Bo Xilai was one of the rising stars of the Communist Party. Named “Man of the Year” in 2009 in a People’s Daily poll, and the subject of a popular home video widely shown on the Internet, he was the top party official in Chongqing, China’s largest municipality, where he has won acclaim for cracking down on local organized crime and putting corrupt officials behind bars.
In 2007, Bo was appointed to the top job in Chongqing, a sprawling provincial-size city of almost 32,000 square miles—about the size of South Carolina—that before 1949 served as the wartime capital for the anti-Communist Nationalist regime.Keith B. Richburg and Andrew Higgins, wrote in the Washington Post: During his more than four years as the party chief in Chongqing, Bo—the son of an early revolutionary hero—had led a crackdown on crime and a revival of Mao-era patriotic songs and sloganeering while promoting an economic model that emphasized a more equitable distribution of wealth. His approach, known as the “Chongqing model,” attracted the support of modern-day Maoists and others critical of China’s growing income disparity. But Bo’s populism and his authoritarian manner—which prompted accusations that he and his security forces ignored laws and human rights in their anti-crime crusade—unnerved some central government leaders in Beijing. His “red revival” campaign also triggered unwelcome memories of the violence and chaos of Mao Zedong’s 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.[Source: Keith B. Richburg and Andrew Higgins, Washington Post. March 15, 2012]
TIME’s Hannah Beech wrote: “Bo is an extreme embodiment of some of modern China’s biggest contradictions. How does a man preside over a red-culture campaign that echoed the Cultural Revolution when his own mother died during that turbulent period? As China’s Commerce Minister from 2004 to “07, Bo negotiated trade deals with the West and impressed foreign envoys with his charm and colloquial English. His son, who attended Harrow and Oxford, has been spotted racing around in a red Ferrari. How could Bo arrive in Chongqing, China’s fastest-growing city, and suddenly spout iterations of Chairman Mao’s class-busting ideology? “Last May, I said on my blog that Bo Xilai wanted to become Mao Zedong,” Yang Fan, an economist who co-authored a book called The Chongqing Model Yang told TIME. “But he failed because in today’s China there is no need for a Mao.”
Up until his abrupt downfall in March 2012, Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Bo was aiming for the pinnacle of Chinese political power, a seat on the nine-member Politburo’s Standing Committee, when the Communist Party’s leadership begins a generational turnover this autumn. He was a fixation for the news media and foreign leaders, the handsome convention-flouter who was breaking the calcified mold of China’s leadership caste. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
Bo had been a member of China's 25-member Politburo, and had been considered a contender for one of the seven seats on the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “Bo rode to nationwide fame by leading an anti-mafia crusade and mass sing-alongs of communist anthems in Chongqing, and by implementing populist policies that made him beloved with his region's poor. But his publicity-seeking ways angered leaders who were wary of any revival of the personality cult, chaos and bloodshed of the Mao Zedong era. In Dalian, he was credited with turning around the economy, developing parks and museums, and creating an equestrian police troop of attractive young women. In Chongqing, he endeared himself to many older Chinese with a Maoist revival that encouraged people to sing "red songs" and embrace Communist values. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, August 20, 2013]
Bo Xilai’s Character
Bo was a telegenic self-promoter who spoke passable English. He was widely lauded in China and abroad. He dressed sharply and has a flair for the dramatic. His directness and independent streak impressed foreigners but annoyed peers, who prefer to rule through backdoor consensus and often stilted slogans. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited him in Chongqing in 2011.
Arian Eunjung Cha wrote in the Washington Post, “Charismatic, handsome and majestically tall, by Chinese standards at 6-foot-1, Bo has become a poster child for China's princelings. “While other senior-level officials tend to be shy and awkward in dealing with the public and the media, Bo has managed to charm everybody. He has led crowds of thousands in sing-alongs of “red culture” songs, sat down for TV chats with protesting workers and communicated with students via mass text messages.” Many regard him as too controversial and too populist to be president or premier but he stands a good chance to made it into the Communist Party’s nine-member Standing Committee.
Bo was accused of being more concerned with his own rise than China's. "I didn't trust Bo Xilai because he seemed so liberal in so many of his positions, and then all of a sudden became this leftist nationalist when he moved to Chongqing," David Zweig, a China scholar at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told Reuters. "I think that surprised people and suggests that he was much more of a chameleon than dedicated to a particular set of policies."
John Garnaut wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, Bo's methods were not pretty but they certainly worked. His control over propaganda, ability to mobilise the masses, and disregard for legal process and institutions kept the Chongqing population in check. He's trying to mobilise society like Mao did during the Cultural Revolution and, to do that, you usually have to brainwash people first,” said Wang, the Caijing publisher, in an interview last year. Bo's resurrection of Maoist iconography and methods offered a way of preserving the power of the ruling families, in a post-communist nation that was growing more cynical and fractious by the day. Source: John Garnaut. Sydney Morning Herald, August 22, 2013. John Garnaut is the author of “The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo”. *=*]
Bo Xilai’s Family
Bo is the second oldest son of Bo Yibo, one of a group of Communist Party officially known as the Eight Immortals. Bo Yibo was one of Mao’s most trusted associates before being purged in the Cultural Revolution for supporting economic reforms and closer ties with the West. In 1966, he was paraded through Beijing's Workers' Stadium by Red Guards and is said to have shouted: "I am not a traitor! I am a member of the Communist Party!" The whole family was sent to a prison for five years, then to a labor camp for another five. Bo Xilai's mother is believed to have either committed suicide or have been murdered or beaten to death by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
Bo Yibo spent time in jail both before and after the 1949 revolution.He was rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping and restored to his position as vice premier. Bo Xilai prospered during this period, attaining a degree in history at Peking University and working at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Science. As party leader in Chongqing he has won praise for the way he handled strikes by taxi drivers, teachers and police. He ended the taxi driver striker by inviting representatives of the drivers to a forum broadcast on state television. He has won brownie points in the party for his “Red Culture Campaign” to reform social gathering to read and study Mao’s works.
Bo Yibo played a prominent role in lobbying for a crackdown on the student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The fall of his son, Bo Xilai, fueled speculation that more liberal-minded leaders, such as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who worked alongside Zhao, want to revise the official verdict on those events. Bo Yibo died in 2007.
Gu Kailai is Bo's second wife. She studied law and international politics and after graduation founded the Kailai law firm. The couple has a son, Guagua, who was educated at two private boarding schools in Britain, including Harrow, where Winston Churchill and other famous people went, followed by Oxford University, where he won a reputation for partying. He is now at Harvard University.
