In March 2012 China's most flamboyant politician was fired. Now his wife has been charged with murder. Meet Bo Xilai before the scandal.by Dan Levin / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
Bo Xilai is mobbed by the media in Beijing, 2010. His personal brand combines Clint Eastwood’s style of justice with George Clooney’s swagger
The email, from a former high-ranking European diplomat to China, was curt: “We won’t be able to talk by phone,” he wrote.
In other words, because I was in Beijing, he feared that our conversation would be monitored, placing him at risk. Assurances that I would use a secure line were for naught. I never heard from him again.
That’s how things go when you research—or attempt to research—a Chinese leader. In a country where even the most mundane details about top officials are deemed state secrets, anything political becomes “sensitive.” Even if you’re not Chinese, chatting about them is dangerous. There are careers to consider, visas to obtain, money to be made.
I had contacted the diplomat to discuss Bo Xilai, the limelight-seeking Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing, the world’s fastest growing city—a foggy, smoggy, heaving metropolis of over 30m people located in southwestern China.
It shouldn’t have been such a maddening endeavour. In an age when officials do their best to camouflage themselves in the shadows of China’s political bureaucracy, Bo is fluorescent.
Combined with his pedigree as a “princeling”—the offspring of one of China’s revolutionary founding fathers—Bo traffics in the sort of personal politics that are standard for campaigns in the west. And make no mistake, it is a campaign—with Chongqing serving as his operational headquarters. Like a Communist disciple of the American political operative Karl Rove, Bo has crafted a rare brand of populism. His aim is to clinch one of at least seven spots expected to open up on the Politburo Standing Committee, the government’s omnipotent nine-member cabinet, during the power shuffle of China’s central leadership that begins next year. He may just get his wish.
The party is frantically debating how to evolve as it considers potential members of the Committee to replace those who have reached either the retirement age of 68 or the constitutional term limits. After two terms as president, Hu Jintao will step down, with current vice-president Xi Jinping very likely to take up his job. The challenge for the future top brass will be to advance China’s rise while controlling growing economic inequality and popular fury over corruption. Amid the search, Bo has emerged as a persuasive champion of China’s “new left” conservatives who argue that…