Tag Archives: chongqing

With the end of Bo Xilai’s trial, is Xi Jinping co-opting the ‘Chongqing model’?


It’s been perhaps the most sensational rise and fall of a top Chinese official in a generation, but the corruption trial against former Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai (薄熙来) wrapped up this week with plenty of surprises, China Flag Iconeven if his guilty verdict for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, is all but assured.

On the final day of what has been a sensation hearing by Chinese standards, Bo accused a top aide of becoming romantically involved with his wife, capping five days of what has been a spirited defense by one of China’s most charismatic 21st century party leaders.  Far from showing remorse, Bo (pictured above) has vigorously denied the charges and defended his actions:

He said he never cared for money. “The long johns that I’m wearing now were bought by my mother in the 1960s,” Bo said, suggesting he did not approve of the lifestyle Gu had created for their son, Bo Guagua.  “I have been working like a machine. I really don’t have time to care about air tickets, hotel expenses and travel expenses,” Bo said. He added: “The country did not pick me because I am a good accountant.”

That Bo has been allowed to mount such a public (and political) defense is not surprising, given his status as one of the second-generation ‘princelings’ of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党).  Even if Bo goes to prison for a decade or longer, the trial will have helped to cement his image as the leader of a ‘New Left’ movement within Chinese politics and society.

But what does that mean for the ‘Chongqing model’ that Bo championed as party secretary in Chongqing from 2007 to 2012?

The ‘Chongqing model’ is a vaguely neo-Maoist approach to governing China that involves a redoubling of state power and control, strengthening state-owned enterprises and aggressively attacking organized crime, while bringing back some truly unique vestiges of the era of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛泽东), such as encouraging the singing of revolutionary-era songs.  It’s often contrasted against the ‘Guangdong model’ — a leadership style that encourages private development to blossom instead of through state-sponsored economic policy and at least a passing respect for the rule of law and other institutional reforms.

You can place the two models on the familiar left-right ideological axis — the Chongqing model prioritizes equitable distribution among all classes, the Guangdong model prioritizes the highest economic growth possible.  In reality, however, the line between the two models is blurrier.  Though the ‘Guangdong model’ is associated with the relatively liberal former Guangdong party chair Wang Yang (汪洋), now a vice premier (though not a full member of the Politburo Standing Committee) in Xi’s government, it was Wang who served for two years as Chongqing party chair as Bo’s direct predecessor.  Realistically, the differences among China’s political elite remain smaller than their shared values.  Just as there’s little chance that China will return to the days of Mao-era socialist state planning, there’s also little evidence that economic liberalization and reform has led (or will lead in the future) to greater political freedom.

Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal reported that Xi Jinping (习近平), who took power as Chinese president earlier this year after assuming leadership last November as the general secretary of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, is also lurching to the left in the first year of what is expected to be his ten-year stewardship of the People’s Republic of China: Continue reading With the end of Bo Xilai’s trial, is Xi Jinping co-opting the ‘Chongqing model’?

Fifth Generation: Who is Zhang Dejiang?

This is the second in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8.

Yesterday, I examined the background and career of Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), the Party secretary in the municipality of Tianjin.

But another Zhang is expected to be appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee — Zhang Dejiang (张德江), a North Korean expert who’s been part of the wider 25-member Politburo since 2002 and who has served as a vice premier for energy, telecommunications and transportation.

Like the other Zhang, this Zhang is also 66, and he’s also a protégé of former president and ‘paramount leader’ Jiang Zemin (江泽民).

Earlier this year, Zhang stepped into the spotlight to take over from the disgraced Bo Xilai, who was forced to step down as the Party secretary of Chongqing municipality in March 2012 amid various scandals about corruption and a high-profile trial of his wife, Gu Kailai, who was convicted in August for murdering a British expat in August.  Late last month, Bo was expelled from the National People’s Congress, and he’s expected to be tried for charges soon as well.  It marked a remarkable downfall for Bo and the most sensational Chinese political scandal in recent memory.

Bo had attained near rock-star status as Chongqing’s leader, and his leftist ‘Chongqing model’ that featured double-digit growth along with attention to social welfare programs in the face of China’s rising inequality, as well as populist attacks on organized crime and a retro embrace of the ‘red’ culture of old-school Maoism and the songs and slogans of the Cultural Revolution, caused great discomfort among the highest echelons of the Chinese government, who determined that his anti-corruption programs were less than honest governance than the corrupt shakedowns of a leader on the verge of building his own personality cult.

Like Zhang and Xi Jinping (习近平), who is expected to become China’s new ‘paramount leader,’ Bo was a ‘princeling’ — the son of an earlier senior Party dignitary, Bo Yibo — one of China’s most powerful leaders in the 1980s and the 1990s — which makes the younger Bo’s downfall all the more remarkable.

With Zhang firmly reasserting more orthodox control over Chongqing — he denied earlier this week that a ‘Chongqing model’ even exists– he appears to have passed a key hurdle in a career that’s seen as many highlights as disappointments.

Now, it appears that Zhang will take the seat on the Politburo Standing Committee that seemed at one time virtually assured for Bo.

As noted above, Zhang’s father Zhang Zhiyi served as a major general in the People’s Liberation Army.

Zhang studied Korean in his youth and studied economics in Pyongyang in North Korea before returning to China, and his Korean expertise brought him initially to prominence when he arranged Jiang’s trip to North Korea in 1990 and, under Jiang’s patronage, rose through the ranks in Jilin province, which borders North Korea and Russia in the far northeast of China.  Zhang was appointed Party secretary of Jilin province in 1995 and served until 1998, and he was credited with successfully addressing the issue of Korean immigration — about 4.25% of Jilin’s population is ethnically Korean. Continue reading Fifth Generation: Who is Zhang Dejiang?