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Thorny Issues and Risks Behind Bo Xilai Case

Aug 19, 2013

Bo Xilai was finally indicted on 26 July 2013 and his prosecution indictment has contained three charges, i.e., bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. One thing is clear. His case has nothing to do with inner-Party struggle. But rather, he has been indicted on criminal charges. The CCTV official web-site has made three comments on this case. First, it testifies to the wise decision that the Communist Party of China (CPC) has made and proves that the CPC has a better understanding of the “four tests” and the “four potential risks” it is faced with. Second, it shows the determination of the CPC in fighting both “tigers” and “flies” in the anti-corruption drive without making any exception for officials, regardless of their ranking, or giving any room for excusing corruption activities. Third, it symbolizes a victory of the rule of law in China. The prosecution will help, to some extent, stop officials from an expansion of individuality, abusing power and bullying others. In this sense, it helps cure the uncontrollable Bo Xilai-style “officialdom’s disease – Parkinson’s Law” in which “God makes you crazy before putting you to perish”. Even though the Chinese official media tends to be effusive in making comments, the above-mentioned comments have nevertheless reflected a level of truth. 

There are two thorny issues for China to tackle. 

First, corruption has become the primary evil that the government must tackle. Such malpractice and corruptive activities as power and money transactions, unfair distribution, polarization and special interest groups have stood in the way of reform and opening-up and have become a mortal malady afflicting the popularity of the government and the Party. It is said that the Party may be destroyed if corruption is to be combated; or the nation may be subjugated if corruption is not stopped. The statement might sound too radical, but it nevertheless reflects the extent and depth of the corruption that the CPC has to tackle. Unlike Chen Xitong, Chen Liangyu and others before him, Bo Xilai has made it more difficult for the to prosecute him. Bo has rich political capital, as he is the son of one of the “founding fathers” of the People’s Republic, like Xi Jinping. Bo was a so-called “popular politician”, as his achievements in Dalian and his high-profile campaign against gangsters in Chongqing won him great popularity. Bo was also a “political new star” and he was a very strong candidate for the standing committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC. All these have made the Bo Xilai case a high-profile one. Everybody is watching how the CPC will handle this “hot potato”. 

Second, public opinion has linked corruption with the political system in China. It is not fair to attribute all corruption to the political system that China has adopted. Corruption is not peculiar to China. Prof. Olson of the University of Maryland of the United States has pointed out in his book the Rise and Decline of Nations that special interest groups emerge in all countries as long as there is a long enough period of political stability and that these special interest groups have an increasingly better knowledge of how to manipulate and control economic growth, allocate resources and distribute benefits, including the administration and legal system. Kevin Phillips has stated in his book Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich that courts in the United States have, in the name of protecting freedom of speech and beliefs, legalized the tycoon political contributions and relentlessly distorted the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and that money can corrupt democracy more effectively than the sophisticated game of words. Olson’s statement of special interest groups in all countries and Kevin’s statement of money corrupting democracy have shown that corruption exists in all states to varying degrees, irrespective of their political systems. However, the size of the special interest groups in China and their concentration in powerful government departments have made corruption a big problem for the CPC, the political party in power.                  

China is faced with two major risks. 

First, its reform has entered the “deep-water” zone. Politically, this means two things, according to the Tocqueville’s Law. It reminds the governing body in the country that the greatest risk for a political regime is not when it has been dragged to the foulest depths of hades, but rather when it started the reform. While making huge success through reform, China has also witnessed corruption, polarization and special interest groups. This clearly shows that the reform might entail great risks as well. At the same time, it reminds democracy advocates that the democratic reform does not necessarily bring about a democratic order. The populist mire and Guillotine politics that France experienced after the French Revolution, in which the rich were exposed and criticized and the elite were trodden down, could repeat themselves. 

Second, corruption has already developed to an advanced stage and become a deep-rooted chronicle disease. The CPC has repeatedly issued warnings against corruption. Guo Moruo expounded profoundly in his article Jia Shen Three Hundred Years which was published in 1944 the lesson drawn from the corruption-caused failure of the peasant revolt at the end of the Ming Dynasty. This article attracted much attention from the CPC Central Committee. In 1945, Huang Yanpei discussed with Mao Zedong the vicious cycle of rise and fall. In their conversation, they touched upon the cyclical rise and fall of political regimes due to corruption. Mao Zedong alerted the Party of the “sugar coated bullet attack”. Chen Yun also cautioned the Party that “corruption might be critical to the Party and the nation”. Xi Jinping has recently told us that “corruption has aggravated and it will Party and the nation, if unchecked”. However, corruption in China has not yet been curbed. 

China is faced with thorny issues and risks. At the same time, progress has been made in social justice and rule of law. The prosecution of high-ranking officials in China starting from the Gang of Four has experienced three stages. The prosecution of criminals during the “cultural revolution” represented by Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan was designed to settle the issue concerning the political lines through judicial process. The prosecution of Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu, both Members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPC, was aimed at solving the inner-Party conflicts through legal process. And the prosecution of Bo Xilai is to fight corruption of high-ranking officials through judicial proceedings. This three-stage trilogy has unfolded to us an evolution of the CPC from a party for political struggle to a law-based party.      

Chen Qun is Former Vice President of the China Law Press.


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