Bo knows Bo, but only Wen knows when

The removal of Bo Xilai as the party secretary of Chongqing, coming hours after sharp criticism from China’s premier Wen Jiabao, is an unmistakable sign of the change coming to China’s leadership.

It seems clear now that Bo will not be among what are expected to the seven new (of the nine total) members of the Politburo standing committee to be appointed this autumn.

It also seems fairly clear that both the current Chinese leadership as well as Bo’s fellow “princeling” Xi Jinping, who is widely expected to succeed Chinese president Hu Jintao next year, will take a firm line against the more leftist / neo-Maoist model of leadership that Bo attempted to bring to life in Chongqing.  But we know fairly little about what the “Chongqing model” actually entailed — were Bo’s efforts there a bona fide campaign against corruption to root out organized crime or were they really an effort to persecute business and expropriate resources to build Bo’s own political organization in Chongqing?  I suspect we won’t know the answer to that anytime soon.

So while it’s easy to see this as a victory for market liberals and a defeat against the new left, you can also spin a lot of narratives about the Bo earthquake.

You can see this as a cautionary tale about developing too strong a cult of personality (contra Hu, whose public image is more in line with Bill Gates than Chairman Mao).

You can see this as a triumph for political reformers like Wen, who wish to liberalize the space for public discourse, and a defeat for a leader who had become viewed as increasingly authoritarian.

You can see this as a defeat of the “princelings,” the sons of the prior generation that built the Chinese Communist Party.  But Bo will be replaced by another princeling, Zhang Dejiang, so maybe not.

Above all, perhaps you think this is a story about more marked — and increasingly public — factionalism within China’s leadership on each of these axes.

But what does James Fallows think?

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