Posts tagged ‘populism’

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Stun grenades on Zeman’s Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier: Prague and Taipei establish sister-city relations

The following is Taiwanese coverage of city-sister relations between Prague and Taipei. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

Red star over Radio Prague: a pre-1989 QSL card, confirming reception of a broadcast on December 30, 1985

Red star over Radio Prague: a pre-1989 QSL card,
confirming reception of a broadcast
on December 30, 1985

Radio Taiwan International (RTI), December 12, 2019

The Prague city hall assembly unanimously passed a proposal today (December 12) to conclude a sister city agreement with Taipei. Mayor Zdeněk Hřib is likely to sign the agreement with Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je next month.

布拉格市議會今天(12日)無異議通過與台北市締結為姐妹市的提案,市長賀瑞普(Zdeněk Hřib)預計將在下個月與台北市長柯文哲簽署。

Prague city council discussed the proposal today, and because of a consensus between all governing coalition parties, a vote was taken right after a short explanation by mayor Hřib, with 39 votes in favor of the proposal, zero opposing it, and two abstentions.

布拉格市議會今天討論與台北市締結為姐妹市的提案,由於在聯合政府執政的各黨有共識,市長賀瑞普簡短說明後即直接進行表決,結果以39票贊成、零票反對、2票棄權的壓倒性高票通過。

Hřib had said after a city government meeting last week that he would officially sign a sister city agreement with Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je in January next year, to strengthen Prague’s cooperation and relations with Taipei in economics and trade, culture, tourism, education and in other fields. Besides, Prague’s Zoological Garden was hopeful to get a pangolin as a gift from Taipei.

賀瑞普上週在市政會議後曾表示,將在明年1月與來訪的台北市長柯文哲正式簽署姐妹市協議,加強布拉格與台北在經貿、文化、觀光、教育等領域的合作關係,此外,布拉格動物園可望獲得台北贈送的穿山甲。

Central News Agency (CNA), December 13, 2019

Zdeněk Hřib only took office last year. In January this year he said that he wanted to remove the clause concerning the one-China policy, and Taiwan being an inseparable part of [China’s] territory, from the sister city agreement with Beijing. He also met with Tibetan exile government leader Lobsang Sangay on his own initiative, openly challenging [Czech] president Miloš Zeman’s pro-China policies with a stun grenade at Czech-Chinese relations.

賀瑞普(Zdeněk Hřib)去年底才上任,今年1月即宣布要廢除前任市長與北京締結的姐妹市協議當中有關一個中國政策和台灣是中國不可分割領土的條款,並在市府主動接見西藏流亡政府首長洛桑森格,公然挑戰總統齊曼(Miloš Zeman)的親中政策,為捷克和中國關係投下震撼彈。

According to Hřib, he had done an internship in Taiwan as a student and got a good impression of Taiwan, referring to himself as a “Taiwan fan”. He also visited Taiwan in March, had a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, and tested the water for concluding a sister-city status.

按照賀瑞普自己的說法,學生時代曾到台灣實習的他對台灣留下好印象,自稱是「台灣迷」。3月他還親訪台灣,晉見總統蔡英文,為締結姊妹市一事試水溫。

In fact, Hřib’s friendly conduct towards Taiwan also reflects, to a certain degree, dissatisfaction among Czech society with China.

事實上,賀瑞普的友台作為,也一定程度反映了捷克社會近年對中國的不滿。

In 2016, Chinese state chairman Xi Jinping visited Prague for the first time and pledged large-scale investment. [Czech president] Zeman replied that he hoped the Czech Republic, as an unsinkable aircraft carrier, could “help China expand its investment in Europe”, standing out in Europe’s world of politics by its friendship with China.

