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China's politics remain inscrutable

Three decades after China's perestroika and glasnost, the country's politics have remained as inscrutable and opaque as ever. The erstwhile “bamboo curtain” seems still there, awaiting to be hoisted one day.

Few journalists or China watchers can honestly claim they have any credible information about what's going on behind the walls of “zhongnanhai.” The best they can do is to stretch their imagination.

Remember what did the “experts” say after Mao Zedong died in 1976? They predicted the emergence of a “collective leadership.” Nobody had imagined that a coup would bring down the “gang of four” headed by Mao's widow Jiang Qing. China's politics of smoke and mirrors have always been fascinating and perplexing.

Now it's “deja vu all over again” in Beijing where a bombshell exploded last month when Bo Xilai, a shining political star, fell from power suddenly. The news made international headlines because Bo was widely expected to enter China's all-powerful inner circle of leadership — the nine-man Standing Committee of Politburo — during a once-in-a-decade transition of power later this year.

Now, more than six weeks since Bo's dismissal from the post of Communist Party secretary in Chongqing, a megacity in Sichuan, the real reason of his firing has been shrouded in mystery. Rumors have been ripe: power struggle, conspiracy, vendetta, and all sorts of speculation including a coup in Beijing.

Many analysts see Bo's fall from power as the result of a seething struggle between two lines and two factions — Maoists and reformists. Bo Xilai, the charismatic and flamboyant politician, is labeled as a Maoist because he has been famous, now notorious, for his campaign to promote a retro Maoist culture by singing the “red songs” of Mao's revolutionary era. Bo's marquee policy of “smashing black” — a sweeping and relentless crackdown on organized crime, Robocop-style by Bo's police chief Wang Lijun, smacked of Mao's Great Cultural Revolution of lawlessness and persecution.

Bo's alleged sin seemed confirmed Feb. 14, one day before his dismissal by Premier Wen Jiabao, who said pointedly at a press conference in Beijing that “without successful political reform, historical tragedies such as the Cultural Revolution may happen again in China.”

So, Bo Xilai is identified by many as a Maoist and leftist guilty of reviving the disastrous Cultural Revolution, thus setting back the economic development and wiping out all the gains China has made over the past three decades. Of late, he has also been linked to a string of scandals of corruption.

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