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Bo Xilai: a stunning and highly public fall from grace in China (+video)

Bo Xilai, a senior Communist Party official, was abruptly dismissed amid scandal, ending his ambition of a top post. His removal could complicate a key year of political transition in China.  

By Staff writer / March 15, 2012

Bo Xilai, Chongqing party secretary attends the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference held in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, China, Tuesday, March 13.

Ng Han Guan/AP

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Beijing

Never in recent Chinese history has such a senior Communist Party leader fallen so dramatically and so publicly from grace.

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But it was the manner of Bo Xilai’s sudden political demise, rather than the reasons behind it, that augurs the greatest changes for China’s secretive one party rule, say Chinese analysts.

Detailed openly step by step on blogs and on fellow party leaders’ lips, Mr. Bo’s burnout has shattered the carefully cultivated myth of unity at the pinnacle of Chinese power.

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For 20 years, says Peking University politics professor Zhang Jian, “there has been a basic consensus in the party … that factional struggles should never rock the ship. But the way the scandal unfolded and was managed may signal the beginning of the loss of that consensus.”

Bo, until recently a rising star in the political firmament here who clearly had his sights set on one of the nine top posts in the ruling Communist Party, was replaced as party secretary of Chongqing, a mega-city in southwestern China, the official news agency Xinhua announced Thursday. The sacking appeared to put an end to his political ambitions.

His prospects had been dimmed since bloggers revealed five weeks ago – in posts supported by photographs – that Bo’s hand-picked police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, had been escorted by police away from the US consulate in Chengdu.

Whether he went to the consulate seeking asylum or for another purpose has not been disclosed. But rather than blacking out all news of the scandal, local and national officials fed it, announcing first that Mr. Wang was undergoing “vacation style medical treatment” and then revealing that Wang had spent a whole night at the consulate and was under investigation.

President Hu Jintao was widely reported last week as describing Wang as a “traitor,” which bode ill for his mentor, and on Wednesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao banged the last nail into Bo’s coffin with some blunt criticism of his political rival at a press conference – an extremely unusual public assault on a fellow leader.

To the eyes of some observers the revelations on Weibo, China’s most popular social media platform, bore the hallmarks of an anti-Bo campaign by his rivals. “Political factions can use Weibo to create and manipulate public opinion,” points out Wu Qiang, who teaches politics at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Any user can be a deep throat.”

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