Accessibility links

Breaking News

Bo Xilai Remains Popular in Megacity He Once Oversaw

Bo Xilai, the party chief of Chongqing, attends the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, China, March 3, 2012.

Disgraced politician Bo Xilai is still a hugely popular figure on the streets of Chongqing, the city he served as Communist party secretary for more than four years. But not everyone in the city is sorry to see him gone.

A hazy fog hangs over the Jialing and Yangtze rivers, which converge in Chongqing. This once sleepy inland port has exploded in recent decades into one of the world’s biggest municipalities, with some 30 million people.

Bo Xilai left his mark on the city with policies that drew attention across China. Many residents, like English translator Pan, say they were dismayed when they heard he had been fired.

“First, I was shocked. Then, I felt that it's a pity. I personally still like him, no matter what he did. I think he was a good leader,” she said.

She is not in the minority. Salesman Chen thinks 99 out of 100 Chongqing residents would say they like Bo. He thinks the former leader is a victim of political struggles, but he doesn't want to talk about it.

This taxi driver, who did not give his name, said authorities sent an effective message to his supporters when they put down a small pro-Bo demonstration.

“Who dares to do it? No one dares. No one is brave enough,” he said.

Two of Bo's signature campaigns for Chongqing involved colors. One was “sing red” - which encouraged people to sing nostalgic Communist songs.

Blogger Alan Zhang says the campaign was coercive. “For example, if your department does not participate in a red song program, it is considered a political act. So that means your political achievements are not good. If a school does not participate, then it may have a negative affect on whether its students get chosen to join the Party. It was very fanatical,” he said.

The other campaign was “strike black” - a crackdown on organized crime in which police arrested some 5,000 people.

“This created the social phenomenon that those who were suspected of being gangsters were indeed gangsters, and then tomorrow, anybody could be called a gangster because it was not specific or legal. Ordinary people could suffer and it could bring a feeling of oppression for city residents,” said the blogger.

Independent academic Wang Kang calls Bo “brave and decisive” but says the former leader's political methods would have pulled China back into the chaos of the Mao Zedong era.

“If Bo Xilai were to enter the Politburo standing committee, China's highest level of power, then I believe there would have been the possibility of having a second Cultural Revolution in China. A reign of terror would have been hard to avoid,” he said.

Before leaving Beijing, VOA asked the Chongqing government for an interview. While a spokesman agreed to meet for tea, he refused to speak on the record.