If you haven't been following the news, the Chinese Communist Party is in the midst of its biggest political controversy and shakeup since the Tianamen Massacre of 1989.
For a little background, this piece from Time is helpful. Bo Xilai (pictured right), was a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party. He was the Party Boss of Chongqing. Xilai lead a push against organized crime in his province--in ways some say were illegal. He also brought back Maoist era Revolutionary songs and pushed for a huge state-led economic stimulus program during the global downturn.
He has now been sacked and today his wife (Gu Kailai) is being investigated in the murder of a British businessman Neil Heywood. The saga began when Xilai's aide Wang Lijun ended up at the US consulate (possibly attempting to defect) and, sources report, told a dark tale of murder.
This occurs as China is going through its (typically opaque) once-every-ten year transition to a new leadership cadre. Xilai was thought to have been in the running for one of the top two slots.
John Garnaut has written a brilliant piece in Foreign Policy on the fight between Bo Xilai and the current (and outgoing) Premier Wen Jiabao and what it says about the possible future of politics in China. (Wen is pictured on the left).
Garnaut's piece is worth reading in whole. Here are some key sections:
"Wen Jiabao and Bo Xilai have long stood out from their colleagues for their striking capacities to communicate and project their individual personalities and ideologies beyond the otherwise monochromatic party machine. The two most popular members of the Politburo, they are also the most polarizing within China's political elite. They have much in common, including a belief that the Communist Party consensus that has prevailed for three decades -- "opening and reform" coupled with uncompromising political control -- is crumbling under the weight of inequality, corruption, and mistrust. But the backgrounds, personalities, and political prescriptions of these two crusaders could not be more different."
"From his leftist or "statist" perch, Bo has been challenging the "opening and reform" side of the political consensus that Deng Xiaoping secured three decades ago. Wen Jiabao, meanwhile, who plays the role of a learned, emphatic, and upright Confucian prime minister, has been challenging the other half of Deng consensus -- absolute political control -- from the liberal right. He has continuously articulated the need to limit government power through rule of law, justice, and democratization. To do this, he has drawn on the symbolic legacies of the purged reformist leaders he served in the 1980s, particularly Hu Yaobang, whose name he recently helped to "rehabilitate" in official discourse. As every Communist Party leader knows, those who want a stake in the country's future must first fight for control of its past."
Like I said, read the whole piece. It's brilliant. The insight that the 30 year paradigm of Deng Xiaoping--namely economic and private liberalization mixed with continued Communist Party domination--is breaking down is totally fascinating. Garnaut's read on how this episode with Bo Xilai is playing into that broader ideological shift is really insightful.