Bo's brother Bo Xiyong resigned in April after reports that, going by the name Li Xueming, he made millions as a director of the alternative energy company China Everbright International. (Bo's surname is rare in China; Li is very common). Bloomberg reported that Bo's relatives are worth at least $136 million. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Foreign Policy, May 30, 2012]
Bo Xilai and His Family During the Cultural Revolution and the Early Deng Years
John Garnaut wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Bo grew up in a household steeped in the communist ideals of equality, personal austerity and the emancipation of all mankind. Resurrecting Mao symbolised old ideals while reminding people of the contributions their families made to the founding of the People's Republic of China. [Source: John Garnaut. Sydney Morning Herald, August 22, 2013. John Garnaut is the author of “The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo”*=*]
Bo studied with other children of the elite at Beijing No. 4 High School, China’s best. But when Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the elder Bo became one of the first targets of the purges, relabeled a revisionist traitor and dragged from stadium to factory to government office for show trials and beatings. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
“Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “At age 17, Mr. Bo seemed to embrace the purges, forming with other elites’ children a radical Red Guard faction later condemned by Chinese authorities for its brutality. Stories abound that young Bo denounced and even beat his father, who spent 12 years in prison. Other Red Guards kidnapped his mother, who was either murdered or died of illness in 1969. The truth is murkier. Historians say Mr. Bo’s faction actually opposed violence and tried to defend its members’ elite parents against Mao’s excesses. Mao’s forces quickly turned on them, and in early 1967 Bo Xilai was shipped to a Beijing labor camp for five years. Working barefoot, often in deep mud, his feet became so rotted that chunks of flesh fell off, he later told friends. [Ibid]
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “After Mao’s death, father and son emerged stronger than ever. The rehabilitated Bo Yibo became vice premier in 1979, under his wartime friend Deng Xiaoping. In the succeeding decade, he was Mr. Deng’s point man in the ouster of two successive Communist Party general secretaries, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, during China’s tumultuous and failed liberalization in the 1980s. That earned him the gratitude of Mr. Zhao’s successor as Communist Party leader, Jiang Zemin. The elder Bo, who died in 2007, continued to help Mr. Jiang sideline rivals into his dotage. Mr. Jiang, who continues to wield backstage influence in China’s politics even now, is widely said to have given Bo Xilai’s political career a boost at crucial times. [Ibid]
Gu Kailai: Bo Xilai’s Wife
Bo and Gu Kailai met in the early 1980s and were married in 1986, news reports have said. Bo, who was divorced at the time, had a son from his first marriage. Bo, Gu and Guagua, the couple's only child, were unusual in seeking the spotlight. Her much-photographed short, chic haircut contrasted with the frumpy look favored by most top leaders' wives. When Bo governed the port city Dalian in the 1990s, Gu ran a law firm and consultancy. Journalist Jiang Weiping, later imprisoned for documenting corruption in Bo's circle, claims her firms channeled bribes from Taiwanese and foreign investors. She went by the English name "Horus," referring to the falcon-headed Egyptian god of war, and depicted herself as a fearless attorney in her book, "Uphold Justice in America". [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Lucy Hornby, Reuters, August 6, 2012]
“The daughter of a revolutionary luminary, Gu, Kailai was among the first generation of lawyers educated after the Cultural Revolution, the decade of social chaos during which schools were closed,” the New York Times reported. “Gu’s family pedigree includes a father who helped lead Communist resistance to the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s. Married to Bo Xilai, she reveled in her brash, ambitious ways...Admirers bragged that Ms. Gu, a pioneering lawyer who spoke fluent English, was China’s answer to Jacqueline Onassis. In a nation that prefers the wives of political leaders to be bland adornments, Gu Kailai was positively fluorescent. As her husband rose through the party hierarchy, she ran successful law practice and wrote a book on the foibles of American courts—and what she described as the ruthless efficiency of China’s legal system. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, July 26, August 20, 2012; Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
Gu, Kailai was born in 1959. “Like her husband, and like many “princelings,” she experienced her share of hardship during the Cultural Revolution. Forced to fend for herself after her family was imprisoned, she worked for a time as a butcher and a bricklayer, according to accounts in the state news media. In the late 1970s, though, she was among the first batch of students to be admitted to college after the death of Mao. [Ibid]
According to the New York Times: Gu Kailai rose to prominence as a lawyer by handling several high-profile cases, and is believed to have been the first Chinese lawyer to win a civil case in the U.S. She also wrote several popular books, including "Winning a Case in the United States." Mr. Bo told a news conference during the annual meeting of parliament this month—his last public appearance—that his wife had given up her legal career two decades ago so that it wouldn't appear that she profited from his position. "She now basically just stays at home, doing some housework for me. I'm really touched by her sacrifice," he said.
“Courage is more important than wisdom,” she once wrote in a book that detailed her successful pursuit of a case in an American court that yielded a $1 million settlement. The book was something of a sensation and led to the creation of a popular television show whose protagonist—a comely, quick-witted legal crusader—was based on Ms. Gu. Her legal practice first in Dalian then Chongqing—where Bo Xilai was the Communist Party chief—flourished, thanks in part to the connections of her husband, who later became commerce minister. “They were like royalty in Dalian,” said Edward O. Byrne, an American lawyer who helped Ms. Gu file her 1997 lawsuit in the United States and later spent time with the couple in China. “The people who worked for them would refer to them as the Kennedys of China.” [Ibid]
“By most accounts, Ms. Gu was fiercely devoted to Bo Guagua, her only child. In 1998, she accompanied him to Britain, where he attended a private preparatory school, and later, the elite Harrow School, which was Mr. Heywood’s alma mater. Ms. Gu spent at least two years in Britain, where she went by the name Horus, the Egyptian god of war. Some of those who knew her during her time in the seaside resort town of Bournemouth recalled her as a mysterious businesswoman enamored with fine hotels and jewelry. But others described her as unpretentious. Richard Starley, the landlord of her apartment in Bournemouth, said she used to practice her English with him over coffee. ‘she was the most gracious, nice lady you could meet,” he said. “I don’t think she could hurt a fly.” [Ibid]
Gu Kailai and the Nick Heywood Murder, See Separate Article
Bo Guagua at Harrow and Oxford
Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan wrote in the Washington Post, “Before his ouster, Bo Xilai had an official annual salary of less than $20,000. But his son attended Harrow School, an exclusive private academy in London with annual fees of about $48,000; then Oxford, which, for overseas students, costs more than $25,000 a year just in tuition. [Source: Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan, Washington Post, May 18 2012]
