A day ahead of the much anticipated trial of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is confronting a debate about his controversial political legacy just as the new leadership looks to close the chapter on the scandal.
Mr. Bo was dismissed in March 2012 and goes on trial on Thursday morning in Jinan, in northeastern Shandong province.
He is expected to plead guilty to charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. In China, the trial has been widely seen as an event choreographed by the CPC to the last detail, with the outcome already decided in internal deliberations.
Though the party has sought to frame the trial as a corruption case, the weeks leading up to Mr. Bo’s trial has seen renewed debate on his political legacy. In Chongqing, Mr. Bo heralded a new kind of populist politics focusing on social welfare. His politics won favour with China’s Leftists, who have been critical of the recent push towards liberalisation and economic reforms.
The reason for the ostensible appeal of Mr. Bo, according to one Chinese journalist at a Party-run daily in Beijing, was the fact that he brought attention to the problems of inequality and corruption at a time when the Party had been reluctant to confront those issues openly.
Ironically, this was despite the wide perception of rampant corruption within the Bo family.
Chang Ping, a prominent political affairs commentator, observed in an article this week that the new leadership under Xi Jinping has, interestingly, looked to appropriate — rather than discard — Mr. Bo’s politics.
Mr. Chang observed that commentators who once supported Mr. Bo’s “Chongqing model” have begun to reappear in State media, criticising liberal voices recently pushing for political reform and Constitutionalism as a check on the party’s power. While Mr. Bo’s fall was initially celebrated by pro-reform groups and seen as a blow to his hardline politics, their expectations have since been belied, he observed.
For instance, one author who this month in the People’s Daily accused liberals of pushing Constitutionalism “to overthrow the Chinese Socialist system” only last year wrote that Mr. Bo and his sacked former police chief Wang Lijun were “the least corrupt and most trustworthy officials in the Chinese political system”.
“How is it that the followers of Bo and his Chongqing model have now become the foot soldiers of the new government of Xi Jinping?” Mr. Chang asked. “The real reason is that the new government is following the “Bo Xilai line”, but only without Bo.”