2016年,中國國家主席習近平首次訪問布拉格,承諾為捷克帶來大筆投資,齊曼還呼應說希望捷克成為「協助中國在歐洲擴張投資永不沉沒的航空母艦」,對中國的友好在歐洲政壇獨樹一幟。

But several years later, many of China’s investment pledges have not materialized, and Ye Jianming, a mysterious businessman and svengali between the two countries, has suddenly disappeared. Hřib’s plan to remove the one-China clause grabbed the opportunity provided by the misgivings among Czech society, concerning China.

然而,幾年過去了,中國的許多投資承諾都沒兌現,在兩國之間牽線的神秘商人葉簡明還突然消失。賀瑞普打算廢除一中條款,正好抓住捷克社會對中國質疑聲四起的時機。

Also, the Czech Republic which overthrew the communist dictatorship thirty years ago, originally attached importance to the values of democracy and human rights. But in recent years, the Czech Republic has suffered a lot from right-wing populist policies. President Miloš Zeman and prime minister Andrej Babiš have no intention of continuing the spiritual heritage left behind by the Velvet Revolution [of 1989], departing from Vaclav Havel‘s line of humanism and pro-Europeanness.

其次,30年前曾推翻共黨獨裁統治的捷克,原本就特別重視民主和人權的價值。不過,近年來,捷克深受右翼民粹政治所苦,總統齊曼和總理巴比斯(Andrej Babiš)都無意延續絲絨革命留下的精神遺產,背離前總統哈維爾(Vaclav Havel)的人道主義和親歐路線。

[…]

As expected, Hřib’s actions were answered with Chinese retaliation. In April this year, at an annual meeting at the Czech trade and industry ministry, Taiwan’s representative to the Czech Republic was, for the first time, forced to leave the venue under pressure from China’s ambassador.

一如預料,賀瑞普的舉動遭到中方報復。今年4月,捷克貿易工業部為外國使節舉辦年度會議,由於中國大使施壓,我國駐捷克代表首度被迫離席。

Following that, Beijing cancelled Czech Philharmonia’s and another three important Czech ensembles tours of China. And Zeman publicly threatened that China could discontinue direct flights between Chinese cities and Prague, and cut financial assistance for soccer club Slavia Praha.

隨後,中國又一連取消布拉格愛樂(Prague Philharmonia)等4個捷克重要表演團隊在中國的巡迴演出行程。齊曼還公開威脅,中國將中斷中國城市和布拉格的直航和切斷布拉格斯拉維亞足球俱樂部(Slavia Praha)的金援。

Interestingly, China’s retaliation proved counterproductive. After having been forced out of the meeting at the Czech trade and industry ministry, [Taiwan’s] representative Wang Chung-I was interviewed by a big newspaper, thus greatly improving Taiwan’s visibility. And cultural minister Lubomir Zaoralek has rarely met with China’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, criticizing China’s unilateral cancellation of Czech ensembles’ performances which had “seriously harmed China’s image”.

有趣的是,中國的報復反而造成反效果。駐捷克代表汪忠一被迫離席後,立刻接受大報專訪,大幅提升台灣能見度。文化部長左拉列克(Lubomir Zaoralek)罕見接見中國駐捷克大使,批評中國片面取消樂團演出「嚴重傷害中國形象」。

[…]

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Related

Interview with mayor Hřib, Radio Prague, Aug 16, 2019

Monday, February 26, 2018

Chairman Unlimited

Xi Jinping‘s speech at the 19th central committee’s fourth collective study session on Sunday, rendered there by Xinhua newsagency, contained the usual buzzwords from building a modern socialist country, making the great regjuvenation of the Chinese nation real, a country ruled according to the law (依法治国), and the moderately prosperous society (小康社会). Apart from that, Xi reportedly also pointed out that “the constitution is the superstructure and must therefore suit the changes at the economic base (宪法作为上层建筑,一定要适应经济基础的变化而变化).

Xi also seems to have gone to some length to emphasize the legitimacy derived from the constitution, and from constitutional behavior. No wonder: the CCP’s politburo has sent a draft of constitutional changes to the “National People’s Congress'”  standing committee, according to the second Xinwen Lianbo newsitem last night.

