Bo Xilai falls, and rises in the headlines

In wire copy so austere it seemed to supply the epitaph for the political saga of the charismatic “princeling” Bo Xilai (薄熙来), China’s Xinhua News Agency reported today that Bo would no longer serve as the top leader of Chongqing.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has decided: Comrade Zhang Dejiang (张德江) will serve as standing committee member and secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Party Committee; Comrade Bo Xilai (薄熙来) will no longer serve in the post of standing committee member and secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Party Committee.

The announcement came just six days after Bo Xilai appeared unshaken at a press conference for the Chongqing delegation to the annual National People’s Congress amid speculation that a scandal surrounding his former police chief, Wang Lijun (王立军), threatened his political career.

Apparently restricted to the official release, or tonggao (通稿), Chinese media offer little today to illuminate the Bo Xilai story. But the headline has run at the top of most major news portals, and some media — notably, Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily — are making the most of the little news available.


[ABOVE: Today's news page at Sina.com, with the headline on Bo Xilai's removal highlighted in red.]


[ABOVE: Today's news page at QQ.com, with the headline on Bo Xilai's removal highlighted in red.]

The above stories at Sina and QQ offered nothing beyond the Xinhua News Agency release. But QQ did complement the story by topping its commentary page today with a piece from Caixin Weekly editor-in-chief Hu Shuli discussing remarks by Premier Wen Jiabao at a press conference yesterday, which appears now to have signaled that Bo would face reprimand from the Party — not just for his bungling of the Wang Lijun incident but for championing Maoist values.


[ABOVE: Hu Shuli's editorial on Premier Wen Jiabao's Cultural Revolution remarks and politics in Chongqing, highlighted in red, made the top of the commentary section at QQ.com]

One of the most interesting treatments of the limited information available from the Xinhua News Agency press release comes from Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily, a commercial spin-off of Guangdong’s official Nanfang Daily newspaper.

On its main web page, Southern Metropolis Daily includes a seven-image slideshow called “Bo Xilai at the 2012 Two Meetings” (2012年两会之薄熙来).

The first slide is an image of Bo Xilai at his March 9 press conference at the National People’s Congress. Backgrounded by a deep red with two large white Chinese characters for “Chongqing”, Bo is putting on (or perhaps taking off) his glasses. In the space to the right of the image, Southern Metropolis Daily has added the title of the series — “”Bo Xilai at the 2012 Two Meetings” — and placed the full Xinhua News Agency release at the bottom.

The slideshow then moves on with the Bo Xilai timeline at this year’s National People’s Congress, from Zhao Qizheng (赵启正) reaffirming the economic and social accomplishments on Chongqing on March 2 to Bo Xilai appearing with Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan (黄奇帆) at a discussion for Chongqing NPC delegates on March 5.

The seventh and final slide in the series is of Premier Wen Jiabao at yesterday’s press conference. The text at the bottom of Wen’s picture includes his remarks on Chongqing and the Wang Lijun incident:

For many years, successive Chongqing governments and the masses [of Chongqing] have worked hard toward reform and development and made clear achievements. But the current Party leadership and government in Chongqing must reflect [on their actions], earnestly drawing lessons from the Wang Lijun incident.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether mainstream Chinese media will attempt deeper coverage of Bo Xilai and the Wang Lijun incident — or for that matter, the Cultural Revolution, given Wen Jiabao’s remarks yesterday.

Until then, the discussion will have to happen on Chinese social media, where for most of the day “Bo Xilai” has been one of the top-trending topics.

It bears pointing out as well — something Hu Shuli noted in her important editorial last night — that Bo Xilai fortunes (out in the wash today) are closely linked to Wen Jiabao’s criticisms yesterday concerning the Party’s legacy and the Cultural Revolution.

But as everyone is pouncing on this story as an illustration of internal Party struggles over the future and the 18th Party Congress, let’s not forget that it is also about the past. Bo Xilai has symbolized nostalgia over the Maoist era, and many on China’s left have been supportive of this.

For just a taste of the way Wen Jiabao’s remarks on the Cultural Revolution have played out in China’s newspapers today, look at the front page of Guangzhou’s New Express, which makes one of the boldest uses of “Cultural Revolution” in years.

The headline just to the left of Wen’s waving arm reads (I’ve bolded where the paper does): “Without the success of political reforms, historical tragedies like the ‘Cultural Revolution’ could possibly happen again.”

Immediately below that headline is another that reads: “The Chongqing Party and government must reflect on the Wang Lijun incident.”

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