PROFILE: Bo Xilai: Leftist, rightist or savvy populist?
By Bill Smith Mar 1, 2012, 2:20 GMT
Beijing - He studied history and journalism, joined the Red Guards, played a leading role in China's integration into global trade, confronted organized crime in one of China's most notorious cities, and he still promotes Maoist values.
These are just some of the colourful and sometimes apparently contradictory episodes in Bo Xilai's rise to join the top 25 of China's 80 million Communist Party members.
In the last few years, Bo, 62, has been widely expected to take an even bigger step from the 12-strong Politburo to its all-powerful, nine-member Standing Committee after a party congress in November.
But analysts are waiting to see if Bo's populist leadership credentials can weather a recent a storm of publicity after the mysterious downfall of his celebrated hardline police chief.
The 'princeling' whose late father, Bo Yibo, was once one of the party's 'eight immortals,' has been one of the most outgoing and publicity-seeking Chinese leaders in recent years. Yet he remains highly secretive by Western political standards.
In the sometimes twisted ideology of the modernizing, pragmatic Communist Party, supporters sometimes label Bo both a 'leftist' protector of Mao's legacy and a 'rightist' economic reformer.
He is admired by some 'leftists' who seek a return to the extreme egalitarianism under Mao, but as a former commerce minister Bo played an important role in opening China to international trade and investment and integrating it into the global economy.
Bo became a Red Guard as a teenager at the start of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution when Mao mobilized the country's youth to spread communist fundamentalism.
He then spent several years doing 'manual labour in a 'study class',' according to his official biography, but some interpret this as a euphemism for Bo's detention in a labour camp.
Whatever the truth of his early years, Bo emerged to work at a machine repair plant for six years before studying history and journalism in Beijing.
Bo joined the party in 1980 and worked at its headquarters for two years before moving to the north-eastern province of Liaoning where he rose as an increasingly high-profile local and provincial party official from 1984 to 2004.
He moved back to Beijing to serve as China's commerce minister until 2007.
In his latter years in Liaoning, Bo had overseen anti-mafia campaigns that the party hailed as a model for other regions.
He used that experience in tackling organized crime and corruption in the south-western region of Chongqing from 2007.
Among ordinary Chinese people, one of Bo's best-known innovations was his 'city beautification' campaign while he was mayor of Liaoning's Dalian city, which included pretty policewomen patrolling the city centre on horseback.
Bo's desire for publicity led one of China's most popular business consultants to dub him the 'famous brand mayor' in the late 1990s.
After his promotion to provincial governor in 2001, Bo said officials should aspire to be hardworking and incorruptible, operating under the principles of 'diligence, honesty, innovation and democracy,' state media reported.
Today, he is better known for his anti-mafia campaign and the revival of socialist-inspired 'red' songs in a cultural campaign in Chongqing.
The region's anti-mafia drive reportedly resulted in the arrest of thousands of suspects, including 77 officials who had protected criminal gangs.
But some insiders claimed that behind the self-congratulatory statements of Bo and other officials, organized crime remained entrenched in Chongqing and still reached to the highest levels.
Others critics said the crackdown was too draconian, even for China's authoritarian government.
The unexplained fall last month of Chongqing's police chief, Wang Lijun, a trusted 'super cop' from Liaoning, has perhaps cast a bigger shadow over Bo's political future.
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