He was alternate member and then member of the , deputy prime minister, chairman of State Economic Commission and vice-chairman of Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party of China.
Joining the Communist Party of China when he was seventeen, Bo was one of the revolutionary veterans who were purged by the Mao Zedong-backed Gang of Four, and who returned to power after Mao's death.
Bo was one of a select group of powerful veterans centred around late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who were informally known as the Eight Immortals for the vast influence they commanded until gradually succumbing to old age and death mostly in the 1990s.
By some reckonings Bo was the last immortal to – in Deng’s phrase – “go to meet Marx”, but he is survived by 90-year-old Wan Li, another former vice-premier widely considered to have been one of the eight.
Incidentally, the term "Eight Immortals" comes from Chinese myth and legend. They are worshiped by , but are also a popular element in secular Chinese culture. It is equivalent to saying Three Musketeers or Robin Hood in relation to events in modern Western politics.
In 1939, in the Shangtang district in southeast Shanxi Province, Bo Yibo and Rong Wusheng organized the First and the Third ''Dare–to–Die Columns'' with students from Peiping–Tientsin. These units were attacked by Nationalist forces in December 1940 in what was one of the earliest breaches of the Second United Front.
During the civil war, Bo worked with Liu Shaoqi – later persecuted and killed during the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution – in underground “white” Nationalist-controlled areas. At the end of the war, he was named first secretary of the CCP Central Committee’s North China Bureau .
In the first years after 1949, Bo was Minister of Finance, a position he lost in December 1953 to his political ally of the time, Deng Xiaoping. His ouster was as much the result of a factional dispute with Gao Gang and Rao Shushi as it was about fiscal policies deemed insufficiently pro-state.
Later in the 1950s, he was among the veteran planners resistant to Mao Zedong’s economic policies. Others in opposition to the Great Leap Forward and similar extreme economic measures included Chen Yun, Li Xiannian, Li Fuchun and Yao Yilin. Bo served as Vice Chair and later Chair of the State Planning Commission, when he presided over the economic policies of the Great Leap Forward.
Bo Yibo was a member of the CCP Politburo from the 8th National Party Congress in 1956 to the beginning of the GPCR, and again in the early Deng Xiaoping era, from 1979 until the 12th National Party Congress in 1982, when most of the elders retired.
During the Cultural Revolution, Bo was imprisoned as a political prisoner by Jiang Qing, Chairman Mao's wife, for his pro-democratic activities and for advocating freedom of trade with western countries. He was held in a prison with some of the worst conditions available for fifteen years, during which time his wife was beaten to death. His sons and daughters were either imprisoned or sent to some of the poorest places in China . During the Cultural Revolution, Bo was struggled in public for 136 times, and interrogated for 206 times. The most common way of torture by was to struggle and interrogate him in the early morning and to wake him up at dawn, and the way to wake him up was to grab his limbs while he was asleep, and then throw Bo directly into cold waters from his bed in order to let him have a clear mind to accept the people's re-education. Bo Yibo, however, did not crack under such pressure and in his 7 ft by 7 ft jail cell, he developed his own excerise to strengthen his body and mind to stay healthy, and called his own excercise the 7-step drill. This experience resulted in a mixed attitude towards the reform later on, while strongly supporting the economic reform, Bo was reluctant to support the political reform.
Bo important contribution toward the Chinese economic reform was mainly in the early 1980s, when the reform was at its difficult time in its infancy. During the debate on whether free market economy should be allowed or not, Bo was firmly on the reformers' side. Once the free market economy was allowed, the hardline conservatives attempted to restrict it by limiting the maximum number of employees each private enterprise could have: no more than eight according to the orthordox Marxism, because anymore would be exploitation. Bo Yibo's support of private enterprises in free market economy was instrumental in helping to defeat the hardline conservatives' attempt to thwart the market reform. Bo's further support of economic reform came from one of his trips to Boeing facilities in the United States in the 1980s. During his visit, Bo discovered that there were only two airplanes parked at the facility so he asked Boeing executives that if those two were gone, then there would be nothing left. Boeing executives answered that it was exactly what they wanted because they production is based on customers' order and anything more than necessary would be a waste of money and other resources, just like when they could not fill customers' orders according to the schedule. After this visit to Boeing, Bo became much more critical to the Chinese practice of planned economy, accurately pointing out that the excess production plans were in fact a waste on resources, and even for the planned economy, it should be planned market economy instead of the rigid Soviet style planning.
Despite his support of economic reform, Bo was by no means a reformer like Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Wan Li and Hu Qili in the political reform arena: after the 1982 12th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Bo was kicked upstairs to the vice chairmanship of the toothless CCP Central Advisory Committee, but remained instrumental in removing CCP Secretary General Hu Yaobang from power. He returned to a leadership position when he urged a crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and actively supported the removal of Zhao Ziyang. Bo died of old age at almost 99 in a Beijing hospital.
His son Bo Xilai is called one of the "Crown Prince Party" and is head of the Communist Party in Chongqing, while the rest of his children obtained foreign residency, such as his daughter, who obtained American citizenship and resides in the U.S.