"The 'Mechanization' of Party Power" By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on April 28, 2012 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog several months later on August 24, 2012.
Even keen China followers have been baffled watching the Bo Xilai drama unfold seemingly on a daily basis since February this yearBo Xilai’s reign in Chongqing and his revival of “Red Songs” was a phenomena observed here on High Peaks Pure Earth last year in our post about Chinese propaganda song about Tibet called “Laundry Song”.
Woeser’s article was written at the end of April when many details were not yet known about the case but her explanation of Wang Lixiong’s theory of a “mechanized” CCP still warrants attention. For those who read Chinese, the full essay ‘Bo Xilai and the “Mechanization” of the Chinese Communist Party’ by Wang Lixiong can be read online here: http://www.canyu.org/n48186c10.aspx
Lastly, Woeser uses the phrase “Don’t Get Sidetracked” in this article, this explanation by Danwei from 2008 about the phrase is worth reading: http://www.danwei.org/translation/the_inscrutable_wisdom_of_hu_j.php

An artwork by Chinese artists, the Gao brothers

“The ‘Mechanization’ of Party Power”
By Woeser

When the Chongqing model was booming, many people thought that Bo Xilai would take up a position in the Standing Committee of the Politburo at the upcoming Party Congress. Wang Lixiong, however, did not think so. He said to me, whether Bo Xilai will or will not be able to take a position in the Standing Committee can be seen as an experiment: if he succeeds it means that the CCP has not yet entirely “mechanized”, there still exists the possibility of a break up. If he does not succeed, it does, however, show that the CCP has already entirely “mechanized” and it means that there is no hope for political reforms.
By “mechanization” Wang Lixiong tries to express the following: a power that is not “mechanized” is being led and managed by a leader, it operates according to the willpower and determination of the leader; a “mechanized” power, on the other hand, no longer has any real leader. Every member of the power group is merely a component of a machine, cooperating with and restricting each other within the limits of the rigid structure of that machine. The highest form of power is also simply a position; who occupies it does not matter, but one must never violate the rules and regulations of the machine, and even less must one inflict any damage upon the body of the machine.
Wang Lixiong said that if Bo Xilai really takes up a position in the Standing Committee as people say, if he is really in charge of political laws, he, I and people like us will have an even more difficult life. But he also thinks that Bo Xilai might really bring about some changes, and in order to break up the Chinese system, change is necessary, a breaking up of the system also requires the CCP not yet having completed the “mechanization” process.
The appearance of Wang Lijun changed the course of events. Bo’s fall seemed to have happened by chance; yet, whether it was an incidence or a necessity is already impossible to judge. But before the Wang Lijun incident, there must have already formed a concealed movement working towards the overthrow of Bo within the CCP. Even if it is not like that, Wang Lijun alone would not have been sufficient to lead to his fall, even if there was really a legal case against Bo’s wife, this could also have been taken care of within the black box of power. Wang Lijun was just the tipping point, it quickly brought the matter to a boil, turning it into a noisy drama.
This is the essence of today’s CCP and the Mao era; Mao was able to reverse the path of power, he changed the rules of power, he even smashed the power apparatus and rebuilt it. After Mao’s death, the group of Party bureaucrats that had suffered multiple calamities during the Cultural Revolution, decided to not allow anything like the Cultural Revolution to happen again. Deng Xiaoping promoted “Party Building” and “Inner Party Democracy” with the aim of preventing the emergence of a bureaucrat such as Mao Zedong again.
What a “mechanized” power tolerates least is a charismatic person (a leader who makes the masses follow him and show their loyalty due to his individual charm and prestige); this would be the least stable structure, one that could be changed by the leader at random; this would also guarantee the least security for the bureaucrats. If the Party wants to make sure that the Cultural Revolution does not repeat itself, it first of all needs to make sure that a charismatic leader does not appear again. Wen Jiabao once suggested that Bo Xilai is bringing back the Cultural Revolution; but in actual fact, Bo’s Chongqing model did not have much in common with the Cultural Revolution; what made people connect it with the Cultural Revolution was mainly his charisma, including his “Red Song” mass campaign and especially his cracking down on illegal activities that harm the group in power; it was this that went beyond the bottom line of the the power apparatus.
The kind of leaders that the CPP accept today, are all indistinguishable conservatives. Mediocre bureaucrats that don’t “get sidetracked” are what they love most. If Chongqing’s Bo Xilai had not been eradicated, one day he would have become the charismatic person of China. If getting sidetracked gets one into the Standing Committee then more and more little charismatic people would have gradually followed and the Party would have no peace. Precisely because of this logic that lies behind the CCP apparatus did Wang Lixiong think that even if Wang Lijun had not come forward, Bo Xilai would not have been able to take up a post in the Standing Committee at the next Party Congress.
The Bo Xilai incident can be seen as the CCP’s warning against any Party members that overstep their authority, it represents a further step towards the “mechanization” of the CCP. Many people in and outside China have not really fully understood this point, the CCP is not separated or in chaos because of this event, on the contrary, it has become even more united, regulated and stable; it has become ever more “mechanized”.
Tibet should not entertain any illusionary hopes with regards to the upcoming power change within the CCP, this will not result in any major transformation of the mechanized Party.
April 28, 2012


  1. Well reasoned piece completely providing a different angle to the power and politic game being played behind the Fire Wall of China. Centralization, bureaucratization and mechanization are means to retain the power of CCP in the years to come in China.

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  3. As a Tibetan in exile, here’s my analysis based on so called China experts in the Western institutions & media. CCP has various factions such as reformists, conservatives, princelings etc. One of the ways they attack each other is by leaking defaming informations such as corruptions, scandals etc to various media both inside and outside China. This means there’s a lot of friction amongst the various factions within CCP. It seems Bo Xilai was part of the hardline princeling group. Bringing him down seems to indicate that the moderates have a larger power base. Is that not true? Is Woesar saying that whoever is charismatic will be knocked down by the rest. Is Woeser also saying that the reformists in CCP are too weak to bring political reform?

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