The amendment that has caught most of the international attention on Sunday is actually a reduction:

14. Article 79, para 3, “The People’s Republic of China chairperson’s and vice chairperson’s terms in office are identical with the terms of each National People’s Congress, and must not exceed the duration of two terms.” The amendment reads: “The People’s Republic of China chairperson’s and vice chairperson’s terms in office are identical with the terms of each National People’s Congress.”

十四、宪法第七十九条第三款“中华人民共和国主席、副主席每届任期同全国人民代表大会每届任期相同,连续任职不得超过两届。”修改为:“中华人民共和国主席、副主席每届任期同全国人民代表大会每届任期相同。”

With me in charge, you are at ease, are you not? – click photo above for Xinwen Lianbo video

At the central committee’s collective study session, Xi, the beneficiary (and arguably author) of this amendment, was keen on pointing out how important a constitution is, provided that it contains the correct amendments:

Xi Jinping emphasized that the constitution has the highest legal status, legal authority, and legal force. Above all, our party must set an example in venerating and implementing the constitution, and by leading the people in drawing up and implementing constitutional law, and [by leading the people in] persisting in unified action with the party within the scope of constitutional law. No organization or individual must have prerogatives beyond the law. All acts that violate constitutional laws must be investigated. […]

习近平强调,宪法具有最高的法律地位、法律权威、法律效力。我们党首先要带头尊崇和执行宪法,把领导人民制定和实施宪法法律同党坚持在宪法法律范围内活动统一起来。任何组织或者个人都不得有超越宪法法律的特权。一切违反宪法法律的行为,都必须予以追究。 […..]

The constitution is a matter for the “National People’s Congress”, China’s ersatz parliament. As for Xi’s function as CCP secretary general and head of the central military commission (officially, there is one CMC by the state, and one by the party, but they are in fact identical), there appear to be no term limits anyway.

Foarp has started a discussion on his blog.

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Related

How safe will he be in 2023, Dec 13, 2014
Xi Jinping’s first time, Nov 29, 2012
你办事,我放心, People’s Daily, July 4, 2012

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Blog and Press Review: Frugal New Year

Warning: the following translation from a classic is just my guesswork – if you copy that for your homework, the mistakes will be your fault, not mine. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

Frugal New Year: the Xi Style

The year of the dog is upon us, and it must be a dog’s life if you are a cadre in the Xi Jinping era. That’s what you might believe, anyway, if you read secretary general Xi Jinping’s spiritual nourishment for comrades. After all, in a totalitarian society, administration, legislation, crackdowns and Something Understood all need to come from the same source.

People’s Daily has published three instalments of Xi Jinping thought. The first: go and visit the poor, and ask about their suffering, find solutions to the problems and dump the worries. The second: have an affectionate reunion with your family, as a good family style promotes virtue.

For the third instalment, the sermon turns to the New Book of Tang:
奢靡之始,危亡之渐 (which means something like “what begins lavishly will move towards danger”, I suppose).

I can only find the Chinese original [no English edition] of the  New Book of Tang online, and there, in chapter 105, Chu Suiliang, an advisor with morals, tells his surprised sovereign the meaning of things that only appear to be innocent at first glance:

帝尝怪:“舜造漆器,禹雕其俎,谏者十馀不止,小物何必尔邪?”遂良曰:“雕琢害力农,纂绣伤女工,奢靡之始,危亡之渐也。漆器不止,必金为之,金又不止,必玉为之,故谏者救其源,不使得开。及夫横流,则无复事矣。”帝咨美之。

The emperor said: “Shun made the lacquer, Yu gave us the embroideries, but the remonstrances never seem to end. How can small things be evil?”
Suiliang said: “ornate artwork harms the peasantry, and embroidery hurts the working women. What begins lavishly, will indeed move towards danger. It doesn’t end at lacquerware, it takes gold, too. It doesn’t end there, but jade will be required, too. Those who remonstrate do not want to see things pass the point of no return.”

