Posted by: daniellesabai | 2012/11/09

The Fall of Socialism in One City And the Fight over Succession in China

Au Loong-Yu

On November 4, 2012, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party officially endorsed the Politburo’s earlier decision to expell the former Chongqing chief Bo Xilai and to prosecute him on criminal charges of corruption. It implies that the 18th Party congress convened yesterday will be the victors’ congress, although up till now it is not clear who else these victors will be besides the appointed successor Xi Jinping or the outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao who openly criticized Bo.

At the end of October supporters of Bo wrote an open letter to the People’s Congress criticizing the prosecution of Bo as lacking both evidence and transparency. The former head of the National Statistics Bureau and one of the most influential leaders of the Maoists, Li Chengrui, was one of the initiators of this letter. [1] Before this letter campaign the website Utopia (Wuyouzhixiang), the most influential Maoist website and staunch supporter of Bo, had already accused the current leadership of making up charges against Bo, this after it was closed down by the authorities in May.

For anyone who believes in human rights and has some knowledge about the appalling situation of the Chinese legal system it is not that difficult to share the same kind of skepticism about the prosecution brought against Bo, even if they do not have enough information about his case. But the public cannot be sure if Utopia’s statement about Bo’s innocence is true or not. To know the truth an independent judiciary and the due process of law and everything essential to the rule of law in general, is required. Since these are absent in China one should, in the first place, demand their implementation.

Yet demanding this is difficult for Utopia, because it shares the same kind of mindset as Bo and the Communist Party – a hostility towards the rule of law. This is also why Bo, or Bo’s supporters in general and Utopia in particular, when criticized by the liberals as violating due legal process in his crackdown on the mafia when he was in power, responded with contempt about the independence of the judiciary or the due process of law as understood in most countries of the world. Just days before Wang Lijun fled to the US embassy, which triggered off the chain effect of the drama, Su Wei, the scholar at the party school in Chongqing who had defended the so called Chongqing model, insisted that the crack down on the mafia by the municipal government under Bo Xilai was not unjust precisely because, ‘we uphold a legal system which is under the party’s leadership’. By contrast the critics of this campaign want a legal system which is ‘independent of the Party’ and which is considered by him as something horrible. [2] Bo himself in a speech last December claimed that the municipal government had crushed more than 500 mafia groups in three years, and he warned that the Party should not be a peacemaker but rather its ‘team of political and legal cadres’ should remain cruel in its fight against mafia. [3] One may wonder if Bo would repent what he had said after he himself experienced the cruelty of a legal system that has no respect for the independence of the judiciary.

The same kind of irony can also apply to Utopia. The website claims to be leftist but its interpretation of ‘left’ has too much of a Stalinist flavour, manifested in its complete contempt of basic human rights like freedom of speech. In 2008 when Liu Xiaobo was arrested for writing Charter 08, the website published many articles applauding this. After he was officially sentenced to jail in 2009, an article by the author Xibeifeng denied that Liu’s sentence has anything to do with freedom of speech, arguing that Liu’s advocacy of Charter 08 is as criminal as a drunk driver demanding freedom to violate the rules of traffic. What is ironical is not only that this time it is this website and their patron Bo Xilai who were either closed down or prosecuted, but the fact that even after this they are only interested in trying to rehabilitate Bo as the true communist rather than calling for an independent court, open trial, trial by jury, cross examination etc. to reveal the truth, not only because they think that the independence of judiciary is ‘bourgeois’ in nature, [4] but also because they think that what they said is necessarily the truth. As to the question what kind of legal system is needed to find out the truth this is entirely irrelevant to them. We hope that after their experience of being repressed by the same authoritarian state they may rethink on their stand on the issue as the independence of judiciary is also beneficial to them as well.

Surely the question of what Bo Xilai or his ‘Chongqing model’ stands for is an even more interesting issue than the justice question, although the latter question is connected to the way one should evaluate the model. Three kinds of interpretation of the model among Mao’s supporters can be identified. Before his downfall the Chongqing model was seen by a section of his supporters, who were either part of or close to the party machinery, as ‘socialist’ as the rest of China, and if it differentiated itself from other provinces it is because Chongqing was taking the lead in promoting more equal distribution of wealth. This was what Su Wei, scholar of the party school in Chongqing, had argued. [5] While this argument is too propagandistic in tone, a second and third interpretation of the Chongqing model are worth more attention.