“During his final year at Oxford University in England, Bo Guagua ran into trouble because of inattention to his studies. When the university initiated a disciplinary process against him, the Chinese Embassy in London sent a three-person diplomatic delegation to Oxford to discuss the matter with Bo’s tutor at Balliol College, according to an academic who was involved in the episode and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be able to speak candidly. The embassy did not respond to a request for comment. [Ibid]
“The embassy trio pleaded on Bo’s behalf, stressing that education is very important to the Chinese, the academic said. The tutor replied that Bo should, in that case, learn to study more and party less. The intervention by Chinese diplomats didn’t help Bo and, in December 2008, he was “rusticated” for failing to produce academic work of an adequate standard, an effective suspension that, under Oxford regulations, meant he lost his “right of access” to all university facilities. Barred from college housing, Bo moved into a pricey local hotel. He was, however, allowed to take a final examination in 2010. Despite his banishment from classes, he performed well and received a degree. [Ibid]
“He was a bright student,” said the Oxford academic, who knew Bo Guagua at the time. But “in Oxford, he was suddenly freer than anything he had experienced before and, like a good many young people in similar circumstances, it was like taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne.” [Source: Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan, Washington Post, May 18 2012]
Bo Guagua at Harvard
Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan wrote in the Washington Post, “Harvard’s Kennedy School, which, according to its own estimates, requires about $70,000 a year to cover tuition and living expenses... Fury greeted photographs that showed Bo Guagua cavorting at parties with Western women at a time when his father was promoting a neo-Maoist revival in Chongqing and urging the city’s 33 million residents to reconnect with the austere values of the party’s early years. [Source: Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan, Washington Post, May 18 2012]
“Ezra F. Vogel, a Harvard professor who said he knows Bo Guagua, told the Washington Post , Bo’s image as a wild playboy is “greatly exaggerated.” The cook at a fast-food eatery near his Cambridge apartment building said Bo Guagua used to come in regularly but didn’t make much of an impression. “He just ordered the usual stuff, BLTs. Nothing special,” said the cook, who gave his name as Mustafa. Staff at Changsho, a Chinese restaurant, however, remember a more extravagant customer. Late one evening, for example, Bo came in alone, ordered four dishes and left after barely touching the food. “He didn’t even ask for a doggie bag,” recalled a restaurant worker, appalled at the waste. [Ibid]
“After the fall of his mother and father Bo Guagua stopped attending classes and moved out of a serviced apartment building with a uniformed doorman near Harvard Yard. (Rents there range from $2,300 to $3,000 a month.) People who know him at Harvard say he had earlier split up with his girlfriend, fellow Harvard student Sabrina Chen, the granddaughter of Chen Yun, a powerful party baron. Bo Guagua “is very worried about what might happen to his mother,” Vogel told the Washington Post after he had received a visit from a “very anxious” Bo during of the brouhaha over parents. [Ibid]
Bo Guagua Graduates from Harvard
Bo Guagua graduated from Harvard University in May 2012 year and is still believed to be in the United States. Reuters reported: “The son of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai graduated from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, capping a tumultuous academic year that also placed him in the centre of his homeland's biggest leadership crisis in two decades. Bo Guagua, whose perceived lavish lifestyle overseas has created a firestorm on the Internet back in China, wore a black cap and gown with crimson hood when he accepted his diploma at a commencement ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He flashed a broad smile and joined several hundred other students who came from all corners of the globe to study at the Ivy League school. [Source: Tim McLaughlin, Reuters, May 24, 2012]
“Bo Guagua received a master's degree in public policy. After stepping off the graduation stage, he waved to friends in the audience. Approached by Reuters after the ceremony, Bo Guagua declined to talk about his plans. "I just want to enjoy the day and spend time with my classmates," he said in a British-tinged accent. He then hugged friends and chatted with faculty. [Ibid]
“Even before his parents' troubles, Bo Guagua, 24, had become the subject of gossip in China for his elite schooling and perceived extravagance. Media reported a fondness for luxury cars and raised questions about how the family could afford to send him to some of the world's top schools and universities, including Harrow, Oxford and Harvard, on his father's limited state salary. [Ibid]
“Bo Guagua became the focus of online gossip when photos appeared of him bare-chested and smeared with lipstick at a college party and participating in campus pranks in Britain. In recent weeks, though, Bo Guagua has kept a lower profile. Classmates and acquaintances told Reuters he has skipped some pre-graduation parties on the advice of his family. [Ibid]
Bo Xilai’s First Wife
Bo’s first wife, Li Danyu, turned 62 in 2012. Also a “princeling” child of a party official, she told the New York Times her romance with Bo began when the two met in 1975, at the end of the Cultural Revolution. She said she did not stay in contact with Mr. Bo after their bitter breakup in 1981. [Source: Edward Wong and David Barboza, New York Times, October 6, 2012]
Edward Wong and David Barboza wrote in the New York Times: “Ms. Li and Mr. Bo, whose elite families had known each other for years, began their love affair in 1975. Mr. Bo had just endured years of prison during the Cultural Revolution, when his father was purged, and was working in a factory.Ms. Li, whose family had also suffered, was working as a military doctor. “What he did a lot was he read the selected works of Marx and Lenin,” Ms. Li said. “He was a simple and progressive young man.”
Living in different cities because of their jobs, they wrote letters to each other every three days. In a poem, Mr. Bo ends with lines that reflect both political fervor and romantic feelings Raise the army banner, And laugh still more, gazing at the red cosmos, Spare no effort to move forward. [Ibid]
Ms. Li’s first name means “red cosmos.” They were married in September 1976 and had a son the next year. Mr. Bo enrolled in Peking University. He tried to read eight pages of English each day from library books, she said. He told her, “Eventually China will open to the world, so we have to learn.” The two moved into Zhongnanhai, the Beijing leadership compound, after Mr. Bo’s father became a vice premier. But Mr. Bo did not aspire to join those ranks, Ms. Li said. Mr. Bo switched from studying history to journalism. [Ibid]
The end of the relationship began on their son’s fourth birthday, June 20, 1981. Mr. Bo surprised Ms. Li by asking for a divorce. “He felt very sad and cried and hugged us,” she said. That night, he told her, “I have no feelings for you anymore.” Ms. Li refused to grant the divorce, though she moved out of Zhongnanhai. The case went to court. The divorce was completed in 1984. Ms. Gu, in a book she wrote, said she met Mr. Bo that year in Dalian. But Ms. Li said Mr. Bo might have been secretly seeing Ms. Gu when the two were at Peking University, while Mr. Bo was still married. [Ibid]
To try to stop the divorce, Ms. Li told officials that Ms. Gu had destroyed the marriage. In the interviews, Ms. Li said Ms. Gu, a lawyer, had threatened legal action if Ms. Li persisted. Ms. Li said she “finally summoned enough courage to tell my story” after being contacted by this newspaper. Now, she and her son await the party’s final verdict on Mr. Bo. “In those early years it was pure love,” she said. “Even though he didn’t see me for 30 years, I forget the bad things and remember the good. You don’t want to live with hate.”
