Our latest online poll suffered a fate that is not uncommon in China — it was rigged. Or, at least, that’s what we’re assuming. We asked readers about the prospects for China’s leadership change to go smoothly and a remarkable 58% of respondents confidently answered that it would go smoothly.
Even more suspicious, the voting pattern changed dramatically after a day or so. At first, readers seemed unsure about the prospects for a hitch-free transfer of power, with most saying a flat-out No or else expressing some doubt. But thereafter the vote stayed on just one track — overwhelming confidence in the ability of China’s divided communists to deliver a smooth transition.
We are not so sure about that. The sacking of Bo Xilai, former head of the Communist Party in Chongqing, shows how that reform is an even thornier subject than anyone had imagined.
Bo butted heads with the party’s leadership not because he was a modernist, but because he was a populist and, of all things, a bit of a Maoist — he encouraged people to sing communist songs and used the language of the cultural revolution to whip up nostalgia for times past. And he was legitimately popular. Given a choice in the matter, the people of Chongqing would probably have voted for him.
Therein lies a problem for China’s reformers — democracy can hand power even to opponents of democracy. After all, the average Chinese person is not much richer today than a decade ago, in real terms. And, relative to the richest people in the country, they are much worse off. Indeed, the corruption and ill-gotten wealth of China’s richest is hardly likely to make Chinese people want more of the same. Indeed, there is a danger that a significant body of people will reject reforms and could even rally behind populists such as Bo, who promise a return to “traditional” values.
Either way, China’s growing pains are evident for all to see — except in China, of course.