WUKONG Rumor over
substance By Wu Zhong, China
HONG KONG - Beijing's dismissal of
Bo Xilai as Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
secretary of Chongqing municipality has upset the
so-called new leftists and his supporters who had
regarded his experiment in the southwestern
Chinese city to return to some form of socialism
as a template to shape the country if Bo could
grab more power.
Bo, who had been tipped
to take a seat on the nine-member Politburo
Standing Committee later this year, was dismissed
this month over a scandal involving his police
chief, Wang Lijun.
During his tenure in
Chongqing, starting in 2007, Bo adopted a distinct
style of populism - he initiated a campaign
against organized crime, reinstated egalitarian
welfare programs for the working class, maintained
consistent double-digit economic
growth, and initiated
campaigns to revive a Cultural Revolution-era "red
The new leftists, a small
minority in a country in which the majority of
people support the ongoing opening-up policy
despite the problems it has brought about in the
past three decades, are fighting back.
Immediately after the announcement of Bo's
dismissal, Professor Kong Qingdong of Peking
University, a die-hard new leftist, denounced the
move - in a talk show on popular Internet-protocol
television v1.cn - as a "counter-revolutionary
coup" and called for people to step forward to
fight against a "dark force".
was quickly removed from the website. (It was Kong
who had earlier branded Hong Kong people as
"dogs", starting a war of words between
Hongkongers and mainlanders. ) The country was
in fact rocked with rumors of a coup last week,
allegedly planned by Bo and his supporters. (See
closes in on China's inner circle Asia Times
Online, March 27.)
Another member from the
new leftist camp and a Bo supporter is Sima Nan,
who wrote a poem on his weibo or mini-blog
likening Bo to a "staunch pillar" in southwestern
China and saying that his sacking was a "sad
setback for the Chinese nation".
Apparently in an effort to prevent more
such messages from spreading on the Internet, the
flagship website of the new leftists, Utopia, was
blocked for several days. When it was allowed to
reopen after some "technical problems were
solved", its homepage was left blank as a way of
protest (implying that it was not allowed to talk
Nevertheless, while the
authorities can forcefully ban open criticism,
they have failed to stop the rumor mill.
The most shocking rumors emerged on the
Internet during the night of March 19, with some
people saying "Military vehicles are rolling into
Beijing", and that a "Curfew has been imposed on
[Beijing's] Chang'an Street" and that "Gunshots
If not true, the messages
metaphorically implied that the Communist Party's
top leadership was split and "a new Gang of Four
had been smashed". The "Gang of Four" refers to a
faction in the politburo during the Cultural
Revolution (1966-1976) headed by Mao Zedong's last
wife, Jiang Qing, and supported by Mao. Less than
a month after Mao's death, they were arrested in
what overseas China watchers called a "coup
d'etat", on October 6, 1976.
were immediately challenged and refuted with
strong evidence by other web surfers. As a result,
inside China, the rumors died almost as quickly as
they had emerged. This is a convincing example of
freedom of speech in action; rumors cannot last
Still, the next day, Epoch Times, a
newspaper run by the anti-communist Falungong,
picked up on the rumors and splashed a big story.
This caused a scare in Hong Kong, where the stock
market dipped, although this was attributed to an
adjustment, and most newspapers in Hong Kong did
not play up the story.
The suspicion is
that the rumors were started by the new leftists
and Bo's supporters, who want to see their ilk
fighting at the power center against the
established ruling elite.
A major power
transfer is due at the 18th National Congress of
the CCP in October this year at which Vice
President Xi Jinping, as things stand, is the
presumptive president and Vice Premier Li Keqiang
is the presumptive prime minister, taking over
from President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen
Jiabao, respectively. With official information
lacking, people keen to know who will be in and
who out need to keep their ears open for hearsay.
All the same, anyone who understands the
Chinese system would dismiss rumors of a military
coup immediately. In China, only the chairman of
the Central Military Commission (CMC) can order
troops to move from one place to another. Hu is
the CMC chairman, so without his order, no troops
could be moved into Beijing. Thus possibility of a
military coup against him is practically nil.
