01/17/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Bo Yibo, the last of the Communist Party’s “immortals’, dies

The revolutionary leader, father of the current trade minister, passed away in Beijing at the age of 98. Victim of the Cultural Revolution, he backed Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms and helped him against the party’s Marxist leftwing. He is considered to have been one of the main supporters of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Bo Yibo, one of the so-called “eight iImmortals”, died in Beijing at the age of 98. He was one of the most influential revolutionaries in the country. He unconditionally backed economic reforms implemented by Mao’s successor as party leader Deng Xiaoping but also pushed the government to crush the Tiananmen Square anti-corruption and pro-democracy protests.

On China Central Television's prime-time newscast last night, the government described Bo as an excellent party member, great communist fighter, outstanding proletarian revolutionary and prominent leader of economic work.

Bo had four children. One son, Bo Xilai, is a rising political star, considered one of the top contenders for a seat on the Politburo at the next party congress.

Speaking about his father, Bo Xilai said he never received any favour because of his father’s influence. “Thanks to my father, I was sent to prison when I was still a high school student,” he said. “The five years of my life in jail was a special gift of fate and a rare experience for me from which I truly benefited."

Born in 1908, Bo joined the Communist Party at the age of 17. According to official propaganda he helped build the country's Soviet-style planned economy until he became a victim of the Cultural Revolution and was imprisoned for 15 years.

He made his political comeback with other revolutionaries after Mao Zedong's death in 1976 and became known as one of the so-called "eight immortals of the party"  (Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, Peng Zhen, Chen Yun, Song Renqiong, Yang Shangkun, Wang Zhen and Bo Yibo), all Long March veterans and all victims of Mao’s purges. They exercised enormous political influence from behind the scenes until their death even though they had formally retired from office and had little day-to-day role in government.

Bo, a conservative, backed Deng’s economic reforms against the party’s Marxist wing which was critical of his political choices. And as co-ordinator of a nationwide party campaign, he backed the suppression of extreme leftism, paving the way for economic reforms.

Harshly critical of reformist party leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang during the late 1980s, he is considered one of the staunchest backers of the bloody crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy student protests in Tiananmen Square.

For various analysts, his death is a symbolic transfer of power to Hu Jintao, China’s current leader, and the new generation of Communist leaders.

The “eight immortals” represented the nation’s ruling oligarchy, their power based on their revolutionary credentials.

Now that they are out of the picture and power is in the hands of the current leaders, often cold technocrats, there is a danger that power may be challenged by the victims of the many social problems plaguing the country.

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