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June 27, 2017

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Party chief purge proves money equals power in a corrupt China

Now it has turned out in China that not only power corrupts, but also money. And what if the two join hand in hand?

The results are dramatic, tragic, and ruinous, as the cascading events in China show. For nearly three months since February, the world has been watching a drama with suspense and disbelief. Perhaps some sadness, too.

What I am talking about is the purge of Bo Xilai, who until April 10 was a high-flying Politburo member and a contender for top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Bo's sudden fall from power is widely seen as the biggest political storm sweeping China since the violent crackdown of the democracy movement on Tiananmen in 1989.

Bo, the former Communist Party chief in Chongqing, is no stranger to people at home and abroad. His charisma and flamboyance set him apart from other party leaders who are interchangeably bland. Bo's "Chongqing Model" of governance featuring Maoist populism and political movements such as "singing red (songs)" and "smashing black (mafia)" has raised quite an eyebrow in Beijing. Yet he has established a following from those left behind in the nation's economic boom toward prosperity.

That's why rumors were swirling that Bo's downfall was the result of power struggle not unlike what happened during the Cultural Revolution. Beijing has not said much about Bo's sins except that he is under investigation for "discipline violation." It has also been made known that Bo's wife Gu Kailai is being investigated for her involvement in the death of British businessmen Neil Heywood last Nov. 15 in a Chongqing hotel room.

According to press reports, the case has blown open a can of worms that reveals a grave crisis threatening Communist Party rule: The government is so seriously corrupted by power and money as to be unsustainable.

Anecdotal media reports said Bo has used his power and influence to amass for himself and his family a fortune ranging from US$160 million, according to the New York Times, to US$6 billion if Asahi Shimbun is to be believed. Even US$160 million is a mind-boggling figure, given the meager salary of China's mandarins.

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times' China hand and columnist, said it best: "In Chinese, the words for power (quan權) and money (qian錢) sound alike, and in China one often translates into another."

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