Disgraced former Politburo superstar Bo Xilai - of the "Chongqing model" fame -- was finally indicted this week, accused of relatively minor charges of accepting bribes of US$3.2 million and embezzling roughly $800,000.
The fascinating screenplay opens with how Chinese media reacted to it. Three minutes before Xinhua announced it, the People's Daily was already meticulously drawing a distinction between "Bo Xilai's personal issues" and "the successes in the economic and social development" of Chongqing.
Fifteen minutes later, Xinhua followed with a commentary essentially warning that Bo had fallen because a local "tiger" had become too powerful; and thus "the nation's long-term stability can only be secured by protecting the authority of the central leadership."
Also 15 minutes after, the Global Times sealed the deal, stressing that corrupt Party bigwigs like Bo were "a cancer" and should be dealt with by the letter of the law.
The problem is all this heavy artillery does not even begin to tell the story.
The Ferrari vs the Hondas
Tall, energetic, charismatic, a fluent English speaker (learned when he was still in junior high, before the Cultural Revolution) and a princeling to boot -- the prodigal son of Bo Yibo, one of the "Eight Immortals," the group of Mao Zedong's close pals led by Deng Xiaoping, who later opened China to the world -- Bo Xilai is the stuff "rise and fall" epics are made of.
A princeling -- as defined by the Hong Kong-based media way back in the 1980s -- was one of the hundreds of children of CCP leaders who danced to the mojo of unlimited money, power and privilege. Bo -- who inherited all the priceless guanxi woven by his illustrious father -- preferred the term "red successor."
It's absolutely impossible to understand what's happening to Bo without following his complex family interactions with current Chinese President Xi Jinping, former president Hu Jintao and former premier Wen Jiabao. It's like comparing a Ferrari with a trio of Honda Civics.
Bo, the maverick, dashing Ferrari, is communist aristocracy by birth. Hu and Wen are hard workers who came from practically nothing. Wen's family, in Tianjin, was persecuted by the princeling Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. But later, in 1966, it was the poor Red Guards from his university who ended up arresting Bo's father.
Hu Jintao's father was a tea merchant. He was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution -- and never "rehabilitated". Later, during the 1980s, Bo's father, duly rehabilitated, went all out against Hu Yaobang -- who happened to be the mentor of both Hu and Wen.
The key point is that bad blood between these families was the name of the game for at least one generation.
By the end of 2007, Bo had lost his internal fight at the 17th Party Congress to become a vice-premier. He got into the Politburo -- but was "exiled" to Chongqing, in Sichuan -- some 1,500 kilometers away from Beijing. Chongqing has been a provincial-level municipality since 1997. The sprawling city has a population of 7 million, but the wider metropolis in the Yangtze valley holds no fewer than 33 million -- and counting. Chongqing was one of the nodes of the late 1990s' "Go West" policy -- the push to industrialize the Chinese hinterland at breakneck speed.
Bo arrived in Chongqing ready to roll. 2008 was the crucial year when the CCP unveiled a new narrative of a confident China finally overcoming "a century of humiliation" under foreign colonial powers. Beijing's answer to the Wall Street-provoked financial crisis was a nearly $600 billion stimulus package -- the largest in history -- to turbo-charge the Chinese economy. But after that, yet another narrative was needed to justify the CCP's power monopoly.
Bo smelled a winner. He capitalized on a widespread popular sense of alienation, resentment against inequality, and nostalgia for those egalitarian early days of socialism. Simultaneously he capitalized on Hu and Wen's campaign to fight inequality, as well as their ambivalence towards the role of private capital, and turned left, big time.
His masterful channeling of public resentment led to a reawakening of "the masses"; Bo was talking again about the bogeyman -- the bourgeoisie -- complete with nostalgic production values of the revolutionary era (as in Mao songs and quotations, which he knew by heart because he had spent five years in prison during the Cultural Revolution).