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

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.