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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bo Xilai's Image and Police Platforms in Chongqing

Although the case of Chongqing's former party chief Bo Xilai has been overshadowed in Western media by recents events surrounding Chen Guangcheng, it remains an important issue in China. Xujun Eberlein, a writer who grew up in Chongqing, in a recent post discusses the views of a group of people who were impacted by many of Bo Xilai's actions--Chongqing's residents. She also describes how their various perspectives have lead to different interpretations of recent events. For example:
Bo’s supporters and dissenters all believe their side is in the majority, and each side uses very different logic when interpreting the charges against Bo and his wife. Four out of five taxi drivers I spoke to, for example, said they didn’t believe that Gu Kailai had murdered Neil Heywood or that Bo was corrupt and hiding money overseas. “Think about it,” one driver said in a teaching tone. “Gu Kailai is a very smart lawyer, wouldn’t she know the consequences of murder? Bo Xilai’s interest is in politics, would he care about a few bucks? It is just that simple!” Their interpretation is that all the charges are made-up excuses to bring Bo down because Bo is more capable than Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and Xi Jinping. The dissenters, on the other hand, believe Bo is completely capable of murder because he has no regard for the life of someone standing in his way. Curiously, regardless of their stance on the Bo affair, most of those I spoke to suspected that Wang Lijun’s entry into the US consulate was part of a plot to bring Bo down.
I would be interested to learn more about why there was general agreement about the purpose of Wang Lijun's visit to the U.S. consulate. I wonder whether Bo's supporters and dissenters shared similar motivations for their belief.

But there are always more questions to ask, and Eberlein presents a far more nuanced account than most others. In addition to adding important context to the Bo case, the post provides a hint of the challenges in answering "What do Chinese people think?" or even "What do Chongqing people think?". I find Eberlein's account fascinating and have nothing more to say at the moment other than to recommend reading the full post which can be found here.

However, I do have something to say regarding one of the "leftovers" from the Bo era which Eberlein describes in another post. During a recent trip to Chongqing she noticed some well-equipped police platforms:
Each of these modern-equipped platforms cost 5 million Yuan, according to sources. And there is one at every big intersection in the city. To Bo Xilai's supporters, this is what makes them feel safer. Bo's dissenters, however, say this unnecessarily high-expense contributes to the city's huge fiscal deficit. A local journalist said that, in the summer, the platform's air conditioning runs fully 24 hours a day in the open air. Chongqing is notoriously hot. "Think how much electricity it wastes!" He said.

The disgrace of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun makes the police platforms a difficult issue to deal with: Get rid of them? People who are used to them will protest. Keep them? maintenance cost is very high.
I am wary of providing suggestions for Chongqing's government, but in this case I have a "creative" idea to share that I have not yet seen anyone else suggest: Chongqing should partner with Coca-Cola. Last year in Kunming, Yunnan province I discovered that the police not only had a far less expensive version of Chongqing's police platforms, but they had appeared to have even found a sponsor for them. From my post "Coca-Cola and the Chinese Police", here is one of the police tents I saw in Kunming:

Coca-Cola sponsored police tent in Kunming, Yunnan

Coca-Cola may be more than happy to form a similar partnership in Chongqing. And if free cold drinks were provided like at a Coca-Cola tent I visited in Shanghai, people may be more accepting of shutting down the wasteful air conditioners. Between the money brought in through the sponsorship and the reduced costs on air conditioning (keeping the drinks chilled would surely cost less), the worries about adding to the city's deficit would be eliminated.

Though, I do see a potential problem--the color of Coca-Cola's brand. I doubt Chongqing needs any more "red culture" at the moment. Maybe Coca-Cola could promote Sprite instead.

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