the ruling elite class, she certainly qualifies.

Last week, however, Ms. Wang dropped a bombshell by publicly challenging the Politburo's official verdict on the Bo case, passionately advancing her theory through her blog, in the British newspaper Guardian and in The Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Wang challenged the official finding that cyanide poisoning had killed the British businessman, Neil Heywood.

She then laid all the blame for his death on Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief who launched the entire case after he attempted to defect to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. According to Ms. Wang, the forensics expert, the police official had mastered the art of mind control over Mr. Bo's wife.

The sensational claim triggered an explosion of cheers from China's neo-Maoist faction in China. If Wang Lijun was to blame, then Mr. Bo had nothing to do with his wife's trouble with the law and had been made a scapegoat by central authorities.

Despite all the subtle and unsubtle challenges from China's neo-Maoists, the party continues to show signs it is in deep paralysis in the run-up to a major power reshuffle set for early next month, which could determine how China will ever march forward politically without eradicating Maoism and its potentially destabilizing effects.

Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmileyu@gmail.com.

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