Bo Xilai’s Ex-wife Tells of Bo Family Paranoia
Edward Wong and David Barboza wrote in the New York Times: “Just months before his fall from power, Bo Xilai asked the brother of his first wife to meet him at a government compound in the southwest metropolis of Chongqing. Mr. Bo pointed to a stack of papers and said he had forensic reports that proved the existence of a continuing plot to poison his second wife, Gu Kailai. Then he asked the other man to step into the yard and turn off his cellphone. The person suspected of masterminding the scheme, Mr. Bo said, was his son from his first marriage, Li Wangzhi, also known as Brendan Li, a graduate of Columbia University who was working in finance in Beijing. “Could this be true?” Mr. Bo asked. When the brother-in-law insisted the fears were outlandish, Mr. Bo seemed relieved. [Source: Edward Wong and David Barboza, New York Times, October 6, 2012]
The story, recounted in two recent interviews with Mr. Bo’s estranged first wife, Li Danyu, 62, deepens the Shakespearean dimension of a scandal that has gripped this nation and disrupted the party’s once-a-decade leadership transition. In the interviews, the first she has given to a news organization, Ms. Li spoke in detail about her marriage to Mr. Bo, giving a rare glimpse into the early life and thoughts of the son of a revolutionary leader and someone whom Ms. Li described as an idealist enamored of communism. “We believed we needed to save the rest of the world from the hell of capitalism,” she said.
Ms. Li said that although there has been a long history of enmity between her and Ms. Gu, her son never conspired to murder Ms. Gu. Another family member confirmed that Ms. Li’s brother had met with Mr. Bo and had been told of the alleged plot. He also insisted the son was innocent. The son and his uncle both declined to comment. Mr. Bo and Ms. Gu are under detention. [Ibid]
Although she has no proof, Ms. Li said she suspected Ms. Gu was the one who first blamed her son for the perceived murder plot, and the so-called forensic evidence might have been provided by Wang Lijun, the former police chief convicted of helping cover up Mr. Heywood’s murder. Ms. Li said she feared Ms. Gu wanted to have her first son arrested or harmed. ‘she can be that paranoid,” Ms. Li said. As for Mr. Bo, she said, he was “good in nature and didn’t want to believe this evidence.”
The web of entanglements among the families reflects the insular nature of China’s “red nobility.” Ms. Li’s older brother, Li Xiaoxue, is married to Ms. Gu’s older sister, the daughter of an army general. It was this brother who met last October, weeks before Mr. Heywood’s death, with Mr. Bo in Chongqing. Li Xiaolin, a lawyer associated with Ms. Gu and no relation to Mr. Bo’s ex-wife, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Gu and her family members believed she had been poisoned years earlier with a heavy metal substance. He said that he did not know whom she blamed for the poisoning. Mr. Li said that Ms. Gu’s shaking hands, evident at the trial in August, were a result of the poisoning. Ms. Gu had even taken up knitting on her doctor’s advice to try to regain control of her hand muscles, he said. [Ibid]
Several people close to Mr. Bo’s family said they had heard Ms. Gu was poisoned at one time, and that there was extreme paranoia within the household in recent years. But three family friends who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they did not believe Ms. Gu was fabricating evidence about Ms. Li’s son. They said Ms. Li had long resented Ms. Gu and waged private attacks against Mr. Bo and Ms. Gu to discredit them. [Ibid]
BO XILAI'S RUTHLESSNESS
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “For all his success, the seeds of Mr. Bo’s destruction were evident long ago to many of those who knew him. He was a man of prodigious charisma and deep intelligence, someone who not only possessed the family pedigree and network of allies that are crucial in Chinese politics, but who had also mastered the image-massaging and strategic use of public cash that fuel every Western politician’s rise. Bo’s undisputed talents were counterbalanced by what friends and critics alike say was an insatiable ambition and studied indifference to the wrecked lives that littered his path to power. Little is known about career maneuvers in China’s cloistered leadership elite, but those who study the topic say that Mr. Bo’s ruthlessness stood out, even in a system where the absence of formal rules ensures that only the strongest advance.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
In 2000, when Bo was mayor of Dalian in Liaoning Province, he threw reporter Jiang Weiping behind bars for writing articles in a Hong Kong publication that were critical of him. In 2009, during Bo's crime crackdown in Chongqing, a lawyer from Beijing who had claimed a senior gang member was innocent in court found himself being prosecuted for fabricating evidence. [Ibid]
“Nobody really trusts him: a lot of people are scared of him, including several princelings who are supposed to be his power base,” Cheng Li, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times. “That’s just his character,” the son of one Communist Party elder, who knows Mr. Bo well, said. “From the county up to the Politburo, he’s a person who has to have it his way.” [Ibid]
“Mr. Bo was said by employees,” Wines wrote, “to be a demanding and unforgiving boss, summoning underlings to middle-of-the-night meetings, throwing crockery and even hitting those who failed to deliver what he wanted. One such underling approached an associate of Mr. Bo shortly after a meeting in Dalian and begged the associate to give her a job. ‘she said to me, “He’s angry and abusive, verbally abusive. He’s a bad man and I want to change jobs,” he recalled. That penchant for power and glory earned him powerful enemies at virtually every step of his ascendance. His peers from Liaoning Province, where he was a prominent official for more than a decade, pointedly left him off the delegation to the 15th Congress of the Communist Party in 1997, even though he was by then both mayor and deputy party secretary in Dalian, the province’s second-largest city. [Ibid]
“When Mr. Bo left his post as Liaoning Province governor in 2004 to become commerce minister in Beijing, the province’s party secretary, Wen Shizhen, famously gave a party to celebrate his exit. Yet he continued upward anyway, the internal enmities papered over by a Communist Party obsessed with the appearance of unity, his excesses overlooked by the family and political allies whose own clout rose with his. [Ibid]
Bo Xilai's Efforts to Manipulate the Media
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “News 1+1" is a sort of Chinese “60 Minutes,” a newsmagazine on state-run China Central Television that explores—as much as the censors permit—the more contentious corners of Chinese society. In December 2009, the program took aim at a much-publicized anticorruption campaign in the metropolis of Chongqing, a crusade that had grabbed national attention for its sweep, but raised deep concerns about its brutality and disregard for the law. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
What followed was an object lesson in how Bo Xilai, the campaign’s architect and the secretary of Chongqing’s Communist Party at the time, dealt with those who stood in his way.Mr. Bo called Jiao Li, a friend and colleague from the past who was president of China Central Television, or CCTV, at the time. In short order, the producer of “News 1+1" was transferred to another program. The show’s popular host was briefly banned from the airwaves. [Ibid]
“Poor CCTV,” said Li Zhuang, a lawyer who dared to defend one of Mr. Bo’s high-profile targets—and was sentenced to 30 months in prison for supposedly manufacturing false testimony in the case. “They can’t even protect their own children.” [Ibid]
Bo Xilai's as Mayor of Dalian
