Breaking a Vase to Hit a Rat: Bo Xilai’s Trial
Reuters reported how the disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai has refused to cooperate with the Chinese regime authorities who mean to try him. Then other Western media outlets picked up the topic. Some said that Bo was on a hunger strike.
There were also reports taking the opposite view. For instance, Jiang Weiping, the journalist that Bo jailed for six years for reporting on his corruption, said Bo was not cooperative at the beginning but later changed his attitude. Now Bo was cooperating fully with the investigation, Jiang said.
Why does Bo’s cooperation matter one way or the other? Without Bo’s cooperation, the thinking goes, his trial can’t serve the regime’s purposes.
John Garnaut, China correspondent for Fairfax Media, reported that one of Bo’s associates said the handling of the case was a challenge for the Communist Party rather than for Bo: ”It is the Party that has a very hot potato in its hands.”
Whether Bo cooperates or not, the Party always has ways to crush its own. Hardly anyone has survived by resisting the Party’s accusation and interrogation. As strong a man as Deng Xiaoping without hesitation wrote down “Never reverse the verdict,” after he was condemned under Mao’s rule.
Deng Xiaoping was the lucky one. Liu Shaoqi, then the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, wasn’t given a chance to ask for mercy and died a miserable death on Mao’s orders.
Still, the whole political environment in China changed dramatically after Mao died. Nobody has the absolute power Mao had.
Bo Xilai is not just a single member of the Politburo. He has supporters at both the bottom and the top of the Party, especially at the top. Even though one of Bo’s most important supporters, Zhou Yongkang, retired, Zhou has retained influence through those who just became part of the new leadership.
And Bo himself is not short of potential supporters in the new leadership either. Bo’s ideology and policy fit the Chinese Communist Party line very well.
Cooperative or not, Bo is still a hot potato. A trial of Bo Xilai risks putting the CCP itself on trial. Bo Xilai’s rising and crime are closely related to the burden borne by the CCP due to its nature and history.
Most people agree that Bo’s trial has been delayed for too long. Usually the Party would solve the struggle between Party lines before the Party’s National Congress. Or, rather, during the early years when the Party’s National Congress schedules were not well kept, it would hold the Congress after the internal dispute was resolved.
Taking down Bo Xilai happened in Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s term. There was no reason for them to pass this issue to new Party head Xi Jinping, even though Xi probably cast the key vote. There are a full three months from the Party’s 18th Congress in November to the People’s National Congress in March, when the final power transfer will be concluded. There was at least time to begin the trial.
Reuters reported former CCP official Bao Tong as saying, “It’s not normal, too much time has passed. This is not good for the Party’s image.”
Delay is not the only problem. If Bo refuses to cooperate, if he doesn’t want to say in court what he is told to say, a public or open trial could mean more harm than benefit for the Party. But at the same time, a secret trial is unacceptable to both the public and the Party.
Political or Criminal Trial
As John Garnaut reported, a close friend of Xi Jinping’s family said the case would proceed as planned after next month’s National People’s Congress. Authorities had seized 22.7 million yuan (US$3.5 million) from Bo’s Beijing home and presented him with a confession by his close business associate Xu Ming, the source said.
The point is not about the evidence of corruption. Bo Xilai can easily defeat the charge by exposing how other top leaders illegally acquired wealth. Doing this wouldn’t save Bo but would definitely ruin the trial.
Former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and former Shanghai Party head Chen Liangyu appear to be precedents for Bo’s case. Both, like Bo, were high ranking officials. Both were brought down by corruption charges for political reasons.
But the similarities end there. Neither represented any political line within the Party. They were victims of power politics but were not political figures. In other words, nobody cared.
Former Party head and opponent of the Tiananmen Square massacre Zhao Ziyang was put under house arrest for 15 years but was not formally charged and tried.
Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, and her gang were the only leaders who have been tried politically. That makes their case the only one that can compare with Bo’s trial.
Jiang Qing’s gang represented the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s ideology, and Mao himself. It was obviously a political trial but barely a successful one. I believe that if Jiang Qing or the ideologist Zhang Chunqiao were given the chance to defend themselves freely in court, the prosecutors and judges couldn’t win the argument.
What the trial won was the people’s support. At the time, both the new leadership and the Chinese people hated the Cultural Revolution, and they needed someone to take responsibility for it.
Since they failed to blame Mao for their own different reasons, the Gang of Four became Mao’s scapegoat. The difficulty facing Deng Xiaoping and the court was how to separate Mao and his gang. They succeeded at the time, but in doing so, they also left a time bomb.
Spare the Rat to Save the Vase
The CCP faces a lack of legitimacy. In Chinese history, overthrowing an old government or empire is acceptable, but it takes higher authorization to run an empire or government. In ancient times, the Emperor’s rule was authorized by heaven, while in modern society governments are authorized by the voters.
Since the CCP denies both the mandate of heaven and the mandate of the voters, it needs substitutes. Mao used the “continuing revolution” until his death and the end of Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping used economic development. Jiang Zemin used nationalism.
No matter how the CCP’s claim to rule is packaged, the CCP’s legitimacy comes from Mao’s revolution. That’s why Mao’s crimes and the ideology of the Cultural Revolution have never been formally criticized and made illegal in China, as the Germans made the Nazis.
If the CCP leadership wants to get rid of Bo Xilai politically, they must criticize Bo’s ideology, which was represented by his “Singing Red” campaign—the popularization of singing Maoist songs. It’s very unlikely to happen.
Xi Jinping recently made clear that the first and last 30 years of the CCP’s rule are not in conflict with each other. His statement doesn’t mean Xi really likes the Party’s first 30 years under Mao, but rather that he doesn’t have a choice.
There are other serious charges that can easily put Bo Xilai away and silence his supporters. He violated the Chinese Constitution and laws during his involvement in the persecution of Falun Gong, with his “Hit the Black” campaign that putatively targeted mobsters, and in his alleged involment in organ harvesting from live Falun Gong practitioners.
There are existing Chinese laws to prosecute such crimes. Then again, such crimes have been committed every day for the past 13 years and in every corner of China.
As for the corruption charge, it can also easily be traced back to the CCP’s policies. While corruption was allowed during Deng Xiaoping time, it was required during Jiang Zemin’s time.
If a list is made of all the crimes that Bo Xilai committed—whether these are political or criminal offenses, they can be traced back to the CCP’s ideology and policies. That’s why Bo’s trial is a hot potato. In Chinese, it’s called “tou shu ji qi.” The phrase means, it’s hard not to break a vase when you try to hit a rat.
Editor’s Note: When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing to participate in the persecution any longer. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.