Warm embrace of red culture to win 'new left'
Observers see this week's endorsement of flamboyant Chongqing boss Bo Xilai's red culture campaign by the party mouthpiece People's Daily as part of a balancing act by some top leaders in Beijing keen to win favour from resurgent 'new leftists'.
They also said Tuesday's main front-page story heaping praise on the southwestern municipality's controversial campaign could be seen as further confirming Bo as a rising political star in the run-up to next year's top-level leadership reshuffle.
The People's Daily story, which spilled to an inside page, praised Chongqing as a model and hub of the country's cultural construction.
'It is an endorsement of Bo Xilai's red culture campaign and it is worth noting as the article came just a few days before the party's ruling elites are to meet to discuss cultural development matters,' said Professor Hu Xingdou, a Beijing Institute of Technology economist.
'Cultural reform' is the sole agenda item for the sixth plenary session of the 17th Party Congress, which will begin tomorrow in Beijing. Bo, currently a Politburo member, is a frontrunner for promotion to the more senior Politburo Standing Committee, the pinnacle of the party's decision-making hierarchy, as part of a once-a-decade leadership transition at the 18th Party Congress next autumn.
Other contenders for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee include Guangdong party chief Wang Yang and his Shanghai counterpart Yu Zhengsheng .
Bo has won widespread praise for smashing Chongqing's crime syndicates. But he also gained notoriety for his nostalgic embrace of 'red culture' - which includes not only the mass singing of revolutionary songs but also bureaucrats being sent to the countryside to work alongside farmers and quotations from Mao Zedong being sent to millions of mobile phones. His campaign has made him a hero of the country's 'new left'.
Hu and Liu Kang, a China watcher at Duke University in the United States, said the article was something of a balancing act. 'The article reflects the top leaders' desire to please the left-leaning masses who supported Bo's campaign,' Hu said.
Liu, also the dean of Shanghai Jiao Tong University's school of communications, said the new leadership after the 18th Party Congress would face a different legitimacy problem compared to current party general secretary Hu Jintao, who was designated as Jiang Zemin's heir by Deng Xiaoping. Xi Jinping, the heir apparent, lacks the same 'supreme mandate' and will need a different legitimacy strategy when setting up the new Politburo Standing Committee.
'The power balance of different sects and interest groups seems to be the utmost concern,' Liu said. In this respect, Bo, the left-wing 'commander-in-chief', and Wang, his predecessor in Chongqing who apparently stands for the liberal, pro-market wing in the Politburo, would represent the two extremes of the political spectrum, and were likely to enter the ruling body together, he said. 'Pragmatism is the order of the day,' Liu said, adding that people should not worry too much about ideological restrictions or a further tilt to the left if Bo won promotion. 'Power games will go with the tide, and countervailing forces such as Wang Yang will for sure constitute a check and balance, Chinese-style.'