Socionomics Watch—The battle for China

A leadership changeover is taking place in 2012. Current President Hu Jintao will step down and Xi Jinping will assume the office. Premier Wen Jiabao will be replaced by Li Keqiang. In the simplified version of events, Hu and Wen represent a new style of leadership. When Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji were president and premier, they were both from the Shanghai clique of leaders. Party power was concentrated in a single faction. With Hu and Wen, and more so Xi and Li, power is split between the "princelings," many the children or grandchildren of Communist party fouonders, and the liberal reformers. Ask Chinese citizens and they may tell you Wen Jiabao is just playing "good cop" in a show for the people, but from what I've read of Li Keqiang's policy ideas (one of which I covered in China tax reform), he appears to be putting some of Wen's ideas into practice, albeit in economic policy, not politics.

However, this simple description of Chinese politics glosses over the many factions, one of the most important being the Maoists and Marxists. The general view of the "princelings" one finds in Western media is that they are concerned with maintaining power and prestige. The want to keep the reformers in check: to get rich is glorious; to destabilize the country with political reform not so much. However, Maoists and Marxists seem to take a back seat. Which is why I found this news item from last year quite believable:

Beijing faces pressure to act against Mao critics
Pressure is mounting on Beijing to respond to a neo-Maoist campaign spreading throughout the country that aims to bring two of the Great Helmsman's most outspoken critics to trial.

Utopia (or wyzxsx.com), one of the mainland's leading neo-Maoist websites claims to have collected thousands of signatures calling for the "public prosecution" of economist Mao Yushi and writer Xin Ziling , a retired People's Liberation Army officer, for their comments on China.
The story here is that Mao supporters feel sufficiently threatened that they need to start attacking opponents. Here's where things get really interesting:
What sparked the campaign was Mao Yushi's review of Xin's book on Mao Zedong, called The Fall of the Red Sun, that was published on the economics information website Caing.com last month.

The 5,000 character review - it can no longer be read on Caing.com, but it is widely available online - is a damning account of Mao Zedong's policies.

"He is not god, and he will be removed from the altar, divested of all the myth that used to shroud him and receive a just evaluation as an ordinary man," Mao Yushi wrote.

Xin's book is not sold on the mainland but can be downloaded from some web services. It is mainly about the political campaigns of the 1950s, in which innocent intellectuals were often labelled "rightists" and fell victim to political persecution.

Mao Yushi was not available for comment, but Xin said he believed the neo-Maoists were not just targeting Mao Yushi and himself.

Their primary aim, he said, was to overturn an alleged politburo decision, said to have been made in December but never publicised, to drop the use of "Mao Zedong thought" in all future party documents.

Fan insists such a document does not exist, calling it a rumour that started in the Hong Kong-based Cheng Ming magazine. But Xin maintains that the order was made, regardless of whether neo-Maoists want to believe it.
One could see how princelings and reformers, if they are forming a type of power-sharing system in China, would want to muscle out opposition. But not all the princelings are ambivalent to or anti-Mao. In an article published days after the above one, reporters introduce the reddest of red communists in China: Bo Xilai.

China: Mao and the next generation
Bo Xilai, one of the contenders for a seat on the nine-member politburo standing committee, the apex of political power, was the first to revive Mao’s ghost. In the western municipality of Chongqing, which he heads as party secretary, Mr Bo rules with an arsenal of Maoist slogans and propaganda techniques. On special occasions, residents receive “red texts” – Mao quotations sent to mobile phones. The local state television station has replaced all commercials with “red programmes” – soap operas narrating revolutionary history. Civil servants, state company staff and students are called in for the organised singing of “red songs” – hymns glorifying the country’s founding father and the party. “The sun is red, Chairman Mao is dear,” according to one.
There are videos of Bo on Chinese video sites singing these songs; he's well-known in China for these campaigns.
Bo Xilai is the son of the late Bo Yibo, one of the party’s most senior revolutionary veterans. That puts him among the country’s influential “princelings” – along with Xi Jinping, an heir apparent for the top job. Mr Xi, vice-president and son of Xi Zhongxun, a one-time head of the party’s powerful propaganda department, is all but sure to take over from Hu Jintao as party general secretary and state president at next year’s party congress. While the appointments to the two most senior positions, president and premier, are already largely settled, with vice-premier Li Keqiang marked for the premiership, the seven remaining spots on the standing committee are still up for grabs. They have become the focus of furious politicking among the contenders.