If my impression of the Chinese texts is basically correct, Xi seems to present himself as someone who speaks truth to power – which is corny at best, and quite probably populist. The latter, anyway, is a tool lavishly handed around among the Davos jetset more recently, and it probably works fine, especially at the grass-roots level, with people who routinely delude themselves.

Roar back, if you still dare, fly or tiger.

Xi Jinping probably found a lot to copy from Ronald Reagan. His May 4 speech in 2013 resembled Reagan’s endless-opportunities speech in 1984. While frequently considered risk averse when it comes to reform, optimism, a “determination … to educate his audience” and “unobtrusive and imperceptible moral influence” (OK – it depends on how much corniness you’ve grown up with) are features Xi’s propaganda style seems to share with the late US president’s.

Footnote: when it comes to education on the ground, education of the public appears to be anything but imperceptible, as The Capital in the North reported in January.

Central Europe (1): After the “Czech Reversal”

The China Digital Times has an article by a Czech academic, describing Chinese influence in Eastern Europe (although the Czech Republic is hardly “eastern” European), and more particularly about a “China Energy Fund Committee” (CEFC). Czech president Miloš Zeman, who is quoted there with some of his characteristically tasteless remarks (about Chinese eyes, before he changed his mind), has explicit opinions about journalism, too.

Central Europe (2): German Mittelstand’s Main Thing

If the German Mittelstand can’t be found in China, it’s probably because they are investing and selling in the Visegrád countries, and beyond. the Handelsblatt‘s English-language edition has a critical assessment of Mittelstand companies role in Central Europe, quoting an apolitical German trade functionary to prove its point:

Ultimately, politics is not that important for businesspeople. Order books are full: That’s the main thing.

Obviously, German politicians (and journalists, for that matter) aren’t nearly as sanguine, and following US President Trump’s attendence at a Three Seas Initiative summit in July 2017, the Economist even recorded Teutonic tremors:

Germany is already concerned about China’s “16+1” initiative with central and eastern European states, a series of investment projects that the Chinese expect will build influence in the region. The Germans are also putting pressure on the Polish government over its illiberal attacks on independent newspapers, judges and NGOs. And they are fending off Polish criticisms that their proposed “Nord Stream 2” gas pipeline from Russia to Germany will make Europe more dependent on Russia.

But the Mittelstand shows no such unease. In fact, smaller and medium-sized companies often feel easier about countries that are closer to Germany, both regionally and culturally – it takes less time to travel, less time spent abroad, less worries about intercultural competence (or its absence), and less worries about market barriers or technology theft.

Hualien, Taiwan

Most people will have heard and read about the earthquake that caused deaths and injuries, especially in Hualien, on Tuesday.

But the place should be known for its beauty, too. There’s a travel blog about the Taroko Gorge, apparently written by a Singaporean, with some practical advice which  should be quite up to date (based on a visit in November 2016). That, plus some history.

The Spy Radio that anyone can hear

No, that’s not the BBC. They’ve only produced a video about numbers stations.

But what’s the fun in them if anyone can listen? I want some numbers of my own.

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Related

Budapest Guidelines, in Chinese and in English, Nov 2017

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Populism in China (1): The Downfall of Bo Xilai

There is no Weltinnenpolitik yet, but there are cross-civilizational trends.

The City of Red Songs

There would be no second chance. Gerhard Schröder, former chancellor of Germany, was in a hurry in June 2011, on the sidelines of a forum in southwestern China’s metropolis of Chongqing. He was therefore lacking the time to attend one of the red-song nights that were customary there. But he still pleased his interlocutors with a German proverb: Where people sing, you can settle down – wicked people sing no songs.

In full, the red-songs custom advocated by Chongqing’s party chief Bo Xilai was Singing revolutionary songs, Reading classic books, telling stories and spreading mottos. There would be nine more months of that before Bo Xilai was toppled by his CCP comrades.

