The outcome of the conflict between the Chinese Communist party’s rival “two cannons” – neo-Maoist Bo Xilai and reformist Wang Yang – will have profound implications not only for China’s democratic prospects, but the wider world.
“China is now at a historic crossroads – either it turns towards political reform, as people like Wang Yang are advocating, or returns to a new cultural revolution, as Bo Xilai would like,” says Jiang Weiping. Mr Jiang, a veteran Chinese journalist now based in Toronto, was sentenced on Mr Bo’s orders to eight years in prison in 2001 for writing three critical articles in a Hong Kong magazine. “If Bo wins and China turns back, that would be a disaster for the country and the world.”
The Financial Times carries a must-read analysis of the case of Li Jun that serves as “a warning to the world of what could happen if Bo Xilai takes power.”
In several extended interviews with the Financial Times, Mr Li has described how he paid little attention in mid-2008 when Mr Bo launched his “sing red and smash black” crusade – a catchy populist campaign combining mass (red) revolutionary singalongs with an attack on (black) “underworld criminal gangs”. In the midst of the financial crisis and a slump in the property market, Mr Li was busy negotiating with the People’s Liberation Army to buy a large plot of military land in Chongqing, which he planned to develop into a luxury residential project he called Shangri-La.
But soon after the sale went through, Mr Li’s district party secretary asked him to hand the land to the government to turn into a park. After rebuffing repeated advances from the secretary and people close to him, Mr Li found out in early 2009 that he was the target of a police investigation. “I hadn’t done anything wrong so I refused to meet with them and just went about my business as usual,” Mr Li says.
At the time he was ranked among Chongqing’s 30 richest men. His extensive investments in property, petrol stations, nightclubs, finance and hotel management were earning combined annual revenues of about Rmb1bn ($159m), and he estimates his total assets at that time at about Rmb4.5bn.
But by June 2009, dozens of business people were being arrested as the “smash black” typhoon engulfed the city. As the authorities closed in, Mr Li transferred ownership of his companies to his brother, Li Xiuwu, and his nephew, Tai Shihua, both of whom were low-level employees on salaries of Rmb8,000 a month. He also divorced his wife, in an attempt to protect her and their two young daughters, and fled Chongqing.
He later learnt that on August 22 2009 Mr Wang, the police chief in charge of the “smash black” campaign, had personally signed an order establishing a joint military and civilian taskforce to investigate his case. While on a secret visit to his family in Chongqing on December 4 the same year, he was snatched by police, hooded, handcuffed and taken for interrogation.
Over the next three months, Mr Li says he was subjected to long periods of physical and mental torture as his captors tried to extract confessions that he was a mafia boss engaged in bribery, gun-running, pimping, usury and supporting illegal religious organisations. The interrogations were mostly conducted while he was chained hand and foot to a “tiger bench”, a straight-backed steel chair with ridged steel bars instead of a seat, and he was often beaten, kicked and hit with electric batons.
Li’s account, the FT notes, “is supported by extensive documentary evidence, most of which has been authenticated by two Chinese experts who asked not to be named, and Prof Andrew Nathan* of Columbia University, a leading sinologist and co-editor of The Tiananmen Papers, a compilation of leaked official documents from that crackdown.”
“Some of the methods employed in Chongqing were even rare in feudal society,” writes Prof Tong Zhiwei of East China University of Politics and Law, who recently submitted a detailed report to the central government on Chongqing’s crime-fighting campaign.
“The primary and basic goal [of the “smash black” campaign] was to weaken and eliminate private businesses and the relevant companies and entrepreneurs, thereby strengthening state-owned enterprises or local government finances,” Prof Tong wrote in his report. “The most striking result of Chongqing’s anti-mafia war on crime was the large number of private entrepreneurs who lost their money, power and families.”
* A board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.