“The references to Mao Zedong are nothing more than a code for those who claim ownership over the roots of the party,” says Xiao Jiansheng, a historian and editor at a state newspaper in Hunan, Mao’s ancestral province.

Reform advocates are hitting back. A professor who blogs under the pseudonym Diedie Bu Xiu suggests, as an alternative to Mr Bo’s “dangerous campaign”, a “Zhejiang model” – a development path modelled on the province with the most developed private enterprise sector. He predicts that this will lead to the rise of civil society and democracy.
Bo Xilai became even more popular with an anti-triad law enforcement policy that led to thousands of arrests and numerous prosecutions. Here's one article from 2009 discussing the campaign, which would run into 2010: Dead End for Chongqing's Triad Gangsters.

We have Mr. Communist Bo Xilai looking for his spot on the Politburo and using a major crackdown on organized crime to boost his stature and popularity. Then this week happened. Bo Xilai's right-hand man was reassigned.

China's gang-busting police chief switched to new duties
The abrupt transferral of a gang-busting police chief – due to be immortalised in film – has sent China's internet rumour mill into overdrive.

Wang Lijun became famous nationwide after leading a crackdown against organised crime in Chongqing launched by the region's high-profile party secretary, Bo Xilai.

His move from police to more general duties has sparked particular interest because he is seen as such a close ally of Bo, who is expected to rise still further when the next generation of leaders takes power this autumn.

Their controversial anti-gang campaign led to more than 1,500 arrests and culminated in the execution of the city's former deputy police chief and top justice official, Wen Qiang, for corruption, rape and shielding organised crime.

But on Thursday, Chongqing's information office said on its blog the party committee had given Wang a new portfolio in charge of economic affairs in place of his public security post, the South China Morning Post reported.

A few hours later, the office revised its message to say the 52-year-old would be in charge of issues including education, the environment and industrial and commercial management. "A hero who fought as a triad-buster has been pushed aside to a vice-mayor position without real power … it is not only sadness for Chongqing but the whole of China," said one of many bloggers speculating that Wang was being sidelined because the portfolio was relatively junior.

But Bo Zhiyue, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore, suggested the move was designed to prepare Wang – who became vice-mayor last spring – for higher office. "I think this is actually career enhancement ... To be promoted along the political path, to a mayor or provincial governor, he has to learn to deal with different issues," he said.

Lin Zhe, a professor with the party school of the CPC central committee, told the state-run Global Times newspaper: "Chongqing's work in cracking down on criminal gangs was called to an end early in 2010, when a meeting in the city was held to summarise the achievements of cracking down on gangs.

"So Wang has fulfilled his task as an anti-gang hero, and it is time for him to explore new spaces in other fields."
It's a long quote from the article, but it's important to understand what was going through the minds of Chinese when they read this. The Internet rumor mill thought something was fishy, political analysts thought he was being groomed for power. Today, this news broke:

Bo's crimebuster investigated
Rumours circulated on the internet that Chongqing Vice-Mayor Wang Lijun - a powerful ally of Chongqing party chief and Politburo Standing Committee hopeful Bo Xilai - turned up at the American consulate in Chengdu , Sichuan province, carrying top-secret papers.

His apparent downfall casts doubt over Bo's political future and also raises the possibility of an intense power struggle ahead of the leadership transition.

A Beijing-based media source and a Chongqing police source said he was taken to Beijing yesterday by a task force from the party's top disciplinary body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Wang, 52, made his name spearheading a triad-busting operation launched by Bo. But he was put on "stress leave" and asked to focus on education and culture after rumours he had fallen out with Bo, who is aiming to join the party's innermost power circle in a leadership reshuffle this autumn. The term "stress leave" is rarely used but is taken to indicate a political purge.
But mainland blogging sites were buzzing yesterday with rumours that Wang had turned up at the US consulate in Chengdu , about three hours' drive from Chongqing, carrying the classified documents.

The online rumours said Wang's application for asylum was rejected by US officials.