A Hudong article explained the activity at the time. It was a mass concept, started in Chongqing in 2008, which was greeted with enthusiasm there, and elsewhere in China. The concept wasn’t outdated, because

if a country and a nation have no correct thought and advanced culture, it will lose its backbone. The current deep changes of the economic system, the structure of society, and the profound adjustment of interest patterns must be reflected in the ideological field. There is diversity in peoples’ minds, and although the mainstream is positive and healthy, while some peoples’ material life conditions have improved, spiritual life is somewhat empty. To change that condition, and to ensure a safe passing of the torch in the cause of the party and the country, the red flag must be righteously upheld, the ideology of Marxism must be consolidated in its guiding position within the ideological field, and the attractiveness and the cohesive power of socialist ideology must be strengthened.

一个国家和民族没有正确的思想、先进的文化,就会失掉主心骨。当前,经济体制深刻变革、社会结构深刻变动、利益格局深刻调整,必然反映到意识形态领域。人们的思想日趋多元多变多样,虽然主流积极健康向上,但一些人物质生活改善了,精神生活却有些空虚。为了彻底改变这种状况,保证党和国家的事业薪火相传,必须理直气壮地举红旗,不断巩固马克思主义在意识形态领域的指导地位,增强社会主义意识形态的吸引力和凝聚力。[Links within these lines omitted.]

According to the HuDong article, CCP politbureau member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来) had deplored the phenomenon of young people who sang decadent songs (唱 .. 靡靡之音, chàng mímí zhī yīn), who were reading “fast-food” kinds of literature (读 .. 快餐文化, dú kuàicān wénhuà), told “low and vulgar stories” (讲 .. 低俗故事, jiǎng dīsú gùshì), and “spread pornographic or dull scripts/pieces” (传 .. 黄段子、灰段子, chuán huáng duànzi, huī duànzi).

So, apparently, there were dirty songs, too. Maybe things weren’t as simple as Schröder had believed. At least one  reader and forum commenter of China’s Huanqiu Shibao didn’t trust Schröder’s expertise and wrote:

OK, listen [to the red songs], you won’t comprehend them anyway. It will be as if you were listening to folk songs.

听吧,反正听不懂,就当听民歌了

The “Chongqing Model” was controversial, at least in the perceivable medial public of China. The party elite wasn’t entirely in love with Bo’s pretentious neo-Maoism. A vice president of Law School at China University of Political Science and Law was quoted by the English-language party mouthpiece “Global Times”:

There have been 104,000 “Red Song Concerts” in Chongqing, with 80 million participants. It cost 1,500 yuan ($231) per person for onsite renting and costume expenses, 210 million yuan in total. Adding in the offwork compensation and transportation the final cost is 270 billion [sic – probably means million – JR] yuan. Why don’t they use the money for health insurance?

Bo Xilai’s “Populism”, 2007 – 2012

At the grassroots, however, Bo’s leadership style appears to have worked (maybe it still does). The Chongqing Model wasn’t just about folklore, red or otherwise.

Chongqing (Sichuan province) residents set off firecrackers today, celebrating the execution of the provincial-level city’s former chief justice Wen Qiang (文强), cqnews.net reported in July 2010. The Wall Street Journal explained:

Wen Qiang was put to death following the rejection in May by China’s Supreme Court of an appeal of his conviction on charges including bribery, shielding criminal gangs, rape and inability to account for millions of dollars in cash and assets, according to Xinhua news agency. Xinhua didn’t say how Mr. Wen was executed.

Punching black crime and uprooting vice (拳打黑除恶) was the name of the campaign that cost Wen his life – according to the historical records as Bo would have it, he and his police chief Wang Lijun not only battled against gangs, but infiltrated cadres, too.

The now defunct website Chinageeks published an English translation of Zhang Wen, a former chief editor of the Xinhua magazine Globe:

Bo Xilai and the “northeast tiger” Wang Lijun entered Chongqing and started a war and began a “battling corruption and evil” movement that has gradually begun to spread nationwide and worldwide. This action is in line with the people’s wishes, and at the same time, also in line with what central authorities wish.