People associated with Utopia have offered a more radical interpretation of the Chongqing model, as a socialist experiment amidst a country that – even if it still manifests some features of ‘socialism’ as they understood the term – is nevertheless rapidly turning to the right under the leadership of the right wing of the Party. For that reason they enthusiastically counterpose the Chongqing model to the so-called Guangdong model which they see as the incarnation of the rightward drift. One of the most well known scholars who hold this view is Wang Shaoguang, a mainland-born professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has labeled the Chongqing model as ‘Socialism 3.0’, allegedly more equitable than the current socialism 2.0 version and of which he is critical. [6] Wang Hui, the well-known new leftist scholar shares a similar perspective which led him to defend the Chongqing model openly after Bo was publicly condemned. [7] In his essay he avoids any discussion as to whether the Chongqing model is socialist or capitalist in character, but is explicit in pointing out that in stressing, ‘the importance of equality and common prosperity’ it nevertheless provides an alternative to neo-liberalism and mourns that its downfall offers the authorities, ‘an opportunity to resume its neoliberal programme’. A more recent defense of the Chongqing model after Bo’s downfall is the essay by Yuezhi Zhao in the October issue of Monthly Review. He sees it as, ‘looking to revitalize socialist ideas and populist claims in its push for rapid and balanced growth’, and is counterposed to the ‘powerful hegemonic bloc of transnational capital, domestic coastal export industries, and pro-capitalist state officials’ which ‘block any substantial efforts at reorienting the Chinese developmental path.’ [8]

A third interpretation is proposed by people who are associated with the website Red China, formerly the China Labor Research Web which was closed down by the government long before the downfall of Bo. Its main theoretician was Li Mingqi who argues in his book The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy that China has been entirely transformed into a capitalist economy. This view is shared by Red China. Before Bo’s downfall they were also enthusiastic about the Chongqing model, less because it was ‘socialist’ but more because it was nevertheless a left reformist program. An article by “Li Mingqi” (I put this name in inverted commas because it is yet to be verified if this Li is the same as the one who wrote the aforementioned book) considered that Chongqing under Bo was a patriotic force within the Party and was involved in struggle with the forces of ‘traitors and compradors’, therefore leftists should help to promote the model throughout the nation so to strengthen the patriots. [9] Both the Utopia and the Red China support whoever they think is the left/patriotic wing in the party but what also differentiates the former to the latter is the fact that the latter is for a revolution in China while the former entirely confines themselves to put pressure on the Party leadership to return to a left course.

The downfall of Bo immediately triggered a fierce faction fight among the Maoists, but the fight is not neatly in line with the aforementioned divisions. The fight within the Utopia circle overshadowed the other differences not only because it has gone public but also because of the sharp attacks they fling at each other. Yang Fan, an economist at the Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who has been associated with Utopia, publicly attacked his comrade Zhang Hongliang, a lecturer at the Minzu University and also associated with the website, for being ultra left in calling for the rehabilitation of the Cultural Revolution and hence responsible for the closing down of the Utopia Web. [10] He also accused Zhang’s faction of receiving funding from Bo Xilai and being too close to the latter. Zhang, on the other hand, allegedly accused Yang of being a ‘traitor’ to the country. Meanwhile other Utopia people are also keen to distance themselves from the less well-known but more radical wing of the Maoists like Red China. This led Utopia’s manager Fan Jinggang to openly distance Utopia from those ‘ultra leftists’ who pursue, ‘an alliance with Western Imperialism in order to overthrow our present government and replace it with a proletarian dictatorship’. [11] Li Mingqi, on behalf of Red China, published an open letter to denounce Fan for exposing the internal debate among the Maoists. [12]

As to the evaluation of the Chongqing model, although there are Maoists who stand by their previous position, there are people like Yang Fan who immediately revised their previously whole-hearted support of the model. There are also Maoists who now think that Bo’s struggle with Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao was simply a ‘dog eat dog fight’, hence the logical conclusion for the left is ‘to remain indifferent’ to this fight and to go further to expose Bo’s ‘deception of the working people’. [13] The downfall of Bo has thrown the Maoists into disarray.

Those who enthusiastically embraced the Chongqing model often failed to remember how Bo Xilai acted when he was mayor of Dalian in 1993 and later head of the Liaoning province between 2001 and 2003. In Dalian he oversaw the forced evacuation of many houses to make way for ‘re-development’, and for this he allegedly earned the nickname ‘Bo papi’ or ‘Bo the flayer’ among local people. [14] He also oversaw the privatization of the state-owned enterprises in Liaoning that resulted in millions of jobs losses while the cadres enriched themselves. When workers resisted privatization they were repressed. In 2002 in the city of Liaoyang the Liaoyang Metallurgy workers joined hands with other state-owned plants to stage protests against privatization and also appealed to Bo Xilai to investigate the corruption there. What the two worker’s leaders, Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang got in 2003 were seven and four years in jail respectively instead. Surely people can change, and one’s past performance is just one of the references in judging one’s later work. Yet in itself the Chongqing model is hardly what Yuezhi Zhao characterizes as something which ‘revitalizes socialist ideas’, because if the Chongqing model ‘allows the complementary growth of state, transnational, and domestic private sectors in a mixed economy’, [15] then it is a mixed economy of capitalism rather than socialism. And no one can talk about socialism without a democracy which allows the working people to dictate how the economy and the society is run, yet in Chongqing as in the rest of China common citizens do not even enjoy basic civil liberties. With its public housing program, granting resettlement in the city to 3 million rural migrants, improving the welfare system etc, there is a grain of truth in referring to the Chongqing model as something like a welfare state. A liberal critic of the Chongqing model pointed out that most of these things were not invented there but rather have either been promoted by the Central Government or experienced somewhere else in the country as well. Su Wei’s reply has not disputed this but stressed that it is the scale and the seriousness of the implementation of the reform that differentiates Chongqing from the rest of the country. [16] My critique is that all of these are economic benefits and none are related to political rights.