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Barely a decade after taking his first desk job at Communist Party headquarters in Beijing, Mr. Bo was named mayor of Dalian, a city of about six million on the north Pacific coast, in 1992.” There “he began to hone the political skills and a hunger for authority that would come to define his career.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
The mayor’s job was a plum—the central government was pouring billions into reviving its coastal cities—and Mr. Bo oversaw a lavish effort to remake Dalian, a graceful but rundown seaport, in the image of Hong Kong. A building boom replaced empty factories with office and apartment towers; companies from nearby Japan made Dalian a beachhead for investment in China. Mr. Bo poured billions of renminbi into splashy ventures like annual international fashion shows and beer festivals, civic sculptures and a program that draped the city in seas of freshly planted grass. [Ibid]
“Mr. Bo attended seven and eight events a day in the style of an American mayor in full re-election mode. He relentlessly hyped Dalian’s soccer team, China’s best, as an icon of civic pride. “You could argue that none of these things are basic to the well-being of the people, but you had the sense it appealed,” said Stephen MacKinnon, an author and longtime scholar of China who knew Mr. Bo in the 1980s and early 1990s. “It was flashy.” [Ibid]
“Mr. Bo’s self-promotion was equally splashy: by the mid-1990s, a celebrity chronicler had penned a fawning history of his Dalian accomplishments, and pro-Bo articles were being planted in major newspapers nationwide. Dalian gained an international buzz, and Mr. Bo vaulted to governor of surrounding Liaoning Province and a seat on the Central Committee, which includes about 370 of the party’s most powerful figures. “He was accompanied wherever he went by a battalion of fabulous young women wearing Madonna headsets and sassy little sailor outfits,” The South China Morning Post gushed in 2004, recounting a dinner with the governor on a ship docked at Dalian port. “He circulated easily between tables, shaking hands with every man, woman and child on board, graciously accepting the many requests for photos and autographs that his celebrity status guaranteed. Later, when he spoke on stage, his enraptured audience seemed powerless to resist him.” [Ibid]
Bo Xilai's Behind-the-Scenes Vindictiveness and Abrasiveness in Dalian
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Elsewhere, however, a different Mr. Bo was on display. .. Jiang Weiping had pulled into the parking space outside his apartment building one December morning in 2000 when a half-dozen men threw open his car doors, forced him into the back seat and threw his jacket over his head. Mr. Jiang, a journalist, had written repeatedly about government corruption in Dalian. He was taken, he said, to a military detention center where the Communist Party secretary of the city’s public security bureau, Che Keming, awaited him. Mr. Che had been Mr. Bo’s cook and driver before a meteoric rise through the city hierarchy. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
“You are too bold,” Mr. Jiang told the New York Times recalled Mr. Che telling him. “Don’t you know that Mr. Bo is soon going to be the party chief of Liaoning Province, and after that he will be in the top leadership?” Mr. Jiang was detained and charged with subversion and stealing state secrets. He spent six years in prison before being freed and fleeing to Canada, where he now lives. [Ibid]
“Mr. Jiang’s account is not easily verified, but such tales are not uncommon,” Wines wrote. “Yang Rong, whose Brilliance China Automotive Holdings once was China’s largest automaker, found his stake of nearly $700 million in the company seized by Mr. Bo in 2002 after he proposed to build a new factory in Shanghai instead of in Liaoning. Mr. Yang, who now lives in the United States, later sued Mr. Bo and the government to no avail. [Ibid]
“As Dalian’s mayor, Mr. Bo once became enraged after a Beijing businessman, Su Xinmin, traveled to Dalian to lobby on behalf of a Dalian businessman who was under investigation. One son of a Communist Party elder recalled a phone conversation in which an angry Mr. Bo declared that he would have Mr. Su arrested—and soon afterward, a corps of Dalian police officers went to Beijing, arrested Mr. Su and detained him in Dalian for nearly two months. It was a trademark Bo gambit, except that Mr. Su was no stranger: He and Mr. Bo had spent five years together in the same Cultural Revolution labor camp, two sons of party leaders cruelly singled out for retribution. [Ibid]
Bo Xilai's Harsh Justice as a Revenge Tactic and Promotion Tool
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Among the targets was Chongqing’s deputy police chief, Wen Qiang, whose 2010 execution on corruption charges prompted The Chongqing Economic Times to proclaim on its front page: “Wen Qiang is dead. The people rejoice. Chongqing is at peace.” Though Mr. Wen was indisputably corrupt, many regarded execution as a draconian penalty, and some outsiders saw a veiled message from the ever-ambitious Mr. Bo. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012] Mr. Wen had served under Mr. Bo’s two predecessors in Chongqing, Wang Yang and He Guoqiang. Mr. Wang was Mr. Bo’s rival for a spot on the Politburo’s elite Standing Committee. Mr. He already sits there—and he also runs the party machinery that investigates corruption and other violations of party rules. Privately, the Wen execution was an implicit attack on their stewardship of Chongqing—“beating the dog while the master watches,” one person said. Publicly, it was an excuse for a publicity campaign. The police chief at the time, Wang Lijun, summoned writers to produce a four-volume history of the corruption campaign, to be followed by a movie and television series. [Ibid]
Bo Xilai and Corruption
By some estimates Bo Xilai and his family collected hundreds of millions—even billions—of dollars of through bribes and corruption. Bloomberg reported that Bo's relatives are worth at least $136 million. Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post: “Bo’s elder brother, Bo Xiyong—who also goes by the name Li Xueming—served as a director and vice chairman of China Everbright International, an alternative-energy company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and reportedly earned millions in stock options before stepping down in April. A younger brother, Bo Xicheng, a director of several state-owned firms, has been involved in lucrative investments in Dalian, where Bo Xilai served as mayor. And two of Gu’s sisters are widely reported to have financial holdings worth more than $100 million through a web of business ventures stretching from Shenzhen to the British Virgin Islands. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, June 15, 2012]
“Takanori Kato and Takeshi Makino wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Bo “is suspected of having received at least 1 billion yuan ($166 million) in bribes, party sources have revealed. There are suspicions that the illicit payoffs Bo accepted may amount to billions of yuan, most of which is believed to have been illegally transferred overseas, the sources said. The party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has embarked on a full-scale investigation into the alleged corruption by Bo and his relatives with strong business ties in Hong Kong, the sources said. Among the family members questioned by the commission is Bo Xiyong, Bo's older brother. Xiyong recently resigned as vice chairman and executive director of China Everbright International Ltd., a manufacturer of environmental conservation equipment based in Hong Kong. Xiyong reportedly quit to minimize "the possible adverse effects" on his company owing to media reports on his family's background. [Source: Takanori Kato and Takeshi Makino, Yomiuri Shimbun , April 28, 2012]
“Material evidence has so far been discovered to prove the acceptance of 1 billion yuan by Bo Xilai, 62, 15, according to the sources. Findings by the commission based on tips from whistle-blowers suggest Bo took the 1 billion yuan in bribes from Chongqing municipal government officials in return for their promotion to higher posts after Bo became head of the municipality, which is China's most populous city, in December 2007, the sources said. Bo's wife Gu Kailai is suspected of having served as the intermediary for the payment of bribes. [Ibid]
