China may be entering a new era

There is a huge story going on in China right now. A very high official in the Politburo, named Bo Xilai has been purged, and his wife has been arrested. The story as reported is not the real one.

Here is John Burns’ opinions of What is going on.

First the official version.

CBS News) BEIJING – We are getting a rare look at the inner workings of China’s Communist power structure thanks to a scandal that erupted there this spring. CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen tells us about the man at the center of it.

The Chinese nicknamed Bo Xilai a “princeling,” which means one of the most powerful men in China.

Now he’s called criminal in a case that is part soap opera, part murder mystery.

In a stunning announcement this week, Bo was dumped from China’s Politburo, the powerful committee that runs the country.

His glamorous wife Gu Kailai has been arrested for the murder of Nick Heywood, a British man found dead in a hotel room last November. At the time, Chinese police said he died of alcohol poisoning — although his family said he didn’t drink.

The background story is:

Well, of course what we see here is something that none of us really wanted to see at all, and I’m not talking about the murder. That, of course, we would all regret. What we’re seeing is a new upheaval in the Chinese political leadership, the most important political purge in Bo Xilai, the former Chongquing party chief, candidate for the inner sanctum of power in the politburo. And this is very disturbing to those who had hoped, believed, perhaps, that China, this is a new China, the post-Mao China, which was heading toward a period of political stability, the rule of law, in other words, had really put the Mao era, the Cultural Revolution, the chaos, the great leap forward, and all the rest of it, behind it. What we’re seeing now in this very sordid tale is something much more like what we saw of Chinese leadership in what we, and indeed, I think most Chinese would describe as the bad old days of Mao Tse Tung, a politics that is much more personal, that is much more brutal. Let’s not forget that in the Cultural Revolution in China under Mao, millions, I think the Chinese officially concluded ten million people, died. Now it’s not to suggest that China’s heading for that. The present Chinese leadership who purged Bo are saying, in fact, that it’s to prevent that kind of…return to that kind of politics, that they’ve purged him. But then you have the question of the alleged murder. the story begins in mid to late November when, and at that time, the world knew nothing about it. Neil Heywood, a 41 year old private school educated Englishman of some personal charm, went to Chongqing, the capitol city of Sichuan Province in Southwest China, source of the wonderful hot food that we all like in Chinese restaurants, and on some sort of a business trip. He had for some years, we now know, had a very unusual personal relationship with the family of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party chief in Chongqing, and that relationship seemed to be centered very much on Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai, a 53 year old rather handsome woman from her photographs, daughter of a retired, probably now dead, revolutionary general under Mao Tse Tung. This was Communist royalty. Long story short, Neil Heywood ends up dead in his hotel room in Chongqing. The Chinese report to his family that he died of over consumption of alcohol. They report that they’ve cremated him without autopsy. The family, the Heywood family, appears to have accepted this, and that includes Mr. Neil Heywood’s Chinese wife and two children living in Beijing. The next stage was that the police chief of Sichuan Province, the closest personal aide, if you will, to Mr. Bo, the party chief, having reported so it is now said, to Bo Xilai, that Heywood didn’t die of over consumption of alcohol. He died of poisoning, and that the poisoner, or at least the one who organized the poisoning, was none other than Bo’s own wife, Gu Kailai.

So what we have is a tremendous turn in the politics of China, and it seems to center, this scandal’s center on the death of this Englishman. And it’s left to people like myself to now go in pursuit of what the real story behind all of this was.

it’s very disturbing in terms of what it tells us about stability in China. Let’s remember, this is a country which is widely judged to be on its way to being the economic superpower of the 21st Century. It engaged in rapid expansion of its military to the extent that the Obama Administration felt obliged to station 2,500 Marines in Australia to, in effect, to stiffen the American presence in Asia against the rising power of China. So that’s the one thing, is how much can we trust this new China? The second thing is in terms of Chinese domestic politics. Bo Xilai, a very complicated story, and to all accounts, a very corrupt man, a man who has pocketed millions, sends his son off to a very expensive private education abroad, rumored, this boy, to at one point have been driving around Chongqing in a red Ferrari, presently enrolled at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. So Bo is a very complex character, because he’s also the tribune of those in China who say much of what has happened in the last 30 years has been a mistake, this get rich quick stuff, we’ve got to turn back the clock to the Cultural Revolution, we’ve got to get the state capitalism, get control of that. This free enterprise is out of hand. This is a determined, ambitious appeal to a larger constituency in China who have not benefited very much from all of the free marketeering of recent years. So almost any way you approach this, this is an event of momentous proportions.

