Thursday, January 18, 2007

Last Communist Immortal, Bo Yibo, Dead at 98

Eventually, even immortals die.

Bo Yibo, the last of the Chinese revolutionary elders known as the Eight Immortals, died Monday at a Beijing hospital. He was 98.

Born in 1908, Bo participated in the 1949 Communist Revolution and remained hugely influential in Chinese politics though the 1980s and '90s.

He was alternate member and then member of the Politburo, deputy prime minister, chairman of State Economic Commission and vice-chairman of Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party of China.

Despite his senior status and skill at navigating Chinese elite politics, he was persecuted and imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early '70s. He was later rehabilitated, however.

Joining the Communist Party of China when he was 17, he was the last of the mostly retired revolutionary veterans who supported the October 1976 coup d'etat against the Mao Zedong-backed Gang of Four.

During the Second World War, Bo set up the Shanxi Suicide Squad for the Liberation of China, which was widely acclaimed as one of the most courageous sections of the Chinese Red Army against the Japanese invaders. The unit also became the mainstream force in the struggle to overthrow the nationalist Koumintang regime. Bo was responsible for incorporating the warlord Yan Xishan into the Red Army, who provided more than 200,000 troops.

During the civil war, Bo worked underground with Liu Shaoqi--later persecuted and killed during the Cultural Revolution--in KMT-controlled areas. At the end of the war, Bo was named first secretary of the CCP Central Committee's North China Bureau (1949-54).

In the first years after 1949, Bo was Minister of Finance, a post he lost in December 1953 to his political ally of the time, Deng Xiaoping. Bo's ouster was mainly the result of a factional dispute.

As finance minister, Bo was a key figure in the savage repression of the post-revolutionary countryside. In a 1952 report, titled "The Economic Achievements of the New China," he wrote: "In the past three years, we have eliminated more than two million bandits. Counter-revolutionaries and secret agents have also been placed under close guard in a secure place."

In the late '50s, he was among the veteran planners resistant to Mao Zedong's economic policies. As Chair of the State Planning Commission, he took a leading position in repairing the damage of Maoist economic policies pursued during the Great Leap Forward. Bo later came to regard the Great Leap Forward as a forerunner of the Cultural Revolution.

Bo's activities made him an enemy of Kang Sheng, the legendary head of the Chinese secret service. The ruthless spy boss and propaganda master--who helped to create the personality cult around Mao--allegedly plotted to assassinate Bo on at least one occasion.

Bo was also the father of China's current commerce minister, Bo Xilai, known as the Crown Prince of the Party.

Before his imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution, the elder Bo addressed a group of student Red Guards, warning them "not to be a leftist among the leftists."

"To be a leftist among the leftists is to be a leftist in quotation marks, which is also to be a rightist," Bo said. "A circle consists of a left semi-circle and a right semi-circle. Going too far to the left, you end up on the right."