Photo: Feng Li / Getty Images
Stanford fellow and creator of the (in)famous “End of History” theory, Francis Fukuyama, has a fascinating take on the Bo Xilai scandal in the Financial Times.Fukuyama argues that for 2,000 years, China’s government has survived using a system of bureaucracy and Confucianism rather than the rule of law or independent democratic institutions. The problem is that occasionally someone is powerful enough to overcome this — be them “the evil Empress Wu” or Mao Zedong.
Modern China’s nine person standing committee is an attempt to avoid this — with fixed terms and shared power. It works most of the time.
This is why the recently purged Bo Xilai was such a threat to the system. Using his base in Chongqing, he used the media to build up his own authority, which was strong already given his status as a princeling, or son of a revolutionary hero. He was ruthless in the use of state power to go after not just criminals and corrupt officials but businessmen and rivals who had accumulated too much power and wealth. He revived Mao-era mobilisation tactics such as the singing of revolutionary songs at rallies. Unlike his grey compatriots, he could have dominated the CPC leadership through an independent power base had he been promoted to the standing committee. It therefore makes sense that Hu Jintao and the leadership should use the scandal to eliminate him from consideration and remove the bad emperor before he ascended to the throne. The incident has revealed a deep problem in China – the lack of formal institutions and of a real rule of law. The rules the Chinese leadership follows are neither embedded in the constitution, clearly articulated, nor enforced by a judicial system. They are internal rules of the CPC, which have to be inferred from its behaviour. Had Mr Bo succeeded in getting on to the standing committee, he could have overturned them.
Fukuyama’s theory certainly seems to fit in with comments made by Wen Jiabao’s warnings about the threat of a “cultural revolution” shortly before Bo’s ousting (as noted by Art Cashin).
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