Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is the future to the left or the right?

Mark Mackinnon, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, offers a great analysis of one of the political arguments going on, behind the scenes, among the Chinese elite.

Political rivalry reflects a split within China's Communist Party
Bo Xalai and Wang Yang are… provincial Party bosses, [and] rivals for coveted spots on the nine-man Standing Committee of the Politburo – the top of China's power pyramid – during the once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle set to take place over the next year. And the regions they now govern offer starkly differing models for the direction China should head next.

The rivalry between the two men reflects a split within the Chinese Communist Party that, no matter how good the Party is at presenting a united front to the world, some see as a struggle for China's very soul.

On one side, there is Mr. Bo's Chongqing model, the favourite of a powerful faction of hard leftists who are prone to harkening back wistfully to the era of Chairman Mao, and want to see the country's pursuit of growth balanced with a renewed focus on social stability, including more equitable distribution of China's new-found wealth.

On the other is Mr. Wang's more open Guangdong model, the choice of a smaller clutch of free-market liberals, who argue that now is not the time to pause the country's economic and political reforms.

Since Mr. Bo took over as Party Secretary in Chongqing four years ago, he has won wide praise for smashing the region's crime syndicates. But he is even more notorious for his nostalgic embrace of “Red culture” – which includes not only revolutionary songs but bureaucrats being sent to the countryside to work alongside farmers, and Mao quotations being sent to millions of mobile phones by Mr. Bo himself.

Mr. Bo's campaigns have made him a hero of the country's “new left” but also unnerved some prominent intellectuals, who hear unsettling echoes of the Cultural Revolution, when tens of millions were violently purged in the name of ideological purity.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wang… has recently emerged as the new hope of the country's liberals.

Guangdong, particularly the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, famously gave birth to China's economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. Now the region is home to the country's freest media and has become an incubator for civil society. But a wave of strikes and protests in the province in recent years has unsettled other top party officials, who make no secret of their preference for stability over freedom…

Some Chinese see the coming battle as critical to whether their country continues its lurching reform, or takes a dangerous step backward…

The outside world may get a hint of whether one or both of Bo Xilai and Wang Yang are set to join the world's most powerful leadership group in the coming weeks as the wider Central Committee of the Communist Party gathers in Beijing.

There may well be no pronouncement on the political future of either man – there are still months left in this secretive campaign for office before the next Standing Committee of the Politburo is unveiled, and Central Committee decisions don't have to be ratified by any congress, or pass muster with any court – but their ideas will surely be debated by its 300-odd members once the doors of the Great Hall of the People are sealed to outsiders…

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