On the other hand, if Hu, firm in power,
wanted to purge a senior official (as in the case
of two politburo members, former Shanghai party
chief Chen Liangyu and Bo Xilai), he would not
need to launch a coup. (The smashing of the Gang
of Four in 1976 was possible because of the full
support of Hua Guofeng, Mao's appointed successor,
who was then CMC chairman.)
However, as a
Chinese saying has it, "There are no waves without
wind." So why then did the rumors emerge and
Officially, Bo was
dismissed as Chongqing party chief over his links
to his right-hand man - former Chongqing police
chief Wang Lijun, who walked into the US consulate
in Chengdu, capital of neighboring Sichuan
province, in a failed attempt to seek asylum.
Bo still remains a politburo member, but
his whereabouts remains unknown. He could have
been purged for other reasons, such as corruption
or for what he has done in Chongqing.
There is also mystery about Wang's case.
Did he plan to defect?
As long as such
questions remain unanswered, rumors about Bo and
Wang could easily start again and spread.
Bo is a princeling - son of a
revolutionary - and was once a rising political
star, so he must have sympathizers and supporters
in the power center. Hence, there is suspicion
that opinions might have been split among senior
leaders over his dismissal.
one of the nine members of the Standing Committee
of the Politburo and in charge of law enforcement,
was the first Standing Committee member to visit
Chongqing. He gave high praise to Bo's campaigns
to crack down on gangsters and to sing "Red
Songs". Hearsay has it that Zhou's godson, Kong
Tao, is a close friend of Wang. Through Wang, Bo
became close to Zhou, supposition has it.
This argument claims that the attempted
"coup" on the night of March 19 was launched by
Zhou, though he is not named. (This on the surface
is probable as Zhou could command the police, but
in fact it is impossible because Zhongnanhai is
tightly guarded by military soldiers - not the
police). It also happened that on the day of March
19, Zhou presided over a national conference of
law enforcement officials on how to maintain
Two days later, another rumor
surged that Zhou "has been kept under
Beijing was forced to react
this time, at least partially in order to quash
the rumor. State-run Xinhua News Agency reported
on March 22 that Zhou had written a letter to a
conference on law enforcement in Shanghai. Apart
from all the officialese, Zhou hails in his letter
the "correct leadership" of the party power center
"headed by General Secretory Hu Jintao". In other
words, he was given the opportunity to make known
his position that he is on the side of Hu.
Zhou then made a public appearance on
March 26, attending the opening ceremony of a
training class for regional party officials in
charge of law enforcement in Beijing. Zhou called
on all law enforcement officials across the
country to "keep in line with" the party central
leadership "on matters of principle".
Hence, even if Zhou had originally
expressed his reservations or objections to the
dismissal of Bo (which is highly doubtful), surely
now he is "keeping in line" with Hu on "matters of
Indeed, the activities of
senior leaders after Bo's dismissal show no signs
of a coup. Wen went on an inspection trip to Henan
on March 17-18. Hu left Beijing on March 25 for an
eight-day overseas trip. Liu Yandong, a politburo
member, reportedly went to Shenzhen on March 16 to
see to it that Leung Chun-ying would be elected as
the next chief executive of Hong Kong. Had there
been a coup or any sign of a possible coup, they
would have all stayed in Beijing.
true that "rumors stop at a wise man". But in
China, rumors could be stopped, or at least
reduced, by an increase in political transparency.
When the public is kept in the dark over political
maneuvering, rumors inevitably start. Chinese
history is full of palace coups, hence people are
fond of talking about palace coups when a senior
official is removed without adequate information.
At a press conference after the closing of
the annual session of the National People's
Congress on March 14, Wen demanded that Chongqing
authorities "seriously" reflect on and draw
lessons from the Wang Lijun incident, sending a
signal about Bo's exit.
But he also
pledged that the results of the investigation
would be made public. "As far as the result of the
investigation and how this case will be handled
are concerned, an answer must be given to the
people and the result of the investigation should
be able to stand the test of law and history," he
Hopefully, an answer to how Bo's
case will be handled will also be given to the
Until then, the rumor mill is
unlikely to stop churning.