Bo Xilai’s Sacking, Wen Jiabao, and the Communist Party’s Great Schism

April 2nd, 2012

John Garnaut in an excellent piece about Wen Jiabao and a long-running schism within China’s Communist party:

“In the past I did not have a fully positive view of Wen Jiabao, because he said a lot of things but didn’t deliver,” says a leading media figure with lifelong connections to China’s leadership circle. “Now I realize just to be able to say it, that’s important. To speak up, let the whole world know that he could not achieve anything because he was strangled by the system.”

Hu Yaobang’s most faithful protégé, who carried his funeral casket to its final resting place, is building on the groundwork laid by Hu and his children ostensibly to prevent a return of the Cultural Revolution. Wen Jiabao is defending the party line set by Deng Xiaoping’s 1981 historical resolution against attack from the left. Between the lines, however, he is challenging the Communist Party’s 30-year consensus from the liberal right.

If you have any interest in China (or would just like to learn about a very opaque country), this is a must-read. Garnaut uses Wen Jiabao’s recent speech where he warned that a similar tragedy to the Cultural Revolution could reoccur if there are no political reforms and Bo Xilai’s sacking to consider a long-ranging debate that’s fractured the CCP: should the party open China’s government, push for greater rule of law, and eventually allow democratic elections? Or should it solidify the party’s control and use it to shape Chinese society toward revolutionary, communist ideals, and crush those who oppose it?

On the very far left, you have Mao Zedong, who pioneered the latter argument, and Bo Xilai, who advanced that argument; on the a-bit-closer-to-the-center-but-still-the-left, you have Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, who both pushed for a smaller role in society for the government and party, separating the government and party, fighting corruption and free markets, and Wen Jiabao, China’s outgoing Premier and protégé of Hu Yaobang, who has quietly continued his legacy.

This debate cuts to the core of the party and to China’s future, and it’s been thrown into the public sphere in a way that I’m sure makes many in the party extremely uncomfortable by Wen’s speech and the downfall of Bo Xilai. This is especially important because China is transitioning now to its next set of leaders, so this debate—and the very-public show of what happens behind closed doors when certain leaders lose favor and are removed—couldn’t have popped up again at a more pertinent and sensitive time.