Ian Johnson: Bo Xilai – China’s Falling Star…

 Ian Johnson, Pulitzer Prize winner, China journalist for the Wall Street Journal, and author of Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China, shares his insight on the China’s Falling Star – Bo Xilai...

But there’s a growing sense among many Chinese that their country’s government needs to undertake serious reforms. In China as elsewhere rising prosperity means rising expectations—especially for more transparency and openness, and less corruption. And all of this, of course, has been magnified through the country’s anarchic social media, like microblogging. Although under government control, these sites still pressure the government in ways that were rare in the past.

Bo’s policies in Chongqing highlighted these problems too openly. Even in his last press conference, a few days before his dismissal, he pointed out that China’s Gini coefficient—a generally recognized way of measuring economic disparity—was terrible and getting worse. The idea of having to deal with such a domineering person must have been abhorrent to the incoming leadership team of Xi Jinping (himself the son of another famous general) and Li Keqiang (a close associate of Premier Wen who is considered a technocrat meant to run the economy). Like all new Chinese leaders Xi and Li will be relatively weak and only acquire power with time; Bo would have been by far the highest-profile and most media-savvy member of the nine-man team if he had been let in.

Now, the party is trying to do the same thing again, with Hu and Wen set to exit in favor of Xi and Li. Bo’s case shows that this transition will be at least as complicated as the one a decade ago. In this, the political and traditional calendars are in alignment. The political calendar started on March 5, when the National People’s Congress opened with Wen reading a speech, the opening pendant to his excoriation of Bo last week. March 5 was also the lunisolar calendar’s festival ofjingzhe: the “Awakening of the Insects”—the time when hibernating animals awake. Given what has happened, it seemed oddly appropriate: the start of a new season and the rousing of dormant forces.

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