Why Bo Xilai Political Scandal is a Good Sign for Democracy in China


With the recent purge of Bo Xilai, Communist Party chief of Chongqing, from the Chinese government, many have been speculating about the implications that this may hold for China’s future. Bo was wildly popular among his constituents and his economic model, the Chongqing Model, was beginning to spread to larger areas of China. Accusations of corruption, torture, and even murder in Bo’s inner circle bring into question his formerly popular policies. Political scandal can, unfortunately, bring even the most effective of policies scrutiny. Where before, the Chinese government may have been satisfied with Bo’s policies because of the results they were achieving (although it is theorized that the Chinese government worried that Bo might be accruing too much power), now they must examine the methods Bo used to achieve his results. The results of this investigation have yielded frightening insights.

In an interview with an Australian news organization, China Policy’s David Kelly speculated on some of what was going on under Bo’s authority. “He (Wang Lijun, Chief of Police under Bo Xilai) took pride in procuring organs for transplant from prisoners on death row…(he) was fairly indiscriminate in the use of coercive methods…very likely torture.” 

Wang Lujin was arrested after seeking refuge in an U.S. embassy. There have also been allegations of murder surrounding Bo. His wife has been listed as a suspect in the murder of British businessman, Neil Heywood, with whom Bo apparently had a falling out over differing "economic interests." 

What can we in the U.S. make of these eyebrow-raising events surrounding this popular member of the Politburo? China has been one of the leading priorities of U.S. foreign relations this decade, so much so that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was inspired to declare this America’s “Pacific Century.”  With the decline of the West through the financial collapse of 2008, it was widely perceived that China’s political ideologies were prevailing and that China would be left as a, if not the, world leader.  However, this scandal has brought doubt into a large section of Chinese politics. This is not to suggest that one political scandal negates an entire ideology (for democracy too has seen its fair share), but rather to highlight the potential flaws in the Chinese system that have been exposed through this scandal.

Bo’s Chongqing Model was essentially a combined strategy of cleaning up crime and implementing better social measures. Inequality is a systematic problem in China and the Chongqing model saw some improvement. The way in which Bo achieved these successes, however, was through a return to Cultural Revolution-era strategies, like a military crackdown on student demonstrationsWhat this scandal has uncovered is that China’s rise to power may be occurring through means that even China finds unacceptable. The Chongqing objectives were a big state, popular methods of control, and making these methods of control legal through manipulation of the court system. The decline of the West led many in China to believe that this was a more efficient model for prosperity.  The evidence uncovered in Bo Xilai’s scandal has led many in China to reevaluate their priorities as a whole. This is not the end of Communism, nor does it prove that Democracy is better. What it does suggest is that the Communist style of governing may have some internal flaws yet to be uncovered and that the fall of the West and the rise of the rest may not be without some more dramatic give and take.