A Deeper Look at the Cast of China's Latest Show
Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai's recent conviction was the culmination of China's highest profile court trial in years. The eccentric cast of characters put on a stage managed by the Chinese Communist Party is worthy of a play by Shakespeare.
Aptly labeled China's Macbeth by some, Bo was a rising star in Chinese politics who when he fell from grace, fell hard.
The former chief of the city of Chongqing and Communist Party of China Secretary, Bo was one of the most powerful and popular politicians in China. He was known for increasing GDP and cracking down on corruption with the aid of his former police chief Wang Lijun. His charisma and eccentric personality garnered a loyal following.
Bo was essentially Chinese royalty. The son of communist revolutionary Bo Yibo, Bo was part of a group informally known as the Chinese "princelings," the sons of the communist party elite. "In his mind, his family was one of the founders of this system," said Chinese scholar and historian Zhang Lifan. "So he has no use for rules."
Bo's prestigious family connections cost him during theCultural Revolution when he was subjected to five years of re-education classes and physical labor. Despite this, Bo later rose to power as the mayor of Dalian, governor of Liaoning province, and Minister of Commerce before landing his CPC Secretary position. He was already a Politburo member and well on his way towards a position on the elite Politburo Standing Committee.
Due to his swift rise, tremendous success in the public's eye, and devoted supporters, Bo may have incurred anger and fear from political enemies, including Chinese president Xi Jinping.
His supporters maintain that his conviction was the result of a political attack by his rivals. Bo himself rejected the court's decision, shouting "Unfair!" and "Unjust!" before being led away in handcuffs.
Bo's Lady Macbeth
The beginning of the end for Bo came with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011. The 41-year-old businessman was found dead in a hotel, reportedly from alcohol consumption. In reality he had succumbed to poison administered by Bo Xilai's wife and her assistant.
Gu Kailai, daughter of Chinese general and Party official Gu Jingsheng, married Bo Xilai in 1986, and had a successful law career of her own.
She had known Heywood for more than a decade before he allegedly threatened the couple's son and demanded millions of dollars over a sour business deal.
Chongqing police did not call Heywood’s death a murder for several months. Bo has been accused of playing a role in the attempted cover-up as well. As the scandal became known, he was expelled from the Party and removed from his position.
Gu went to trial in August 2012. She claimed she had a mental breakdown and killed Heywood after he threatened her son. She was found guilty and given a suspended death sentence, most likely meaning she will spend the rest of her life in prison. "This verdict is just,” she said. “ It shows special respect for the law, reality and life."
Social media sites spread the rumor that a body double was posing for Gu throughout the trial. The Financial Times consulted two facial recognition experts who declared that the woman standing trial for Gu was "ding zui," the Chinese phrase literally translating to "substitute criminal."
Chongqing's Number Two
Wang Lijun, formerly the vice-mayor and chief of police of Chongqing, was once Bo Xilai's right-hand man. That was before he fled Chongqing for the US consulate in Chengdu and told the story of Heywood's murder.
The details of Wang's falling out with Bo are not fully known, although Wang testified that Bo punched him hard enough to draw blood after Wang brought up Gu's possible role in Heywood's death. Bo alleged that he had merely slapped Wang, and then smashed a teacup for emphasis.
In his testimony on the final day of the trial, Bo stated that Wang was in love with Gu and the two had been having an affair. According to Bo, Wang's defection occurred when Bo found out about his wife's extramarital relationship.
Wang' had already been sentenced to 15 years for accepting bribes, abusing power, and defection. He was described by The Guardian as "notorious for his erratic, often frightening professional conduct – he reportedly enjoyed personally conducting autopsies."
The Wall Street Journal chronicled the final hours of Heywood's life. According to a friend, the businessman stated that he was "in trouble" and unsuccessfully tried to get in touch with contacts from Chongqing.
Heywood was nervous regarding an upcoming meeting with Bo's representatives. He had recently fallen out with Gu regarding a business deal. Heywood reportedly "left documents detailing the overseas investments of Mr. Bo's family with his lawyer in Britain as an 'insurance policy' in case anything happened to him." According to the Journal, Gu was aware of the documents Heywood had.
He was soon found dead and his body was cremated.
While Gu's trial was smooth and peaceful, Bo's trial was as heated and as filled with drama as the events leading up to it. Bo launched allegations of infidelity against his wife and disloyalty against Wang while professing his innocence and resolution to continue in politics. The Global Post labeled the entire trial as "the first Communist show trial of the social media era."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) lambasted the event as "one that failed to provide due process to Bo, failed to provide justice to his victims, and failed to provide the truth about his abuses of power to the Chinese public." But HRW noted that "Bo was given unusual latitude to contest the case against him – a privilege few defendants enjoy in China – and edited transcripts of the three-day court proceedings were regularly made available via the court’s micro-blogging account."
Bo was found guilty of taking bribes, embezzlement, and abuse of power. He was sentenced to life in prison, surprising analysts who initially predicted 15 to 20 years. Some observers believe that the harsher sentence was in response to Bo's fiery and steadfast defense.
Commentators noted that Chinese president Xi Jinping likely saw Bo as a political threat and moved against him. "With Bo, Xi Jinping has made his point,” said Willy Lam, politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Obedience to the party is more important to the party leadership than corruption.”
Speculation abounds regarding Bo's future. He is expected to appeal the verdict, and some analysts predict he will emerge from prison despite the life sentence due to an unpredictably changing political climate in China.
Bo has maintained that the trial is not the final chapter in his political life. "I will wait quietly in the prison," he wrote in a letter to his family. "My father was jailed many times. I will follow his footsteps."