Without freedom of speech and of association, where all media are state owned, and independent investigators are often persecuted, how on earth do we know the official report about the good performance of Bo’s reforms is actually true? How do we know that public housings really housed the most needy and not the cronies of local bureaucrats – as was the case in many parts of China?

The reason Chongqing could move 3 million rural households into the city is because in exchange they have to give up their right to the piece of land for their houses. The land was taken over for agricultural purposes, and in the process a land certificate is generated for sale through a special land exchange. According to Beijing Review, ‘the swap operates as a market platform for the trading of land-use rights or land quotas for construction purposes. An individual villager’s housing land is assessed by the Chongqing Land Resource and Real Estate Management Bureau to calculate an equivalent amount of the arable land, namely the land quota they can exchange in the market. According to the Land Management Law, developers are responsible for offsetting the amount of construction land they use with the same amount of arable land.’ [17] While the Chongqing media could not speak freely under Bo, media elsewhere in China to some extent could and did make reports less favorable to Bo. Last year a report was released by the China Business Journal informing readers about irregularities like compensation that peasants got was much less than what they were entitled to, lack of transparency, the peasants being a marginalized social group were not able to directly take part in the trading of land certificates, and that eventually many of these lands certificates end up in the pocket of the eight biggest developers in Chongqing etc. [18] In a society where citizens are treated as mere subjects and peasants as second class subjects the danger of beishanglou – a term invented by common people to describe peasants being forced to evacuate from their village houses and being moved to high rise buildings in the city against their will – is wholly real.

It is not long ago that people associated with Utopia made a big promotion of the Nanjiecun experience – allegedly a socialist village which still practicing common ownership. [19] At most it resembles a cooperative which runs business within a capitalist market than a socialist village, and one which has been ruled with iron hands by the party secretary Wang Hongbin who is at the same time the village head and the boss of the company which owned everything there. Wang himself never denies this and is in fact quite proud of himself as the dictator. The village allegedly provides full welfare for the village people, but the company sustains itself partly, through exploiting ten thousand migrant workers. [20] In 2008 the Nanfang Metropolis Daily in Guangdong reported that Wang Hongbin and his colleagues had allocated themselves shares: Wang denied this although I think his defense is weak. It is one of the reasons why Utopia hated the Nanfang group – and also the so-called Guangdong model – so much. Anyhow after this report the receding enthusiasm about the village eroded even more quickly. If the myth of the Dazhai commune during Mao’s China symbolized the failure of socialism in one country, then by the same token one may say that the myth of Nanjiecun symbolizes the failure of socialism in one village. Luckily for the Utopia people, they soon discovered a socialism in one city, this time the Chongqing model. Never had they imagined that their dream could be crushed so quickly however.

Even if we should lower our expectations to just demanding serious reform rather than anything close to a socialist transition, the Chongqing model is not particularly attractive simply because its reform program has not touched the absolute power of the Party and has not promoted any basic civil liberties at all. And when all the economic and social reforms, however good in themselves, continue to be interpreted and implemented by the Party leaders alone, these reforms necessarily sooner or later turn sour. This is because today the party state machinery is not a solution to China’s deep contradictions at all, rather it is a problem in itself – its rampant corruption increasingly constitutes an unbearable burden for society and will trigger off an implosion sooner or later. This is not to deny that any real improvement in people’s livelihood should be welcomed. But one should not exaggerate this as anything close to ‘socialism’, nor should one gives Bo Xilai the credit that he does not deserve. Instead of playing into the hands of the power struggle within the ruling Party, the left should continue to denounce the absolutist regime and prioritize the demand for democratic rights, because without this no social reform can really benefit the people in a longer term.