At first, the public opinion was very one-sided; no one could find any fault with Bo. The controversy and difference of opinions came with the case of Li Zhuang. Proponents of the democratic rule of law questioned and criticized the legality of Chongqing [court] proceedings, but Bo Xilai’s supporters hold that punishing lawyers who defend “bad people” is appropriate.

Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai is a high-level lawyer who has been working for many years. The two have been together for many years and Bo himself was once the head of the Ministry of Commerce, and thus often negotiated international legal issues with foreign opponents. Because of this, Bo Xilai should have a solid conception and knowledge of the law.

But in the end, in the Li Zhuang case, the organs of justice in Chongqing left a bad impression that they might violate legal procedures. Precisely because of this, some people’s opinions on Bo Xilai changed dramatically. I myself once wrote an essay expressing pity that Bo Xilai hadn’t turned out to be the sort of high-quality modern politician [we had hoped].

Chongqing was a small pond for a big fish – Bo Xilai appeared to have hoped for a permanent seat in the CCP’s central politburo, but landed the job as party secretary of Chongqing instead. Chongqing wasn’t an insignificant city, but it was far from where central Chinese power was. Only an alernate politburo membership linked him to Beijing. From 2008, his Maoist song events raised nationwide attention, and even beyond China – Henry Kissinger apparently leapt at the chance Schröder had missed.

In 2011, Bo Xilai started his second campaign for a permanent seat at the CCP’s top table. While the Economist found Bo’s style refreshing, it noted nervously that

The region’s party chief, Bo Xilai, is campaigning for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee in next year’s leadership shuffle. He looks likely to succeed. Like every other Chinese politician since 1949, he avoids stating his ambitions openly, but his courting of the media and his attempts to woo the public leave no one in any doubt. Mr Bo’s upfront style is a radical departure from the backroom politicking that has long been the hallmark of Communist rule and would seem like a refreshing change, were it not that some  of his supporters see him as the Vladimir Putin of China. Mr Bo is a populist with an iron fist. He has waged the biggest crackdown on mafia-style gangs in his country in recent years. He has also been trying to foster a mini-cult of Mao, perhaps in an effort to appeal to those who are disillusioned with China’s cut-throat capitalism.

Bo didn’t appear to aim for the top job as secretary general, the Economist noted, as that position appeared to have been reserved for Xi Jinping. Indeed, Xi succeeded Hu Jintao as party secretary general in autumn 2012, and as state chairman in March 2013.

Bo Xilai’s plans didn’t work that smoothly. In November 2011, a British citizen, Neil Heywood, died in a hotel in Chongqing. Given that Chinese courts don’t work independently from the party, the circumstances of his death can’t be considered resolved. A Chinese court found Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, guilty of killing Heywood, and after only one day in court, she got a suspended death sentence.

The BBC‘s China editor Carrie Gracie tried to shed light on the circumstances of Bo Xilai’s rise and fall, and the role Heywood’s death played in the latter, but didn’t find too many interlocutors. Instead, she presented a Rocky Horror Picture Show of elite power struggles with Chinese characteristics. Bo Xilai as the avenger of the common man, a crashing, media-savvy scourge of organized crime, who addressed the public directly, without party media filtering. That hadn’t happened since Mao’s days – “think Donald Trump”.

With support from local police chief Wang Lijun, who fancied leading roles in martial-arts television, too, Bo had exercised a regime that labeled opponents as mafiosi and not only jailed them, but expropriated them too, in favor of Chongqing’s budgets.

It isn’t contested that Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun prosecuted the real or supposed gangsters’ advocates, too, with questionable means. Gracie quotes one of these advocates, Li Zhuang (see above, Zhang Wen’s criticism of Bo Xilai), as Li describes how he was arrested by Wang Lijun personally:

The scene was so over-the-top, loads of police cars surrounding the plane, riot police in helmets and camouflage, armed with submachine guns. I asked, “Why the big show? Is it Obama’s state visit or are you capturing Osama Bin Laden?”