What now ? I have called my daughter, who has friends in Beijing, and they may know more about what is going on. It may be time to get out of China for a while until the dust settles. Her friends are an American who went there ten years ago to teach English, and his Chinese wife who attended my daughter’s wedding on their way to his graduate MBA program. I don’t know if they are here, or there.

Better here.

16 thoughts on “China may be entering a new era”

  1. Well it seems no different from the intrigue under the emperors. There was an article in the WSJ some time ago on the Princlings –

    I doubt that your daughter could find anything more – what information there is is limited to the Politburo – and perhaps the CIA.

    I suspect that if a revolution were to occur it would catch us by surprise as the Soviet one –

    Add to all this talk of the Chinese economy being a bubble – were it to burst who can predict the outcome?

  2. You give the CIA too much credit. It is a gov’t bureaucracy that always gets the big picture wrong. In their defense though almost everyone else gets it wrong too.

  3. The Chinese economy has been a bubble for awhile. Who talks about the ghost cities ? and here.

    It’s just a question when it pops. China is exquisitely fragile and depends on us. The fall election will have as much to do with China’s future as our own.

  4. Excellent discussion over at Belmont Club on this issue.

    The chinese system is corrupt and artificial to its very core. I would be very surprised if it manages to avoid a wide spread economic collapse for much longer.

    Most everything it claims to be doing economically is either a fabrication or political in nature, and its banking system has all the problems of ours, or the Japanese before their bubble popped, and then some.

    Their economy functions only because the west provides the markets and (stolen) technology for their enterprises.

    The brittle oligarchy that reigns, based on the remnants of the former regime’s legacy, has little legitimacy, and the country is beset by thousands of major and minor civil insurrections every year, mostly in response to some form of outrageous corruption by elements of the ruling class.

    All my life, people have been predicting the demise of the US because of this competitor or that, and all my life I’ve watched the competitors fall by the wayside. This corrupt autocracy is just one more waiting to happen.

  5. Hu Jintau and Wen Jyaubau, scheduled to “step down” in the coming months, were the last Chinese dynamic duo picked by the late Deng Syauping. The last major rupture within the ruling ranks of the Beibing regime was in 1989 when Chinese premier Jau Dzyang was forced out by Deng following Jau’s flirtation with the Tyananmen Square protestors. Deng selected Shanghai CCP boss Jyang Dzemin and Jyang’s henchman Shanghai mayor Ju Rungji to be the dynamic duo of the 1990s but so arranged things that the correlation of political forces within the Beibing regime forced Jyang to go with Deng’s choice of Hu rather than one of Jyang’s other underlings. The June 4th incident, coupled with memories of Mau’s ravaging of the upper echelons of the CCP during the Cultural Revolution kept the CCP’s ruling cadres together during the 20 years following Tyananmen. Disunity would open opportunities for disaffected people lower in the pecking order so they stayed in lockstep.

    However, as that generation steps down, the upcoming generation of cadres, with no personal experience of Deng, the results of elite squabbling, or China’s (even more) massive poverty and backwardness compared to the West or Japan, are breaking ranks in the pursuit of power, goodies, and personalized tote bags. Some member of the elite will always play the ancient populares card of appealing to the people as Bwo Xyilai did. His optimate opponents will attempt to crack down on him and his underlings just as Deng dealt with Jau back in 1989. Bwo may disappear into permanent elite storage house arrest like Jau. Ji Jyeshr kept “Young Marshal” Jang Sywelyang under house arrest for saving the CCP from annihilation from 1936 until after Ji’s death in 1975 so there are Chinese precedents. He won’t be the first since, once the tacit agreement uniting an elite unravels, wannabe Yeltsins and Gracchi will proliferate as the pace of intra-elite competition escalates.

  6. Thanks for this, MK. I don’t know squat about China and China reporting in the States seem so haphazard–and the system is opaque. Yet, we are so connected. It makes me kind of nervous.

    I like to listen to Gordon Chang on the John Batchelor show but I know so little about the subject that I don’t know if his analysis is correct or not.

    – Madhu

  7. Interesting post.

    Both Mao and Deng got rid of their first two chosen successors. Mao’s died (President Liu Shaoqi and Marhsall Lin Biao), while Deng’s simply was reduced in rank (General Secretary Hu Yaobang), and the other was confined to house arrest for the remainder of his life (General Secretary Zhao Ziyang).

