Outside the Minxin Jiayuan public housing project in Chongqing. Bo Xilai made this project the centerpiece of his social welfare agenda while he was party secretary of the city.- Rob Schmitz/Marketplace
Minxin Jiayuan comprises dozens of buildings, each of them more than thirty stories tall. Residents pay rent that will be counted toward the purchase of their unit someday, and residents below the poverty line pay as little as ten dollars a month for rent. Applying for housing here is fiercely competitive.- Rob Schmitz/Marketplace
Residents of Minxin Jiayuan relax in one of the project's many courtyards.- Rob Schmitz/Marketplace
In China, fallen politician Bo Xilai still has fans
Jeff Horwich: In China today, the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai went on trial for the murder of a British businessman. And then it was over -- a seven-hour murder trial. No verdict yet. Bo, the politician, himself faces accusations of "abuse of power." The whole scandal is embarrassing for Chinese leaders. But what do people think of him in Chongqing, the massive inland province where Bo was in charge?
Marketplace China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz went there to find out.
Rob Schmitz: Egomaniac, corrupt, power-hungry: this is how many on China’s East Coast describe Bo Xilai.
But here, in the courtyard of a public housing project in Chongqing, 55-year-old Yi Rong says outsiders have it all wrong.
Yi Rong: Everyone here has benefitted from Bo’s policies. Other government officials just brag about how they help the people. Bo actually helped us in ways we can touch and feel.
One example: Yi’s home. Yi lives in one of dozens of 30-story towers that make up Minxin Jiayuan, one of China’s largest public housing projects and a centerpiece of Bo’s social welfare agenda. Yi pays a subsidized rent that, if he chooses, will count toward the purchase of the unit someday. Rent for residents below the poverty line is as low as ten dollars a month. Yi says that’s unheard of in the rest of China.
Yi Rong: Thanks to Bo, elementary school students get free milk and eggs every day. And he tackled crime, too.
Others I spoke to here also gushed about Bo. Carolyn Cartier, professor of human geography and China studies at University of Technology, Sydney, says the only problem here is that Bo’s policies weren’t really his at all. The public housing project, for example, was a national campaign aimed at more than a dozen Chinese cities.
Carolyn Cartier: If you’re sitting in the central government and you’re looking out at Chongqing, you’re realizing that Bo Xilai has taken off with your plans and turned them into his own fantasy world.
Back at the Chongqing housing project, 26-year-old Yang Yiqing can’t say enough good things about the former leader.
Yang Yiqing: I’m reminded of how great Bo was every day when I return home. He’s given us so much.
I ask Yang what she thinks now that her favorite leader is under house arrest. Her eyes widen. He’s under house arrest? What happened? Someone who seems so in love with Bo’s vision of a better Chongqing, I can’t bring myself to tell her.
In Chongqing, I’m Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.