a Chinese drama unfolds

FT columnist David Pilling writes that the events in China surrounding the purge of Bo Xilai and the arrest of his wife on suspicion of murder of British businessman Neil Heywood only appear to be taken from the pages of a spy thriller. In reality, concludes Mr Pilling, this drama is not about espionage, but rather an attempt by the Communist party to protect the legitimacy of its rule. Mr Bo’s campaign against crime and corruption in Chongqing was brutal, with “swift executions and the use of torture”, but was popular with the public, and threatened party unity.

The Chinese public knows full well that Mr Bo [Xilai] is not the only princeling to have abused his position. The country is awash with stories of the privileged and their offspring acting with impunity and flaunting their increasingly spectacular wealth. The party apparatchik brought low may not be the biggest criminal, but the person with the fewest allies or the most threatening to the façade of unity.

On Tuesday, the same day Mr Bo was suspended from the Politburo, Wen Jiabao, the premier, sought to tap these deep traditions in the cause of party legitimacy. Citing a passage from The Analects of Confucius, he said: “To govern means being upright. If you lead the people by being upright and set a good example for others, who will dare not behave correctly?” He was talking to Leung Chun-ying, the man selected to run Hong Kong, a city also bubbling with allegations of business corruption and the abuse of political power. Hong Kong’s leadership too must regain its moral authority.

Mr Bo’s populism and vigilante justice threatened to rob the Communist party of its legitimacy. And that, as Mr Bo now knows, runs counter to Chinese law.

David Pilling, “A case of more than Tinker, Tailor, Bo Xilai“, Financial Times, 12 April 2012.


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