Something is happening across China, something impossible to stop and with consequences difficult to foresee. It began with the death of Deng Xiaoping, continued with the Jiang Zemin-Zhu Rongji era and has now reached the point just before chaos. It helped give rise to Bo Xilai and his pretentions to the throne, defined his entire politick and also ensured his downfall.
It’s the weakening of the center and the descent of the provinces into a money-grab free-for-all with no regard for country, Party or neighbor.
Beijing does not rule anymore. Fifteen years ago the center ruled with an iron fist and mediated between provinces and townships and villages; fifteen years ago Party members were loyal, filled with pride and felt that building the New China was something of a sacred mission; fifteen years ago insulting the premier, lampooning the secretary or running wild on microblogs would earn you a bullet … but those bullets were never fired because no one did these things as openly as they do now.
Today municipalities squabble over decreasing funds and political leaders at every level are interested in enriching themselves and their clan and nothing else. And they can now, more than ever before, because no one is in charge. It was this situation that Bo Xilai saw and hoped to take advantage of. Bo’s use of the Red Model – singing songs and praising Mao – was in preparation for a dash at the throne, because the throne is weak. The bland technocrats and their teary-eyed ministers that rule today have a tenuous hold on Beijing and environs, and nothing more …
Some might call this the seeds of democracy, and that may well be true, but in effect it’s the splintering of the nation. It has nothing to do with racist assertions that Chinese can’t handle freedom and everything to do with money and a sinking suspicion that the house of cards might fall any minute. Chinese are poor, still, and the competition for the millions and billions that get poured into macro projects is fierce. Every small time official from the village on up now has his hands in the pot, whereas fifteen years ago the iron rule of the central government kept corruption – somewhat – in check.
Bo Xilai dreamed big, because he saw the conditions were ripe for a power grab. He knew, better than anyone really, that there is no central power to speak of, only families scrabbling at the business empires their positions allowed them to build and praying they can get themselves and all of their family members foreign passports before the shit really hits the fan. Those families reacted quick to Bo’s dreams and snuffed him out in an embarrassing and extremely public sacking. It was either ridicule or the risk of losing everything. They chose the laughter.
So a Pretender has been removed, but the conditions that gave rise to his pretensions are still there. And getting worse.