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Bo Xilai Wiki's Political alignment and affiliations section states that:

In the course of his career, Bo Xilai was the beneficiary of considerable patronage from former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin. He is thus associated with Jiang’s faction, sometimes referred to as the “elitists,” that is generally known to favor a model that emphasizes free trade, economic development in the coastal regions, and export-led growth.

... By contrast, the “populist” coalition of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao advocates more balanced economic development and improvements to China’s social safety net. The populist faction is generally associated with the "left," and comprised rural leaders, socialist intellectuals, and several leaders who rose to prominence through their connections with the Communist Youth League.

(emphasis mine)

Yet, once he became a figure in Chongqing's politics, the ideas and affiliations seemed to have changed 180 degrees:

Although Bo is identified with the elitist bloc for his time in Liaoning and as Minister of Commerce, during his tenure in the interior city of Chongqing, he adopted a number of populist policies more typically associated with the left. Namely, he implemented social housing programs, gave residency status (and therefore the associated social welfare benefits) to rural migrant workers, and emphasized a need for a more balanced distribution of wealth. Although Bo relentlessly pursued technology, capital, and business opportunities, he also spearheaded a large number of government programs to help the working class and disadvantaged groups. Bo’s campaigns against corruption also allegedly seized the assets of private entrepreneurs, in turn funneling these funds into state projects and welfare programs, effectively re-asserting state control over wealth. He also sought to promote “red culture,” and mandated the revival of Mao-era slogans and songs, evoking a time of an egalitarian society.

(emphasis mine)


Question

Is it known what exactly led to such a drastic political idea/orientation change?

  • Between being involved in the persecution of Falun Gong and his corruption scandal, Bo Xilai is too controversial to get a satisfactory answer to this question. – Razie Mah Nov 24 '14 at 8:58
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Short answer; As any skillful politician from any country: For political gain.

Once in office in Chongqing, he seemed to have sensed the anger of China's old and new left that were angry and Deng's turn towards free market, and it's unclear position on Mao's policies. This was a movement gaining more and more traction, especially among rural left-behind citizens that participated in the revolution.

His goal obviously was to get to the top, and the road to there seemed safer and have inherently more legitimacy from the left (backed by Mao's legitimacy) than to push further the reformist 'rightist' agenda. He was a skillful politician and sensed an real opening. He simply got outmaneuvered by Xi who also sensed this, since after pushing Bo out, he somewhat filled the gap by pushing some of those hard-line leftist agenda into the CCP.

"But Bo wasn't like most party officials. He was an ambitious man in a hurry, and he had no intention of quietly marking time. Instead, he quickly set about transforming the city into a staging ground for his political assault on Beijing"

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Bo Xilai rose to prominence as the mayor of coastal city, Dalian. Strategically located, and in the midst of beautiful scenery, it had been occupied by foreign powers for most of the 20th century, and major economic development was inevitable. As the son of legendary revolutionary leader Bo Yibo, Bo Xilai is considered a princeling, someone who could be trusted to follow the party line, and as with other Pricelings, was parachuted into a position of authority while still young and inexperienced.

However, by most accounts, he was intelligent, capable, and very charming. At the very least he can be credited with not interfering too much with the local economic development. He is known more for his populist policies, such as greening the city, and his support for major infrastructure projects, but was also a strong advocate of free enterprise. Put simply, he was an ambitious pragmatist.

Years later, he was appointed to be the party secretary of Chongqing, an appointment that signaled not only his candidacy as a major political figure, but also his threat to other princelings such as Xi Jinping. Some of his predecessors had gone on to find great fame or indeed infamy. I completely agree with J.C.'s answer, but would add that his appointment immediately created a sense of urgency: he had few personal connections with the area, and had to quickly cement his authority. To do this he was forced to take on the local corrupt elite, which was conveniently portrayed as as a fight against organized crime. This caused a lot of disruption, and he needed to find ways to keep the average citizen on-side, which the social policies indeed helped him achieve.

In general one has to be very careful translating our Western conceptions of the terms "left" and "right" into other cultures. Even in the U.S. and E.U. they are interpreted quite differently. Many would regard Bernie Sanders as left-wing, but going by his policies alone, by Chinese standards he would be firmly in the "rightist" category. Chinese politics has tended to be more about individuals, rather than about ideologies. The Cultural Revolution happened not because Mao suddenly developed a hatred of capitalism, it was because his power base was threatened and he needed a populist uprising to keep him in power.

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