A popular and charismatic Communist Party “princeling” — considered a contender for a top spot in a revamped Politburo until the murder scandal erupted last year — Bo has not been seen publicly since he was fired in March as party chief for the sprawling southwestern city of Chongqing.
How to handle Bo without upsetting his hard-core supporters seems to be the dilemma facing China’s leaders as they try to resolve the case before a planned leadership transition later this year.
The Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress is set to inaugurate a new generation of leaders, led by Xi Jinping and an almost entirely new Politburo Standing Committee. But no date has been set for the conclave, leading many here to speculate that the top leaders have not resolved some thorny issues, including the question of what punishment, if any, will be handed to Bo.
“If they don’t handle this problem well, it might threaten the stability of the party,” said Tie Liu, a journalist who spent 23 years in a labor camp during Mao Zedong’s “anti-rightist” campaign launched against intellectuals in 1957.
He said he believed the party would opt for a mild administrative punishment, perhaps penalizing Bo for failing to properly supervise his family members and subordinates, and would announce it after the leadership transition. Others agreed with that analysis.
“They just don’t want him to return. . . . He’ll no longer be able to hold any official position,” said the editor of a Communist Party newspaper in Beijing who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely. “If he’s expelled, the party would split, because many leftists in the party still support him.”
Bo, the son of Mao-era revolutionary hero Bo Yibo, was the antithesis of the typical Chinese politician: charismatic where most are bland, outspoken when others are reticent, open to the media when most eschew publicity, and bold in a system that prizes uniformity and consensus.
Bo is also something else highly unusual in China’s staid communist bureaucracy. He is popular.
In Chongqing, the isolated city where he served as party chief from late 2007 until his ouster, Bo is well-regarded for clearing out the organized gangsters who held sway, attracting foreign investment and providing low-income housing and school lunches to the poor.
Among China’s “new left” intellectuals, disgruntled over China’s growing income disparity and nostalgic for Mao-era class warfare, Bo was revered as something of a hero. His “Chongqing model,” as it was called, was held up as an alternative to China’s modern, get-rich-quick brand of capitalism, in which a very few have become very, very wealthy. His advocacy of “red culture” — singing revolutionary songs, playing patriotic broadcasts on the local television station — also endeared him to the new leftists.