This is a guest post from Charlie Custer, the founder of Chinageeks.org, a blog that provides analysis and translation of modern China:
In the wake of Premier
Wen Jiabao's jab at former up-and-comer Bo Xilai during his speech at the
closing of China's National People's Congress yesterday, China's
state newswire Xinhua announced this morning that Bo Xilai has been
replaced in his Chongqing posts by a vice-Premier named Zhang Dejiang. The
one-sentence news bulletin did not make it clear whether Bo retained his
position on the Politburo, or whether he had resigned or been fired, but most
observers agree the news is a definitive sign that Bo's political ascendancy is
at an end.
A few months ago, Bo Xilai was regarded as a
prominent up-and-comer, and a possible competitor for a position on China's
powerful politburo standing committee. His governance of Chongqing, a massive
city-state in central China once known for its rampant gangsterism, has been
marked with a mix of socialist flourish -- Bo brought back cultural revolution
songs and promoted "red" culture -- and unceasing pursuit of
anti-corruption and anti-gangster prosecutions, often culminating in
high-profile trials and surrounded with rumors of unethical methods. But in
February it all started falling in apart in way that was conspicuously,
almost suspiciously, public for the normally secretive upper ranks of
China's Communist Party.
On China's microblogs, discussion of Bo's downfall has been
a hot topic since the rumors of Bo protege Wang Lijun's attempted defection
first emerged in February. In a scandal that has yet to be fully unraveled,
Wang entered a US Consulate in Chengdu, possibly turning over state secrets to
US officials, then left voluntarily and was taken by Chinese state security
agents. He has not been heard from since, but the Chongqing government did
announce that Wang was undergoing "vacation-style medical treatment."
This odd phrasing caught the attention of net users, and early on, there were
faltering attempts by censors to stop the discussion, but quite quickly it
became clear China's microblog operators were not dedicated to protecting Bo
and discussion of him would be allowed, even promoted. At present, Bo's
dismissal ranks at the top of Sina Weibo's trending topics list, which
indicates both that it is being widely discussed and that Sina's censors
endorse this discussion. The trending topics list is managed carefully by Sina,
and politically sensitive issues never appear there for long.
Bo's flamboyant style and promotion of his own 'Chongqing
Model' of governance has always made him a controversial figure, and
unsurprisingly the news of his removal has provoked a variety of responses.
"Bo Xilai may personally have had problems [...] but he really did many
good things for the people," wrote popular microblogger and
media-watcher Dou Hanzhang. "We cannot completely negate the 'Chongqing
Model' just because of his personal problems." Beijing
lawyer Wang Cailiang wrote: "Many of my friends are very happy [about
Bo Xilai's dismissal]. I don't think there's really anything worth feeling
happy about. How many officials are there in our Party who were elected and who
respect the opinions of Party members? It's like kids playing house, a few factions
determine who holds what position. It doesn't have anything to do with the rule
of law, democracy, or the people's lives."
Other netizens shared photos and songs to commemorate Bo's
career in Chongqing, where he picked up a reputation as a populist and a
fighter against corruption, even if his methods of prosecution were sometimes
rumored to be as criminal as the methods of the gangsters he was hunting down.
"I don't even want to stay in Chongqing anymore," wrote one anonymous
weibo user, "with Bo Xilai gone and Wang Lijun removed, is it even
safe?" Reading through hundreds of netizen comments, it is obvious that
many netizens feel that whatever his flaws may have been, Bo Xilai did
noticeably improve life in Chongqing during his tenure there.
As for who's happy about Mr. Bo's political demise, the
consensus seems to be that Guangdong Party secretary Wang Yang, long considered
a rival of Bo's, should be ecstatic. Bo's dismissal is also a setback for the
"Princeling" faction within the Party -- the group of Party leaders
whose parents also held high-profile official positions -- and a victory for Hu
Jintao's "Communist Youth League" faction. Some net users have even
suggested that the real winners are gangsters, who some fear will be able to
run rampant in Chongqing now that Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai are gone. One wrote, "With Bo Xilai's
fall, the happiest are the gangsters, gangsters nationwide will be
drinking through the night in celebration."