    Though as far as I know, this is the first time under the CCP system that a high level official was removed via a murder charge.

    To me this gives the charge credence: Bo’s doubtless guilty of corruption (as they all are), and officials are regularly removed for incompetence. Murder is completely out of left field. It would be like the FBI raiding Romney HQ and charging Ann with… murder. Bizarre stuff.


    I’m curious, what system for writing Chinese names are you using? I can piece together who you are talking about via pronunciation and context clues (Jyang Dzemin = Jiang Zemin, Ji Jyeshr = Chiang Kaishek), but I haven’t seen that system before.

    Funtime trivia:

    The Young Marshall went onto be the longest serving political prisoner in recorded history. Before his captivity he kept Mussolini’s daughter as his mistress. Afterwards he lived in Hawaii. Interesting guy.

  8. Two points of correction to John Burns:

    Bo Xilai was party chief of Chongqing municipality, which was separated from Sichuan province in 1997. The capital of Sichuan is Chengdu. Also the rumors about Bo’s son driving a Ferrari (denied but possibly true) claim he was in Beijing, not Chongqing.

  9. @tdaxp:

    Yale Romanization:

    Mandarin Yale was developed in 1943 by George Kennedy to help prepare American soldiers to communicate with their Chinese allies on the battlefield. Rather than try to teach recruits to interpret the standard romanization of the time, the Wade-Giles system, a new system was invented that utilized the decoding skills that recruits would already know from having learned to read English, i.e. it used English spelling conventions to represent Chinese sounds. It avoided the main problems that the Wade-Giles system presented to the uninitiated student or news announcer trying to get somebody’s name right in a public forum, because it did not use the “rough breathing (aspiration) mark” (which looks like an apostrophe) to distinguish between sounds like jee and chee. In Wade-Giles the first of those would be written chi and the second would be written ch’i. In the Yale romanization they were written ji and chi. The Yale system also avoids the difficulties faced by the beginner trying to read pinyin romanization, which uses certain Roman letters and combinations of letters in such a way that they no longer carry their expected values. For instance, q in pinyin is pronounced something like the ch in chicken and is written as ch in Yale Romanization. Xi in pinyin is pronounced something like the sh in sheep, but in Yale it is written as syi. Zhi in pinyin sounds something like the ger in gerbil, and is written as jr in Yale romanization. For example: in Wade-Giles, “knowledge” (知识) is chih-shih; in pinyin, zhishi; but in Yale romanization it is written jr-shr—only the last will elicit a near-correct pronunciation from an unprepared English speaker


    Mandarin Yale was widely used in Western textbooks until the late 1970s; in fact, during the height of the Cold War, preferring the “communist” pinyin system over Yale romanization was something of a political statement. The situation was reversed once the relations between the People’s Republic of China and the West had improved. Communist China (PRC) became a member of the United Nations in 1971 by replacing Nationalist China (ROC).

  10. Do you think the murders of two Chinese students at USC is related to this? The newspapers, apparently quoting the police, called the murders a car jacking, but the description said the murderers shot through the glass from a distance.

  11. It has been asserted that Heywood was poisoned. Why? Is Gu someone who gets her kicks out of killing white men, Brits, or foreign devils or was there a more personal or financial motive?

  12. LC Rees,

    Thanks for the explanation! :-)


    In the US educated whites are first-class citizens, blacks second, the educated of the remainder comes in third, the uneducated fourth. Given the demographics of the neighborhood the crime happened in, I don’t expect the police to bother investigating much in the USC murders.

    (This is the reason for the movement to lynch Zimmerman in Florida, btw. A 4th class citizen standing up to a 2nd? Idiot.)

  13. I also recommend Belmont Club:

    When a red Ferrari recently crashed in Beijing, the rumor mills exploded with reports that the driver was none other than Bo Guagua, son of the Communist Party chief of Chonquing and graduate of Harrow and Oxford. Such is life among the vanguard of the Proletariat: in a Ferrari one day, on the run the next. Bo’s dad, Bo Xilai, has just been cashiered by the Politburo, and Bo’s mother is under arrest. …

    Bo Guagua had been making social media headlines in China as he squired around Chen Xiaodan, the daughter of “Chen Yuan, the governor of the China Development Bank and one of China’s most influential bankers”

    Ms. Chen would be real cute, even if her daddy didn’t have so much money.

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