More Comments on Chen’s Removal

September 26, 2006 at 5:41 am (China, Politics)

History always repeats itself, but repeats in different scales. Too often we have seen rulers weeding out their political rivals and opponents, sometimes bloodily, sometimes quietly.

We don’t have to trace back to ancient history. Just glace at what happened thirty years ago. To topple his rivals, Mao Zedong mustered all his strength and exhausted all his historical knowledge (not surprisingly, the only books Mao read are historical books). He had no hesitation to impose a life imprisonment to the ingenuous but refractory Defense Minister who was in disagreement with Mao’s communal policies. He had no hesitation to launch a nation-wide culture revolution, which turned into an unprecedented catastrophe, only to sack the state chairman, who was jailed, tortured to death with no reasons. And he also scared his successor to make an immature coup and an apprehensive flee with an insufficiently-filled plane.

Those brutalities happened only 30 years ago. Those who were killed were top state officials, far more senior than the just dismissed Shanghai party secretary, who was only a member of Politburo but was already the highest-ranking party official removed in more than a decade.

So what changed in 30 years? Political strikes are not as bloody as before. That means our society are getting civilized, or the political fighters are getting well-mannered. Indeed, Hu is a university graduate while Mao was self-educated. Second, rulers no longer enjoy an absolute power as their predecessors did. The dispersion of power is also a sign of social progress, no matter how tiny it is. But the loss of absolute power also makes political strikes more risky. Without the inside information, we can’t tell how Chen and the Shanghai Gang defended themselves. But we can tell that the battle is not over. Mao could wield his sword clumsily whereas he could still kill his enemies without much trouble. Hu, however, has to be more delicate and careful. That’s why he waited so long to take action.

So should we celebrate the change? Of course not. Party fights are just quieter and more insulated to the public than 30 years ago. As long as a country is ruled by a single party, the down and up of its officials are always the party family issue. We get no vote on it. It’s just that the family members changed their fighting preference and tastes. But they are still fighting.

It might be prejudiced to talk about the dismissal of Chen as a mere result of a political strike. At least it came with a good reason: Chen is corrupt. Hu picked up a good time, like he always did, to sack the corrupt Shanghai chief. By doing this Hu killed several birds with one stone. First, Hu deposed an opponent and his clique, paving the way for the personnel shift at next year’s party meeting. Second, he killed a chicken, a relatively big chicken, to scare the moneys, those unruly local governors. Third, it’s rational to remove a chief who pushed Shanghai’s property prices to the highest and who risked an economical overheating. Fourth, Hu manifested his determination on anti-corruption. Maybe there are other reasons, but four is enough to justify a political shock.

(English media followed the news closely. Some are pretty good. Here are a few links to their reports. The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal. Financial Times. Bloomberg. Los Angeles Times)

 

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