“The bribes included about 30 million yuan (390 million yen) allegedly offered by Xia Zeliang, Bo's assistant, in exchange for being handpicked for the high post of Chongqing municipal committee secretary, the sources said. Xia is suspected of having prepared the poison used in the Heywood murder. When questionable payoffs from businesses are included, the amount of cash bribes believed to have been given to Bo is estimated at several billion yuan, they said. [Ibid]
“A chain of Hong Kong companies have strong ties with the Bo family, such as Hong Kong Hitoro Holdings run by Gu Wangjiang, one of the sisters of Bo's wife Gu Kailai. Hong Kong Hitoro is engaged mainly in exporting electronics, and its corporate registration document shows nearly all of the shares in the company and its affiliates are held by firms based in the British Virgin Islands, known as a tax haven, they said. [Ibid]
“On revelations that came out about Bo Xilai corruption after the Heywood murder, Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: The hardest facts so far come from Bloomberg, which used corporate and regulatory filings to map out a family tree, in which the sisters of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, “controlled a web of businesses from Beijing to Hong Kong to the Caribbean worth at least $126 million.” (This is difficult reporting, because it requires cutting through fake names to establish sibling and parent relationships that are treated in China like secrets in order to prevent exactly this kind of accounting.)...So far, the only figures come from overseas Chinese-language news sites, without sources, which allege that Bo’s wife has told investigators that she transferred overseas $1.2 billion’that’s with a “b.” As ever, online rumors require skepticism, but in this case, they have often proved to be true’so they are worth noting for the moment. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 16, 2012]
Bo Xilai's French Villa and Other Properties
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Through proxies, Bo and his wife are said to have owned a $3.5-million villa in Cannes, luxury apartments in London as well as a condominium in Cambridge, Mass., where their son had attended Harvard's Kennedy School. The most eye-catching example in the trial is likely to be the villa perched on a leafy hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. It was purchased in 2001 by Residences Fontaine St. Georges, according to French court records uncovered by the Wall Street Journal. Records show that the director of the company was initially Patrick Devillers, a Frenchman who had lived in Dalian, but that management was transferred to Heywood in 2007. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2013 \\\\]
“During Gu's in 2012 year, prosecutors charged that she murdered Heywood because he was demanding $22 million for a "real estate project in France" and another development in Chongqing, where Bo was party leader until he was purged. The year before Heywood's death, management of the villa was transferred to television hostess Feng Jiang Dolby. Photographs posted on her personal blog, which have since been deleted, show a three-story home surrounded by crenelated white walls with a sparkling swimming pool bordered by shrubbery. \\\\
“Bo and Gu rarely — if ever — visited the villa, which was rented out as a vacation home to wealthy foreigners, often Russians. "They were very busy people. They sometimes went to the U.K. or the U.S. or maybe Singapore, but they didn't have time to travel around France," said Larry Cheng, a retired businessman who was Gu's law partner in Dalian. \\\\
Cheng said he knew Gu had traveled to Paris, but was not aware of any trips to the French Bo was actually less obsessed with money than many other politicians are, said a Taiwanese businessman who knows the family well. "He was into power and women. Money was always second," said the businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. \\\\
Problems with Bo Xilai’s Anti-Crime Campaign
Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, “In Chongqing, Bo was perhaps best known for leading a ferocious assault on crime called “da hei,” or ‘strike the black,” that was led by his right-hand man, the former police chief Wang Lijun, who later betrayed him. The thousands jailed in the campaign, also called “hard strike” in the Chinese media, included gang members, wealthy businessmen, police officers and local government officials. About 1,000 people were sentenced to forced labor, and dozens executed, many after hasty trials that ignored even rudimentary judicial procedures. Many have alleged that they were tortured while in custody and confessed under duress. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post il 19, 2012]
“Among those caught in Bo’s sweep were the former top judicial official in the city, Wen Qiang, who was executed in July 2010 for corruption, and Xie Caiping, known as the “Godmother of Chongqing” for her illicit gambling dens and rumorsstable of 16 lovers. But also swept up were virtually all of Chongqing’s top businessmen, whose family members say they had no connection to criminal activity; rather, they say, the businessmen were targeted so their assets could be seized. [Ibid]
The Chongqing Anti-Crime Campaign also drew criticism for ignoring due process at a time when the government is at least paying lip service to calls for strengthened legal guarantees, albeit highly selectively. It also appeared to especially target private businesses, fueling a sense of insecurity among China's entrepreneurial class that is spurring large numbers of them to move abroad.
Keith B. Richburg and Andrew Higgins, wrote in the Washington Post: Beijing authorities investigated Bo’s anti-crime crusade because of allegations that the targets were often wealthy Chongqing businessmen. One of the targeted businessmen, Li Jun, who founded Chongqing Junfeng Industrial Development Group, a big property and trading company, urged Beijing to “thoroughly investigate their criminal acts. Their crimes must be answered for.” Li accused Bo of colluding with a senior People’s Liberation Army officer, Zhang Haiyang, to grab property that his Junfeng Group had purchased from the military. He said that Bo had close ties stretching back decades with Zhang, who is now political commissar of China’s nuclear missile forces. [Source: Keith B. Richburg and Andrew Higgins, Washington Post. March 15, 2012]
Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, “Amid concerns over confessions made under duress and other abuses, human rights activists and lawyers complain that the anti-mafia campaign tramples due process and risks branding legitimate private businesspeople as mafia dons. Big state-owned companies, though widely viewed as among China’s most graft-addled enterprises, have been spared from attack. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, March 4, 2012]
China’s legal community was incensed when a prominent Beijing lawyer, Li Zhuang, was arrested and spent 18 months in jail, allegedly for coaching a gangster he was defending to give false testimony during his trial. He was released this month. Legal scholars said Li’s case cast a pall over all lawyers in China, who might find themselves being prosecuted for helping their clients.
“How can private entrepreneurs feel safe?” He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University told the Washington Post . The seizing of private assets “reminds people of what Jews suffered during World War II.” Tong Zhiwei, a law professor at Shanghai’s East China University of Political Science and Law, said Chongqing has battered criminal gangs but, in the process, has also “destroyed the legal system.” He wrote a lengthy report last year detailing how “police prepare all the food, prosecutors serve it and the courts eat it.”