It may be a good sign that certain Maoists now declare that they do not support any faction within the Party, but that they are now for revolution. However it is essential for them to clarify what kind of revolution they want. China has not been lacking revolutions, and even if the 1949 revolution was not just a repetition of the peasant revolutions, it nevertheless displayed a similar political mindset to that of absolutism. According to this it is not a problem if one party or one leader holds all the power and remain unchecked, so long as it is a good party or a good leader. On the other hand it is definitely intolerable for them if any ‘bad people’ ever enjoy freedom of speech. Accordingly, revolution is only needed when it serves the purpose of substituting ‘bad rulers’ with ‘good rulers’, rather than for an institutional transformation which really empowers the working people with democratic rights, and also one which will move on from all the great innovative ideas about human rights and judicial justice from the past period.

Yet if there is anything to learn from Mao’s China it is this: even if under Mao working people fared better in terms of jobs security and welfare than under the rule of KMT, they were not given any political rights, let alone the democratic right to elect or recall the leaders of the country. Without political rights these economic benefits remain grace granted unilaterally from the good rulers, hence easily taken back at any time if the good rulers wish. This is also why China had been transformed into a barbaric capitalism with such ease, and when the people struggled against capitalist restoration under Deng Xiaoping they had to do it barehanded, which end up in bloodshed in 1989. In recent years the CCP has promoted labor law reforms, and in appearance one may say that China today has put in place a welfare state. The problem, however, is that the bureaucracy at all levels do not have the incentive to enforce those laws which entitle people to all the economic benefits, and when the people rise up to demand their legitimate rights they are threatened with repression. Therefore no matter whether one calls for reform or for ‘revolution’, either these have to be wedded to a program of civil liberties, judicial justice, and genuine democracy, or they will just end up being used to serve very different interests, and particularly the danger of being used by certain party factions in their struggle for power.


[1] Zhi quanguo renda changweihui de xin (Letter to the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress),…

[2] hongqing moshi shi zenyang bei wudude? (How the Chongqing Model has been misintepreted?)…

[3] Bo Xilai: Gongchandang bushi heshilao, yao jianjue chanchu heieshili (Bo Xilai Said that the Communist Party is not Peacemaker but rather It should Remain Firm in Eradicating the Mafia),…

[4] This is surely an over-simplified and therefore incorrect view. There always exist two interpretations on rule of law, one being conservative as it argues for unconditional obligation to obey the state’s laws, while the other approaches the issue of laws from a deep distrust against the state and a commitment to popular democracy. See for instance Democracy and the Rule of Law, Bob Fine, 1984, Pluto Press, p. 174.

[5] Su Wei yu oumeng zhiku zhuanjia tan Chongqing moshi liuda tedian ji dangaolun (Su Wei’s Conversation with EU Think Tank Experts on the Six Features of the Chongqing Model and on the Proposition of Making and Dividing the Cake),…

[6] Chongqing jingyan yu zhongguo shehuizhuyi 3.0 banben (Chongqing Experience and Chinese Socialism 3.0),…
For an English report, please refer to Socialism 3.0 in China, by Peter Martin and David Cohen,
The Diplomat, April 25, 2011,…

[7] The Rumour Machine – Wang Hui on the dismissal of BoXilai…

[8] The Struggle for Socialism in China – The Bo Xilai Saga and Beyond, Volume 64, Issue 05, Monthly Review.

[9] Lun “dadao hanjian” – zhongguo shehuizhyyi zenyang caineng fuxing? (On “Down with Traitors” – How to Revive Chinese Socialism?),…

[10] Lun “dadao hanjian” – zhongguo shehuizhyyi zenyang caineng fuxing? (On “Down with Traitors” – How to Revive Chinese Socialism?),…

[11] Fan Jinggang huida shidai zhoubao jizhe (Fan Jinggang’s Responds to the Queries of the Time Weekly Reporters),…



[14] Bo Xilai zaoyou jianyue zhixin, juxing huabiao yazhu ‘longmai’ (Bo Xilai Nurtures the Plot to become the Top Leader Long Time Ago, the Big Huabiao is Meant to Suppress the Longmai), a report originally published in Asia Weekly and was re-posted at…

[15] The Struggle for Socialism in China – The Bo Xilai Saga and Beyond, Volume 64, Issue 05, Monthly Review.

[16] Chongqing moshi shi zenyang bei wudude? (How the Chongqing Model has been misintepreted?)…

[17] Stepping Up to Challenges- Political advisors say urbanization holds the key to China’s future, Yuan Yuan,…

[18] Chongqing dipiao diaocha shidi nongmin shouyi youxian (Investigation on Chongqing Land Certificates Reveals Peasants who Lost Their Land Got Limited Amount of Benefit),…

[19] lthough still named as ‘village’ it should be understood as more a small industrial area with more than 2 dozen factories than an agricultural village.

[20] ee their official website: For the Nanfang Daily report, see… For critique from the left, please refer to Mao Zedong sixiang zhaoyao xia de shichang jingji (Mao Zedong Thought Shines over the Market Economy),…



  1. very informational 🙂

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