Bo Xilai Might Be Done with but Chongqing Model Lives on

By Mo Zhixu, published: September 30, 2013



Leading dissident intellectual Mo Zhixu (莫之许)

Leading dissident intellectual Mo Zhixu (莫之许)

On Sunday, September 22, 2013, Jinan Intermediate Court sentenced Bo Xilai to life imprisonment while stripping him of his political rights for life. As such, the incident begun by Wang Lijun (王立军) entering the US Consulate in Chengdu on February 6, 2012, has come to an end nineteen months later. However, the political debate, sparked by Bo Xilai’s “singing red and striking black” campaign in Chongqing from 2007 to his fall, continues.

When Bo Xilai was elected a member of the CCP Political Bureau during the 17th CCP Congress, he was in effect excluded from the future lineup for top leadership of the party and the country. He was not appointed to be one of the deputy prime ministers of the State Council as he had desired; he wasn’t even appointed the party secretary of a more important area such as Shanghai or Guangdong. Instead, he was sent to Chongqing to replace Wang Yang, while Wang Yang was appointed to be the party secretary of Guangdong province. For Bo Xilai, proud and ambitious, it was no doubt a humiliation.

The political practices he introduced in Chongqing, in my opinion, were not about vying for a top leadership position in Beijing but an act of resentment meant to showcase his unique political ideas and his personal charisma. 

But a close look at Bo Xilai’s work in Chongqing, especially in the highly controversial “singing red and striking black” campaign, one will find that, the so-called Chongqing Model is in keeping with the “China Model” initiated by Deng Xiaoping: use two hands and keep both strong. In terms of developing the economy on the one hand and maintaining stability on the other, Chongqing under Bo Xilai was not really any different from anywhere else in China, nor was the conduct there more egregious than anywhere else. Liberals in China made loud complaints about many incidents in Chongqing, such as the crackdown on private entrepreneurs (striking black) and many gratuitous re-education-through-labor cases. But keep in mind that the nation-wide clampdown during the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011 against dissidents and activists was just as harsh, if not worse, whether in terms of legal abuses or the extent of torture. Chongqing Model was at most an alternative version of the stability-maintenance system, not something different.

Similarly, “singing red” was not a return to the orthodox Maoism as the Maoists on the left had fancied, nor was it a revival of the Cultural Revolution as the reformists had worried. It was merely a red surface. The ideological mobilizations in relation to “singing red” was done level by level in the structure of the system, and it didn’t “kick out the Party committees and stage a revolution” as was the case during the Cultural Revolution. Chongqing didn’t stir up any social turmoil during the “singing red” period. On the contrary, it was rather oppressive as though under a tight lid.

Nationwide, from “Five Nos” (五不搞, “no multi-party election, no diversification of guiding principles, no separation of powers, no federal system, and no privatization”) avowed in the 2011 NPC session by then chairman of the NPC Standing Committee Wu Bangguo  around the period as “singing red” in Chongqing, to the “seven no mentions” earlier this year, and to the ongoing anti-constitutionalism propaganda campaign, none is a mass mobilization in the style of the Cultural Revolution. Instead, they are an attempt to give ideological fuel to the rigid, hardline stability maintenance apparatus. In the end, these too are just skins.

Precisely because the Chongqing Model was highly isomorphic to Deng Xiaoping’s “China Model,” during the four years of its practice, it had never been criticized by the top leadership. Instead, it received many endorsements. Several members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, including Xi Jinping, visited Chongqing to show support for the “striking black” campaign and other actions. As for “singing red,” it has since spread to more places and is very much alive today.

On the other hand, Bo Xilai’s outlandish gig in Chongqing indeed exasperated the central leadership, especially Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, sowing the seeds for future punishment. But such irritation was more towards Bo Xilai’s personal style, not a political disagreement. Precisely because of their political sameness, the trial of Bo Xilai completely avoided anything having to do with the “singing red and striking black” campaign. It was not a political trial against the Chongqing model. It was merely a procedure to drive Bo Xilai out of the political arena once for all.   

Bo Xilai may have been done over, but the incubator of the Chongqing model is very much alive. The political choices unfolding right now are nothing but a brother of the Chongqing model born by the same mother: on the one hand, both stick to the maintenance of overpowering authoritarianism; on the other, both are keen on keeping up economic development. Bo Xilai expressed this Deng Xiaoping doctrine rather nakedly in “singing red and striking black” whereas Xi Jinping affirms it indirectly with his statement that “We cannot negate the history of the decades before the reform and opening-up with that of the decades since the reform and opening-up, nor can we negate the history of the decades since the reform and opening-up with that of the decades before the reform and opening-up.” Xi Jinping, and Bo Xilai before him, are seeking to integrate Mao Zedong’s dictatorship and Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up.

Even though Bo Xilai’s political career is over, as long as the China Model, which he has attempted to mark with a personal signature, continues to live, similar thinking and practices will continue to exist and even flourish without Bo Xilai.


Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Beijing-based Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy.

(Translation by

Chinese original

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