A different take on the Wang-Bo Scandal

I didn’t have the confidence to step into the Wang-Bo scandal that has raged across the mainstream Western media (and parts of the Weibosphere) because I just couldn’t confirm anything. And neither can anyone else, but that doesn’t seem to stop them. For the West, the sacking of Wang – or whatever you call having an official hide under the American’s skirts until he is pulled out by bickering National Police Agents and hauled back to Beijing for “questioning” – was basically an attempt by the center to cut into Bo Xilai’s growing power. Nip this whole ‘Singing Red” campaign in the bud, lest it bloom into true Cultural Revolution zealotry and spread across the lush, wet highlands that surround the chaos that Bo currently presides over.

But my confidence has miraculously returned.

I have spoken to a few friends around here who have a better grasp of Chinese politics than I do and have read pretty much everything anyone has written on the subject so now, like the gnome who creeps out of the flame-scarred hut after the dragon has ravished everything and went on to another village, I dare poke my head out to have my say.

Classic Politics

First, let me point your attention to the most intelligent essay I have read on the subject so far, by the incomparable Willy Lam, in the Asia Times:

“Bad blood between the Hu-led Communist Youth League (CYL) faction and the so-called Gang of Princelings goes back a long way. At the 17th Party Congress in 2007, Hu’s original plan of anointing Vice Premier Li Keqiang – a former CYL Party Secretary – as his own successor was foiled by an apparent collusion between the Gang of Princelings and the Shanghai faction, many of whom are also high-born officials. 

As a result of these unexpected developments, the 58-year-old Xi, son of the late Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun, was confirmed “crown prince” at the conclave. [1] . It is also well-known that Hu does not approve of the changhong shenanigans in Chongqing. 

The general secretary has not visited Chongqing since Bo’s appointment as the party secretary of the western metropolis in late 2007. That Hu had a hand in bringing down Wang – and in the process crippling Bo’s promotion prospects – was attested to by reports in Beijing that last year the party general secretary asked the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) to investigate corruption-related offences allegedly committed by Wang and his colleagues when the latter served as a top police official in Tieling municipality from 1995 to 2003.”

As you can see, Willy does his homework. In an interview with Bloomberg a few days later, Lam added that “[Bo’s] chances for the PBSC at the 18th Congress are gone” …

This narrative does not differ from what most of the news reports have been claiming: that the center reached out and touched Bo in order to settle some scores and/or clamp down on any serious princeling action. I agree. Bo Xilai will probably not get his seat, Wang Li Jun is rotting somewhere and the Chongqing model is history, whatever that model was anyway.

… with Chinese characteristics

Now for what you’ve all been waiting for, MY take on the Wang-Bo scandal:

My opinion, as unremarkable and common as it might be, is that most observers underestimate the power that the Elders exert over the collective Chinese consciousness and ignore that Wang Li Jun was Bo’s Sammy Gravano. Let’s talk about the Elders thing first.

Bo Xilai and the heir apparent are, of course, the sons of the last of the Elders, Bo Yibo and Xi Zhongxun. They are known as princelings, but their fathers are known as Elders – with a capital E at all times. There is no messing with these old men. In great exposes like “Prisoner of the State” and the “Tiananmen Papers,” the power of the Elders is shown to be the trump card when the chips are down. This is not to say that reformers and younger leaders do not chafe under what they might believe are old, outdated and even corrupt policies. Obviously, if we are to believe Lam’s writing above, then the sins of the father do indeed come down upon the head of the son eventually, but as long as the Elders take an active interest and can mumble an opinion, their word is Law.

And as for his bulldog. Wang Li Jun was accused of corruption and hauled away; we will never see him again. It is important to remember that Wang came out of the military and police establishment and knows next to nothing about politics. He surely is not the polished leader Bo is – did Wang’s father prepare him for a life of leadership? I think not. No I am afraid that Wang is just a long line of fighters used and cast away by politicians when their usefulness is up.

In fact, rumors on the street here in Chengdu say that Bo had Wang set up in order to appease the powerful families of Chongqing who lost power and prestige during the Smash the Black campaign. Not unprecedented. A new leader makes a name for himself chopping off the heads of the old guard, and then throws the decapitator to the wolves to keep them from his own keep. I personally feel Willy Lam is sniffing up the right tree here, but Chinese discourse when it comes to politics and maneuvering is very nuanced, even when censored. In fact especially so.

So Bo the prince loses his bulldog and perhaps a seat on the council. But to think that Bo Xilai is now humbled and powerless because his bulldog was shut up in a pen is a bit premature. His recent foray into the public sphere shows that not only will he remain on the scene for some time to come yet, but also hints at a conflict that is much deeper and perhaps much more prolonged than much of the media is aware of. And he looked kinda dapper too, befitting the boss who ordered Wang the Bull to smash the mafia in Chongqing …

Or he could get axed like the Teflon Don did!

But seriously. Are the Elders and their offspring done for? Are Bo’s sons and the sons of the other princelings powerless to react? Are they unaware of the possible threat from the other cliques? History tells us that powerful families in traditional societies tend to share power with the technocrats and “prols” who make it into power through other means. The only thing that really destroys the power of Elders and their descendants is, of course, Revolution.

Perhaps a reason why Bo Xilai took up the red flag in Chongqing?

And that album:

In unrelated news, I stumbled upon this gem while reading Fine Print Mag, The dude is called Perish the Red Army and the album is Breathe like a Dragon. So yeah, I clicked on it being who I be and doing what I do, and I am glad I did. Requires a VPN if you are in the Land of the Red Army.


Picture of Sascha Matuszak
Sascha Matuszak

3 thoughts on “A different take on the Wang-Bo Scandal

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report
  2. …interesting read. Only I am not too familiar with American organized crime – but at least now I know who Sammy Gravano and Teflon Don are… 😉 STILL – more questions than answers for me likkle laobaixing…

  3. hahaha yeah i think it’s not a bad comparison: the Teflon Don John Gotti was considered untouchable until his main enforcer, Sammy Gravano was arrested and forced to give his secrets. After that, Gotti was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. We are seeing something similar here with Bo and Wang.

    But the truth? I would look at Willy Lam’s article as well, he has some good points as to what caused all of this.

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