In a brief interview in July 2011 in Chongqing, Bo defended his anti-crime crackdown, saying he found a lawless place when he arrived as party secretary in 2007. “It didn’t just occur to me to crack down on the triads,” he said. “It’s because when I arrived in Chongqing, the triad gangsters were here first. All governments in the world would do the same thing. Bo added, “If there are any illegal or mafia-related problems—someone breaking the law—we will crack down.” [Ibid]
Victim of the Chongqing Anti-Crime Campaign Complains of Injustice
Jun Li, the self-exiled chairman of the Chongqing Junfeng Industrial Development Group, was once one of the richest men in Chongqing but because of the crime crackdown in Chongqing he spent months on the run and now lives outside China. In a lengthy interviews with Washington Post, the 45-year-old businessman described a brutal and lawless struggle over property and power in Chongqing. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, March 4, 2012]
Li called the ‘smash black, banish evil” campaign “red terror”—the visible side of an intensely secretive and volatile order. Li, whose assets—worth an estimated $700 million—are now controlled by the Public Security Bureau, said the Chongqing governance system “is not a model but a huge catastrophe.” Fearing for his safety, he asked that his current location not be identified.
When Bo took over as Chongqing party chief in 2007, Li didn’t see much reason to worry. The businessman, originally from Hubei province, moved to Chongqing in 1984 as a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army and, after five years of service, set up a small trading business and then a gas station. Other ventures followed, including a restaurant, a karaoke parlor and a small sauna, a line of business often associated with vice. His main moneymaker, though, was property, which spawned a string of companies involved in construction, design, leasing and decorating.
In 2008, he got a big break with the purchase of plots of undeveloped military land in Chongqing’s Shapingba District. They cost him nearly $80 million, he said. He closed the sauna, which he said didn’t make money. At around the same time, Bo, eager to impress leaders in Beijing and gain elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee, launched a morality drive called the Red Culture Movement and featuring “red songs,” Mao-era anthems praising the party. Like other businessmen, Li had to organize singalongs at work and send employees to mass “red song” rallies. Then the arrests started, supervised by Wang, Bo’s police chief, who is now incommunicado and under investigation in Beijing. “Every day the newspapers had news about new arrests. I worried I would be next,” recalled Li, who has three daughters, one of whom is studying in Washington.
In December 2009, he got picked up by police, who he said beat him repeatedly during questioning that focused on his land deal with the military. Interrogators, he said, told him that he had upset Zhang Haiyang, a senior army officer in the region—and yet another princeling—whose relatives allegedly coveted the property. Zhang, whose wife is the offspring of a senior official, has since moved to Beijing and is now political commissar of the 2nd Artillery Corps, which controls China’s nuclear missiles.
Li said he was kept chained for days to a “tiger bench,” a metal chair designed to maximize pain, his arms and legs shackled while security agents pummeled him, screamed abuse and demanded that he confess. Held for three months in police and military establishments, Li was cleared of any wrongdoing in March 2010 and released after agreeing to cough up 40 million yuan, or $6.3 million, in “compensation, according to a document issued by the Chengdu Military District Political Security Department. Li said he owed nothing but had to pay to secure his freedom. Chongqing authorities declined to comment on Li’s account. “We have not heard such things, and we don’t think it is necessary to give any response,” said an official at the propaganda division of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau who declined to be identified.
In October 2010, while on a business trip to Chengdu, Li got a tip-off that he was about to be arrested again. He fled the following morning to Hong Kong. His wife intended to flee, too, but didn’t have the necessary paperwork. She was arrested and spent a year in jail. Other relatives also were picked up, including an older brother, Li Xiuwu, who was sentenced in December to 18 years in jail for leading a “black society,” the Chinese term for a mafia-like crime syndicate. He was fined $32 million. “They couldn’t get me, so they got my older brother,” said Li, who added that his sibling played no role in managing his company.
The verdict, issued by the Shapingba District People’s Court, details the state’s case, describing a host of unrelated crimes that include prostitution and loan-sharking. The Junfeng Industrial Development Group, ruled the court, served as a “cover for a series of illegal and criminal activities . . . that oppressed and hurt the masses, severely damaged the local economy and disrupted social order.”The group’s now-frozen assets are due to be handed over to a state-owned company that has ties to local officials.
Li dismissed the case as “all lies,” noting that the prosecution focused on an entertainment venture that accounted for just 2 percent of his group’s revenue. “I’m a businessman, but if you upset somebody [in power] you are a gangster.” With 1,500 managers, accountants, architects, construction workers and others on the payroll, he scoffed at accusations that he spent his time “collecting pennies from hookers.” He said he is broke, having kept all his money in China instead of moving it overseas: “I never thought things would turn out like this,” he said.
Problems with Bo Xilai’s Chongqing Model
Xujun Eberlein, a former Chongqing resident and author of a book about the Great Famine after the Great Leap Forward, wrote in China Beat: Watching my hometown from afar, my first impression of Bo Xilai was rather good. In November 2008, Chongqing’s taxi drivers went on strike, the first such occurrence in Communist China. I followed this event online as closely as I could, and was worried that a bloody repression might be inevitable. At the time, Bo had held his post as Chongqing Party chief for less than a year. He was in Beijing when the strike started on a Monday; meanwhile, Chongqing’s official media reported arrests of cab drivers. On Thursday, however, after Bo returned to Chongqing, he held a three-hour long televised meeting with representatives of the taxi drivers and citizens to discuss their requests. He appeared fair and open-minded, telling the drivers that their demands were legitimate and their problems would be attended to. He gained their trust and the strike ended peacefully. As I wrote at the time, I was very impressed. I still remember the relief I felt for my townsmen. I thought that Bo was different, and that he might make a difference for Chongqing—perhaps for China, too. [Source: Xujun Eberlein, China Beat, March 20, 2012]
A year later, when the “crackdown on gangsters” began, the taxi strike was deemed to have been organized by “mafia.” I visit my home city often and I knew the predicament of the cab drivers was real’so that verdict was enough for me to be alarmed. Where had the sympathetic Bo gone? What was the real purpose of the “crackdown?” Today I continue to wonder what role the taxi strike played in Bo’s decision to start a Cultural Revolution-style campaign, and what he had really felt inside when he appeared as a sympathetic listener to the strikers.
Initially, the crackdown made a positive impression on me as well’like the general public, I was eager to see the corrupt punished. The irony is, later I would be as shocked by the death sentence of Wen Qiang, Chongqing’s police chief preceding Wang Lijun, as I was pleased by Wen’s arrest at first.
Then came the official attempt to overturn the verdict of the taxi strike. Then came the Li Zhuang case. Then came a dozen death sentences and executions in quick succession—a batch execution, really, with a concentration not seen since the heyday of the Cultural Revolution. An ex-judge I met last year questioned the legality of Chongqing’s crackdown. “There is no such a term as “mafia” or “gangsters” in China’s criminal law,” he told me.
