The Myth of Chinese Meritocracy

One enduring myth debunked by the fall Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party boss of Chongqing, is that the Party’s rule is based on meritocracy. Contrary to the prevailing Wetsern perception, China's government is riddled with clever apparatchiks like Bo who have acquired their positions through cheating, corruption, and patronage.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – Political scandals sometimes perform a valuable function in cleansing governments. They destroy the political careers of individuals of dubious character. More importantly, they can debunk political myths central to the legitimacy of some regimes.

That appears to be the case with the Bo Xilai affair in China. One enduring political myth that went down with Bo, the former Communist Party boss of Chongqing municipality, is the notion that the Party’s rule is based on meritocracy.

In many ways, Bo personified the Chinese concept of “meritocracy” – well-educated, intelligent, sophisticated, and charming (mainly to Western executives). But, after his fall, a very different picture emerged. Aside from his alleged involvement in assorted crimes, Bo was said to be a ruthless apparatchik, endowed with an outsize ego but no real talent. His record as a local administrator was mediocre.

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