Bo Xilai, right, held a press conference as governor of Liaoning province on March 14, 2001. (Photo/Xinhua)
With the help of Jiang Zemin, China's former president, Bo Xilai began his political journey to power as mayor of Dalian in the country's northeast, according to an article titled Rise and Fall: Driven to become 'Emperor' written by Kenji Minemura for the Japanese national newspaper Asahi Shimbum.
During a ten-day trip by Jiang to Dalian in August 1999, Bo successfully courted the former Chinese leader with actions similar to the "Sing Red Songs" campaign for Maoist culture which he later launched in Chongqing after he became party secretary of the city in 2007. Minemura said Bo made his play on Aug. 20, 1999, the last day of Jiang's inspection tour of the city. Jiang "found himself in front of a white marble column nearly 20 meters high," said Minemura. "Twisting dragons and auspicious clouds had been engraved on the traditional ornamental column, called 'huabiao,' from the square base to the top."
From the perspective of Chinese culture, the actual meaning of "huabiao" is the power of emperors. Since commemorating the glory of imperial China does not follow the ideological line of the Communist Party, Jiang was not pleased by the display of "huabiao" by Bo Xilai, who at that time served as the mayor of Dalian and was the number two party man in the city. Considering Jiang's visit a crucial chance to gain a higher position within the Communist Party, Bo had prepared the president's tour with the help of his father, Bo Yibo, a revolutionary leader who was one of the founders of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
With the help of a tiny recording device imported from Germany, Bo was able to study the temperament of the former Chinese president through recording his conversations. To fix his "huabiao" mistake, Bo ordered his subordinates to hang a huge portrait of Jiang on a building next to the municipal government. Jiang was surprised to see it because the party had banned the production of leaders' portraits since the lessons learned from the Cultural Revolution, when Chairman Mao's promotion of his personality cult paved the way for him to smash the party apparatus and create a decade of chaos. But Jiang was definitely impressed.
"Jiang looked surprised to see his huge portrait and turned back many times to see it," described Minemura. "A close aide to Jiang later briefed a senior official of the municipal government on the president's reaction to Bo's attempt to please him."
About a month later, Bo became party secretary of Dalian, replacing Yu Xuexiang. Yu was apparently demoted by order of the party leaders in order to promote Bo. Subsequently, Bo did not hesitate to show his true ambition to his close associates. "Another official at the municipal government who was involved in designing the "huabiao" that displeased Jiang recalls that Bo wanted the column to be the tallest in China because he would someday become "tianzi" — the son of heaven, or the emperor," said Minemura.
Jiang Zemin 江澤民
Bo Xilai 薄熙來
Yu Xuexiang 于學祥