China is a land of contrasts. It’s officially Marxist, yet, for all intents and purposes, has a capitalist economy. The country stages elections, but the results are decided by the Politburo well in advance and in secret. The government there has the power to regulate media content, but that still allows the rumor mill to run rampant when salacious goings-on transpire in the halls of power.
Case in point: the recent, and rapid, downfall of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai. Chongqing is a city in southwest China that has about 30 million inhabitants. Bo was known for his crackdown on corruption against the mafia there, and was seen as a rising power within the party. In a stunning fall from grace, he was removed from his position, and with that his political career was over. The reason for the sacking was that one of his lieutenants had sought refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu after it became apparent that he too had run afoul of higher-ups in Beijing, and that he had collaborated with elements of organized crime during the ostensible public campaigns against those very groups. The downfall was fast, unexpected and complete.
It also prompted rumors of something akin to a coup in Beijing. A friend of my boyfriend’s, recently returned from the city (and whose father is actually the chairman of the government bureau in charge of personell, a very important position) told my boyfriend that there had been tanks all over Beijing for the past few days. High-ranking members of the party are afraid that with the recent instability within their own ranks would invite a coup against the central party leadership in Beijing, a prospect the Communists find more nerve-wracking than usual, as the country prepares for a turnover in the national leadership this coming fall.
As a result, six people reporting on coup rumors have been arrested, and the Chinese equivalents of Twitter have been partially disabled through April 3rd to stanch the proliferation of ‘rumors.’ While I doubt that a coup was attempted or is taking place, I think that the leadership of China is more jittery than normal, given some recent disturbances in the provinces, and also due to the leadership turnover later this year. But it’s always funny to see a government claim that something which is clearly happening, isn’t. No matter the regime, it’s always cause for chuckles.