We were surrounded by a huge scrum of reporters. He wanted to show his authority on camera. He was in a trench coat, hands in his pockets. He said: “Li Zhuang, we meet again.”

There were admirers of Bo and Wang, there were critics and enemies, and there were people who detested the two. But at the grassroots, the fans appeared to be numerous. According to Gracie, there are still many.

Making inconvenient lawyers disappear was no unique feature of Bo Xilai, however. The party leadership with Xi Jinping at the core has been proving for years that to them, the rule of law is a theroretical nicety they may or may not care about.

Gracie reduces the causes of conflict between the noisy polit-soloist Bo Xilai and the basically “collectivist” leadership in Beijing on a personal rivalry between princeling Bo and princeling Xi.

Certainly, top politicians’ egos can hardly be overestimated, and when they are Chinese, ostentatious modesty shouldn’t fool anyone.

But Xi alone wouldn’t have gotten Bo under control. Neither with the sudden Neil-Heywood scandal – that became known as the Wang-Lijun incident in China after the police chief fled into the next US consulate and being passed on to the central authorities from there (but only after having spilled the beans). Nor otherwise.

The question suggests itself if Bo Xilai’s career wasn’t finished in summer 2011 anyway, given wide-spread disapproval among the party elite, of his egotistic leadership style in Chongqing.

“Unity is strength” was one of the “red songs” Bo Xilai had them sing in Chongqing (above: October 8, 2009). But it wasn’t only the Xi faction that saw a lack of just that on Bo’s part. Bo was putting himself forward, and that had been a taboo during all the post-Mao years.

He didn’t denigrate his leading comrades – appearances like that of Donald Trump as a campaigner, cursing fellow members of his political class, would have been inconceivable. But putting himself into the limelight (and casting it away from others) amounted to the same thing, by Chinese standards. Besides, given his anti-corruption renown, sanctimonious as it may have been, could have threatened his “comrades”. A tribun within their ranks – that couldn’t work.

Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao are said to be rivals. But within the Hu camp, Bo’s populism didn’t seem to resonate either. On the contrary: Wen Jiabao, chief state councillor (aka “prime minister”) during the Hu Jintao era, had been a tireless, even if unsuccessful, advocate of political reform, way beyond economics or technology.

At a press conference in March 2012, after the closing ceremony of the annual “parliament” plenary sessions, Wen warned that China wasn’t immune against another cultural revolution. That John Garnaut, an Australian correspondent in Beijing, got the opportunity to talk with Hu Dehua, one of Hu Yaobang’s sons, may also count as an indication that the comparatively liberal factions in the party leadership were at least as sick of Bo Xilai’s revolutionary operas, as were the Xi supporters.

Garnaut, two weeks after Wen’s press conference, in an indirect account of his conversation with Hu Dehua*):

Hu Dehua told his father how pessimistic he felt about his country’s future. Hu Yaobang agreed that the methods and ideologies of the 1987 anti-liberalization movement came straight from the Cultural Revolution. But he told his son to gain some historical perspective, and reminded him that Chinese people were not joining in the elite power games as they had 20 years before. He called the anti-liberalization campaign a “medium-sized cultural revolution” and warned that a small cultural revolution would no doubt follow, Hu Dehua told me. As society developed, Hu Yaobang told his son, the middle and little cultural revolutions would gradually fade from history’s stage.

From there, everything went fast. Still in March, Bo was dismissed as Chongqing’s party chief. He also lost his alternate membership in the politburo. In summer 2012, his wife Gu Kailai got her commuted death sentence, and in September 2013, Bo was sentenced to life in prison – based on the usual charges for unrigged politicians: corruption.

Is there a Chongqing Heritage?

