Why Bo Xilai's Life Sentence Marks China's True Return To Maoism
Last week finally saw the epilogue of the eventful Bo Xilai affair. The former high-ranking official of the single-party state, both a member of the Chinese Community Party (CCP) Politburo and the most powerful figure of the Chongqing municipality, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in the Shandong province. But this legal and political saga is far from being over, as there are other similar cases that have yet to play out.
It was no coincidence that Bo Xilai’s trial took place in a different province than the one where his clans and networks were based. He operated in the Sichuan province, where he tried to sideline rivals under the cover of a vast anti-corruption campaign, and also in the Shanxi province, where he was born and inherited the network of connections built by his father, the revolutionary and former top party official Bo Yibo. Only in this way can the justice system of a single-party state overcome clan networks.
It is also no coincidence that the anti-corruption campaign is targeting these two provinces. The central power’s aim is to eradicate the clan networks that, beyond Bo Xilai’s sentence, are keeping his power in place and are corrupting the state and its system. These networks threaten to drive China into score-settling amongst clans, not so much for ideological reasons, but for pure power and money.
Return of a Maoist revolution
The anti-corruption campaign in China marks the return of Maoism. Contrary to what some may have thought, having been misled by the propaganda of the “Chongqing model,” Bo Xilai and his clan aren’t the real neo-Maoists despite their revolutionary rhetoric and public crackdowns. Instead, it is people like President Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, head of the CCP’s powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, who harken back to the days of Chairman Mao.
As in the time of the Maoist revolution in the 1940s and 1950s, the policy of the Central Committee — the 350-member CCP authority — is to target the sources of regional and local tyrannies, where power and wealth are accumulated through networks of personal connections greased with luxurious presents and lavish banquets. Then, as now, the goal was to replace the tyrannical power of the clan networks with the single-party state’s power.
To accomplish this, President Xi Jinping followed his predecessor Hu Jintao’s example and sought support from a large segment of the population — victims of the tyrants who operate not only in rural areas but also in every business sector. These victims represent a part of the middle class, and they are the children of true Maoists who sincerely believed in the revolution’s ideals. The wealthy and powerful, who display dictatorial behaviors and ostentatious luxury, are now more than ever despised by the rest of the population.
Exertion of power
In this way, President Xi Jinping launched a vast mass mobilization campaign based on the Maoist model. He called on Chinese citizens to report, via Internet services provided by the government, any corrupt behavior, whether it be the use of public money to offer valuable gifts or trips, or inviting people to banquets as a means to expand a clan network.
China’s democratization is not going the way Western countries were hoping. It is far from liberal in the Western sense of the term. It is happening under the control of an authoritarian state that wants to assert its dominion and reinforce its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence. To do so, it relies on its “rule of law” (fazhi) against local and family tyrannies, which are considered illegitimate and illegal.
The very survival of the single-party state — in the way it was shaped by Maoism and its place in the world — is at stake. The embezzlement of public money for clans and private organizations seriously affects the state’s wealth and, consequently, the main foundation of its economic and political power.