Bo's Fall Reveals China's Cult of Anti-personality

Agenda-Setting Financial Insight.
April 10 2012 5:26 PM

Bo's Fall Reveals China's Cult of Anti-personality

141355912
China’s Communist Party suspended former high-flying politician Bo Xilai from its top ranks. His wife, Gu Kailai, is a suspect in the murder of a British businessman.

Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Crowds still stream past the body of Mao Zedong, preserved in a mausoleum in the centre of Beijing. Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor at the top of the Chinese Communist Party, had his ashes scattered at sea. Later leaders have been even more modest. Bo Xilai, the son of a revolutionary leader and formerly a rising star in Chinese politics, seems to have thought that personality cults could make a comeback. He has been proved wrong. 

Until a few months ago, Bo was widely expected to be promoted to the nine-member Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, China’s ruling body. His aggressive leadership style was popular in provincial Chongqing. He was effective in promoting development and pro-poor policies alongside a mild Maoist revival involving songs, statues and a few slogans. But then came trouble involving his police chief and accusations of unfairness to local businessmen. On Tuesday, he was suspended from the Politburo and his wife was named a suspect in the murder of a British businessman. 

The latest moves were completely logical, politically speaking, even if the strength of the various accusations is hard to judge. Bo had become so controversial that any lesser action would have made the Beijing leadership look divided. That group craves a show of unity among its members for fear obvious divisions would encourage dangerous economic and social discord among the Chinese people. 

The ultimate meaning of Bo’s fall for China’s reform policies is unclear, perhaps unknowable. Even the self-promoting Bo’s ultimate fate is open to question. Most observers say he’s finished, but a few don’t rule out rehabilitation. Either way, ambitious politicians in China will learn from Bo’s experience. They’ll avoid showing off, keep closer track of their spouses and associates, and ensure any misdeeds are kept quiet and deniable. 

Call it a cult of anti-personality. It won’t stop leaders and their relatives from taking corrupt advantage of power and connections. But if a bland bureaucracy is what’s needed to keep cautious progress from becoming paralysis, it provides a sounder basis for China’s stability and development than mini-Maoist celebrity.

Read more at Reuters Breakingviews.

Edward Hadas is Economics Editor at Reuters Breakingviews. He joined Breakingviews in both 2004 and 2011, with a year in between at the Financial Times as Assistant Editor of the Lex column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:58 AM Does this Colorado Poll Show Latino Voters Bailing on the 2014 Election?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Food
Sept. 18 2014 9:34 AM How to Order Chinese Food First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?