Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's all about the villa...

Last week I blogged a little background on the Bo Xilai case. Bo Xilai's trial is now on its fourth day, and it's been a pretty compelling show so far. While the ultimate outcome isn't really in doubt — Bo Xilai will be found guilty of something; the main question is what and how much time he will serve — the Chinese government has taken the unprecedented step of releasing updates, transcripts and photos on social media. And Bo himself is not going down without a fight. Although he apologized for "mistakes" related to the charges of abuse of office -- these have to do with accusations that he knew of and helped cover up his wife Gu Kailai's role in the murder of Neil Heywood — he's mounted a vigorous defense, denying allegations of corruption, calling his wife "crazy" for accusing him of it (though he admitted cheating on her), denied taking bribes from a Chinese millionaire and characterized the testimony of the chief witness against him as 'the ugly performance of a person selling his soul.' Bo claims that if Gu Kailai was taking money from millionaires, he himself knew nothing about it, and so far there's been little evidence submitted to prove that he did.

I've been mostly looking at the Shanghaiist's liveblog of the proceedings, which pulls together a lot of great tweets and commentary. Another great source is China Digital Times.

Here for example are Bo Xilai and his former ally, Wang Lijun, once the police chief of Chongqing:

One thing I learned about Wang that I did not know before—apparently he has the reputation of being a real fashionista
Wang designed police uniforms, boots, and raincoats. He personally oversaw the redesign, for "medical" purposes, of the uniforms worn by female police officers under his command. As well as fashion, Wang claimed to be an artist connoisseur and architectural expert. He took out over 150 patents for his various designs.
He also supposedly liked staging false gun busts to pump up his image; also, torturing prisoners. It's enough to kind of make you glad that Bo punched Wang (or slapped him, depending on who you believe) when Wang informed him of Gu Kailai's role in Neil Heywood's murder.

And about that murder...apparently the reason Neil Heywood was killed was that he threatened to reveal the Bo/Gu's ownership of a French villa, and when Gu wouldn't pony up £1.4 "in compensation," he then threatened their son, Guagua. And if there is one thing we've learned from this trial, you don't threaten Guagua.

Rather than my trying to summarize everything that's gone on over the last three days, I'll leave you with the links to the Shanghaiist and China Digital Times liveblogs.

The Chinese leadership is in a tough spot here. They have to find Bo guilty of something, but the charges that they have the easiest time proving (or at least selling) are kickbacks and bribes of a sort that are standard operation procedure for officials -- cynical Chinese netizens have been making remarks that if this is all they've got, Bo hardly rises to the level of corrupt village headman, especially when compared to the millions or billions that the family of former Premier Wen Jiabao made during his years in power. And looking too deeply at the "abuse of office" — at those anti-corruption campaigns in Chongqing conducted to the music of "Red Songs" praising Mao and Maoism — could mean looking too deeply at Mao's legacy and at Mao himself. And no one in the current Chinese leadership seems inclined to do that.



  1. From the way this story has captivated China I'm almost tempted to say it's equivalent to their OJ trial. But, it's wayyyyy shorter and obviously the glove fits...albeit on the cops.

  2. Based on my admittedly superficial understanding, it seems that if the government had a better case, they would have brought it. It looks like they painted themselves into a corner on this one. Then again, there could have been five, nine, eleven twists , manipulations, and back room deals below the radar. Is there any chance Bo will walk?

    1. Some of Bo's Neo-Maoist allies are insisting that the government has not proved its case and that he should walk. Conventional wisdom is that it's inconceivable that he will. But it's a very tricky situation, given his popularity, and if the government had hoped that a more open trial would dispel that, it's actually had the opposite effect. Bo's combativeness and vigorous defense have won him new fans, in fact, even among people who don't care for his politics but who appreciate that he isn't going along with the script. And, as mentioned, the evidence that's been presented so far paints him as fairly restrained in the corruption department when held to the standard of today's Chinese officials. The problem is, the stuff the government has against him that would really turn heads, the abuse of power and the brutality of the anti-corruption campaign he ran in Chongqing, cuts too close to Mao's legacy and the legitimacy of the regime in general, at least, that's how I read it.

  3. I think that the allegations of corruption and bribe-taking are the smokescreen here, because as you say and so do many journalists that Bo's acts are no better, no worse than those of many officials, including those pushing the case against him.

    I think it's political and reflects the still-existing and differing decades-old wings of the Chinese CP leadership over how to develop the Chinese economy, and the legacy of Mao.

    A New York Times article a few days ago discussed the support for Bo within China, which seemed stronger than many of us knew, and in fact, within political circles.

    And I concur with a headline in a New York Times Op-Ed after the trail started, although I may not agree with all of the content, that "It's all about Mao."

  4. Interesting, Lisa. Glad to hear that.

    I found the New York Times article about the support for Bo, and, actually support for Mao, within China, fascinating. This is something we don't hear about here. Yet, it may explain why Xi, the top leader, is using leftist slogans and names now.

    Much more to read about this, and look beneath the surface.