At first glance, Bo Xilai’s “populism” or “Maoism” is finished. But Bo counted as a champion of many Chinese from the political left. A comment in German weekly Die Zeit, in September 2013, saw the verdict against Bo as a signal from the top that resistance against economic reform was futile.

To assess Bo Xilai’s political heritage objectively. The CCP may be beyond the era when beaten opponents were airbrushed from all photos and records. But the question about how publicly or privately-owned China’s economy should be might impose itself with any questions about Bo Xilai, and the now seven-member standing committee of the politburo can’t use such questions.

A political scientist of Beijing University, He Weifang (贺卫方), hinted at problems in assessing the Chongqing Model’s performance, from 2007 to 2012:

It is generally believed that the so-called “Chongqing Model” is mainly shaped by three aspects: “red culture” on the political level, “targeted actions against dark and evil forces in Chongqing“, and the reduction of the income gaps between the poor and the rich. The most criticized aspects are the former two, although there is support for the two of them in Chongqing and elsewhere. The third aspect isn’t that controversial. However, all data published concerning the efficiency of the measures taken to narrow the income gap are actually issued by the Chongqing authorities, and therefore lacking neutral assessment. Also, we can see that the whole process is strongly government-led, whose focus isn’t on creating a market logic of equal opportunities. If this approach will or will not lead to mistakes in financial policies, including the rural land policies‘ impartiality, is also questionable. And then there are concerns about life today being lead on future earnings, short-term inputs being made to curry favor with the public, which may come at high future costs.

答:一般认为,所谓的重庆模式主要由三方面内容构成:政治层面上的红色文化,执法层面上的“打黑除恶”以及民生方面的缩小贫富差距。最受诟病的是前两者,虽然在重庆和其他地方,似乎也有一些人人对于“唱红”和“打黑”表达支持。第三方面内容相对较少争议。不过,那些举措究竟对于缩小贫富差距产生了怎样的效果,目前得到的信息都是由重庆当局发布的,缺少中立的评估。另外,我们可以看到整个过程是在政府强势主导下进行的,其重点并非创造机会均等的市场逻辑。这种做法是否会带来财政决策中的失误,包括重庆所推行的农村土地政策的公正性,都是大可怀疑的。还有寅吃卯粮的隐忧,短期内的高投入讨好了民众,但是却需要未来付出巨大的代价。

If Bo Xilai was a populist, one of Donald Trump’s kind, or Putin’s, or Neil Farage’s, or whoever, one has to ask oneself how much influence he has maintained over Chinese politics to this day. After all, populists like Geert Wilders aren’t ineffective, merely because they can’t lay their hands on the imperial regalia.

When looking at European populism – that’s only a snapshot, of course -, one can get the impression that populists may not be elected, but they do leave marks on politics, from Merkel’s Willkommenskultur back to the traditional Christian Democrats’ policies, and Britain’s Brexit, implemented not by its original proponents, but by Theresa May, who had used to be a lukewarm supporter of Britain’s EU membership.

Populism is hardly ever the common peoples’ business, but that of the elites. The battles are fought within the political class, as observed by Hu Yaobang in the late 1980s. That is about as true in Europe. However, these battles within the superstructure may create or intensify certain trends in the public mood – and once policies have moved sufficiently into the “populist” direction, the support for these parties wanes, and the electorate turns back to the long-established parties. After all, Joe Blow doesn’t want to look like an extremist.

When Xi Jinping announced China’s new role as a guardian of free trade at the Davos forum in January, German Handelsblatt China correspondent Stephan Scheuer hailed the party and state leader’s “dressing-down for populists”. In Davos, Xi had become “a pioneer of fair-minded globalization”.

What could be beginning to show in China is a comparatively strong Maoist component in propaganda, as long as this doesn’t come at the cost of China’s privileged, and as long as this doesn’t require substantial reallocation of means or wealth to poor classes of population, or laggard regions. But whenever the name “Bo Xilai” should appear in any token event, the exorcists will be just around the corner.

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