His reported attempts to seek asylum come at a delicate time, just days before Vice-President Xi Jinping , China's next leader in waiting, is scheduled to visit Washington.
Here's the video making the rounds on Weibo and other microblog services:

The previously linked article is from the South China Morning Post, which also published this article today: Power struggle set to intensify
Political observers were also intrigued by the sensitive timing of the detention, pointing to its uncanny resemblance to the fall of the former Shanghai mayor Chen Liangyu six years ago, in the lead-up to the previous party congress.

Chen's fall from grace, as a result of his involvement in the corruption case of a Shanghai tycoon, was widely seen as having reshaped the political landscape on the mainland, tipping the balance of power in a struggle between factions loyal to President Hu Jintao and his predecessor Jiang Zemin .

Like the removal of Chen in 2006, Wang's detention will have political ramifications and looks set to usher in a period of intense jockeying for position and power in the run-up to the next leadership transition at the party congress later this year.

Analysts said that if confirmed, rumours that Wang, 52, had attempted to turn Bo, 63, in to the top disciplinary watchdog would be devastating news for Bo, the son of a party elder, and a top contender for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee.
I do not have any special insight into Chinese politics and there's a lot that will never make it into public sources of information. But the picture painted by the articles from last year show that there's a major conflict within the party over the role of Mao, and also how "communist" the communist party wants to be. To me, this story makes perfect sense given the battle that was brewing.
Zhang said Bo's potential involvement in Wang's case would have greater impact than the fall of Chen, as China was facing a full-fledged leftist backlash featuring Bo's ultra-conservative ideas.

Zhang and other analysts also said that despite Bo's high-profile manoeuvring over the past few years, the gang-busting Chongqing party boss had failed to get endorsement from top leaders, including Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao .

Professor Yuan Weishi , a historian at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, said both Bo and Wang would be held accountable for their controversial anti-triad crusade, which was widely criticised by intellectuals for allegedly riding roughshod over the rule of law.

"It seems certain that Wang has got himself into major trouble and once the anti-triad campaign is allowed to be reviewed, it will be a decisive blow to Bo's career," Yuan said.
Note the Chinese political landscape: Maoists are leftists, but since Maoism was the older ideology, it is also labeled conservative.

Some analysts question whether this was a takedown:
Dr Kerry Brown, a senior fellow with the London-based Chatham House, expressed doubt over rumours that Hu and his supporters were behind the move against Wang.

"I don't see why Hu Jintao or any of the leadership would undertake such a risky move as going for someone like Wang at a sensitive time like this," he said. "I'd have thought this was the last thing the leadership in Beijing wanted in a difficult year when all they want is a successful transition without incident."
Social mood in China is negative and even political leaders are not immune from it. From a socionomics standpoint, this story also makes sense. The leaders are itching for a fight, or rather have less tolerance for their enemies and more of a willingness to fight by other methods. Many leaders and officials in China do things that are illegal such as taking bribes. These transgressions are overlooked as long as one is competent/successful/useful. If they become a problem, they are arrested and prosecuted for their crimes. High level corruption looks bad in the press, but it achieves the objective.

Finally, it's not just the left that's taking hits. The leftists may also be using their political influence to silence the reformers. Here's a story that started a few years ago as well: Du Daozheng to Step Down as Proprietor of Yanhuang Chunqiu
It is generally believed that the recent struggle to contain and neutralise the influence of Yanhuang Chunqiu signals the extent to which conflicts between different factions within the Chinese Communist Party have intensified. Since the publishing of its first issue in 1991, the Journal has striven to present the view of a more liberal faction of the CCP, as well as those who work from within the Party hierarchy to initiate political reforms.
In today's paper, the South China Morning Post reports:

'They want to get rid of us'
Du accused authorities of using the new government mandate, aimed at turning state publications into for-profit enterprises, as a pretext to strip his magazine of its relative independence.

The mandate, which came under a broader initiative to "deepen the cultural-sector reform" announced at the sixth plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee in October, was intended to stop newspapers and magazines from receiving government subsidies, restructure them into for-profit enterprises, but continue to keep them under the party's editorial control.

But Du insisted that his magazine, unlike many ordinary state publications, receives no government money and is already financially independent, so there is no need to restructure the company.
Expect more of these stories to come out this year as social mood declines and as a weakening economy will add more pressure during the leadership transition phase.

For more background on the princelings, see this WSJ article: Children of the Revolution
China's 'princelings,' the offspring of the communist party elite, are embracing the trappings of wealth and privilege—raising uncomfortable questions for their elders.

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