In spite of the impressive record of economic growth, China remains a closed and arcane world. The Middle Kingdom is one where signs and codes still dominate. Therefore, it will not be unfair to see the trial and the swift and exemplary conviction of Bo Xilai as the signifier of other struggles and developments within the prevailing polity of China. Xi Jinping, the new Chinese president and the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, has launched a campaign, with fresh vigour, to eradicate corruption from the corridors of power in China. This is an effort best described as an attempt to clean the Augean stables. Corruption has been rampant within the CPC, as it always is in any closed system. There are no better illustrations of Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’’, than the communist regimes. The despotism of the CPC is no exception. Bo, before his fall from grace, was an important and powerful figure within the communist party. It is also significant that Bo’s trial contained all the trappings of being an “open’’ one. Bo was allowed to defend himself and the due processes of law were followed. Selected, but large chunks of the transcripts of the trial were made available on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, so that the people of China could inform themselves about the trial and its proceedings.
Some of these features would suggest that the days of the show trials followed by executions and purges — the Moscow trials of the late 1930s were the most telling and appalling examples of these —were a thing of the past in China, the biggest communist country today. But such a conclusion would be hasty. The trial was not free from censorship and the foreign media were kept out of the courtroom. The closed system was not made to open completely but it was a partial and controlled opening. The levers of control remained with the leadership of the party. Bo may not have been given a death sentence (he was given life imprisonment), but according to him, his family was threatened and bullied by the authorities. Reports suggest that the powers that be, in a manner reminiscent of Stalin’s trials, did stage manage the proceedings. It is evident that while the economy of China is changing fast, its political system and processes remain entrenched in party despotism.