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: People started griping that his vanity campaigns had run the city deep into deficits. According to Chongqing-born Chinese American writer Xujun Eberlein, Bo had spent more than $1 billion to have ginkgo trees—his favorite—planted throughout the city although the climate was too hot. The police got fancy new uniforms costing $600 each. During his “red song” campaigns, Chongqing television was banned from airing advertisements, leaving the station deeply in debt. “It was like he was setting up his own independent kingdom in Chongqing,” said Qing Yongpei, a lawyer from Guangxi province who is following the case.
The overly zealous campaigns evoked memories of Chinese communism’s greatest failures—the Great Leap Forward, which thrust China into famine, and the Cultural Revolution, which caused a decade of chaos.
Questions About the Chongqing Model and Attack’s on Bo’s Red Culture Revival
Willy Lam wrote in China Brief: Of perhaps larger significance is the blow that the Wang scandal has dealt the so-called Chongqing Model, which became famous due to the city’s efficacy in nabbing hardcore criminals and in revitalizing Maoist norms. It is instructive that in a mid-February meeting of the Chongqing municipal party committee, Bo heaped high praise on the “contributions that the scientific outlook on development has made to Chongqing’s development.” The ‘scientific outlook on development’ is considered to be President Hu and Premier Wen’s most important contribution to Communist-Chinese statecraft since they came to power in late 2002. It was the first time that Bo, who usually preferred to dwell on his own political and economic programs, had so lavishly eulogized the pet slogan of the Hu-Wen leadership. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), March 2, 2012]
That Wang Lijun, the “anti-triad national hero” is himself under investigation for graft-related charges has undermined the entire law-enforcement mechanism in Chongqing. Li Zhuang, a highly respected lawyer who was briefly imprisoned in Chongqing for allegedly using illegal means to defend one of the triad bosses arrested by Wang, told the Hong Kong media that “the Chongqing model is problematic because the city’s leaders do not follow the rule of law.” Yang Fan, a renowned “New Left” scholar who is co-author of the book The Chongqing Model, indicated in his blog last week that he might have to reappraise the “Chongqing way of doing things.” Referring to the Wang case, Yang wrote ‘since a big scandal has hit Chongqing, it is imperative that we take a second look at the Chongqing Model.”
Bo’s even more controversial crypto-Maoist campaign, which is symbolized by the thousands of changhong concerts that have been held across China in the past couple of years, probably is also against the ropes. The keen advocate for political reform, Premier Wen, has criticized certain cadres” nostalgia for the Maoist era, stating, for example, last year “A major obstacle to reform is the remnant poison of the Cultural Revolution.” It is therefore probably not accidental that in the fortnight or so after Wang Lijun sought refuge in the American Consulate in Chengdu, a rash of reformist-oriented pieces has appeared in the official Beijing media. Last Tuesday, the People’s Daily ran a commentary entitled “While reform carries risk, abandoning reform will bring jeopardy to the party.” Wu Jinglian, one of China’s most famous liberal economists, wrote “China is at a new crossroads” and “Above all, we must be careful not to go back to the old road.” It is significant that a number of these articles cited “vested interest blocs” as the most daunting impediment to reform. For example, Sun Jian, a researcher at the party journal Seeking Truth, wrote “we must not allow interest groups to block reform.” Finally, He Chuiyun, a commentator for the China Business Times, pointed out that “unless we have the determination and courage to reform ourselves, it will be difficult for us to break up the configuration of interest [groups] in the country.”
Bo Xilai’s Enemies in the Communist Party
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Bo “made several powerful enemies. His appointment in 2007, as party secretary of Chongqing, was in fact devised to move him out of Beijing and away from the seat of power. Two previous heads of China’s Trade Ministry, the Commerce Ministry’s predecessor, had gone on to become vice premier, a post Mr. Bo was said to crave. But one, Wu Yi, had come to dislike Mr. Bo’s abrasiveness and self-promotion; she sided with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and others in shunting him to a job in the hinterlands.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2012]
Two people who know Ms. Wu said she was miffed by his grandstanding at a 2005 Washington session of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, where she had led a delegation of senior leaders. She was further put off after he opened a police investigation into the Commerce Ministry’s international affairs office, where she maintained close ties. And in talks with friends, she cited his enthusiasm for the more radical Red Guards as an especially sore point. “Wu Yi got him,” one longtime associate of Mr. Bo said. ‘she was instrumental, saying, “I step down in March; the guy is gone before I step down.” “
Why Bo Xilai’s Chongqing Model Upset the Ruling Status Quo
Ian Johnson wrote in The New York Review of Books that Bo’s “Chongqing model” of greater state control and leftist ideology included something for almost everyone. Some were progressive, such as helping farmers, some statist, such as huge public works programs, and others pro-business, such as courting investment. Civil libertarians were unhappy because he trampled on the law in pursuit of organized crime but this is par for the course in China; the past decade has seen a steady erosion of rule of law and a rise of extra-judicial detention for government opponents or ethnic leaders.
The fact that Bo was offering these measures as a kind of systemic reform was a rebuke to the central leadership. It’s a little unfair to say that Premier Wen Jiabao and party boss Hu Jintao allowed China to stagnate during their decade in power. Since the 1990s, China has become a major player on the world stage, boasts the world’s second-largest economy, successfully hosted the Olympics, and has shown more attention to the poor by implementing rural health care, building roads to poor areas, and providing a subsistence-level welfare. But there’s a growing sense among many Chinese that their country’s government needs to undertake serious reforms. In China as elsewhere rising prosperity means rising expectations—especially for more transparency and openness, and less corruption. And all of this, of course, has been magnified through the country’s anarchic social media, like microblogging. Although under government control, these sites still pressure the government in ways that were rare in the past.
Bo’s policies in Chongqing highlighted these problems too openly. Even in his last press conference, a few days before his dismissal, he pointed out that China’s Gini coefficient—a generally recognized way of measuring economic disparity—was terrible and getting worse. The idea of having to deal with such a domineering person must have been abhorrent to the incoming leadership team of Xi Jinping (himself the son of another famous general) and Li Keqiang (a close associate of Premier Wen who is considered a technocrat meant to run the economy). Like all new Chinese leaders Xi and Li will be relatively weak and only acquire power with time; Bo would have been by far the highest-profile and most media-savvy member of the nine-man team if he had been let in.
Bo Spies on Hu Jintao and Other Top Officials
Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: “When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone in August 2011 to talk to a senior anticorruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped—by local officials in that southwestern metropolis. The discovery of that and other wiretapping led to an official investigation that helped topple Chongqing’s charismatic leader, Bo Xilai. Nearly a dozen people with party ties, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, confirmed the wiretapping, as well as a widespread program of bugging across Chongqing. But the party’s public version of Mr. Bo’s fall omits it. [Source: Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, New York Times, April 25, 2012]
Beyond making a routine inspection, it is not clear why the disciplinary official who telephoned Mr. Hu—Ma Wen, the minister of supervision—was in Chongqing. Her high-security land link to Mr. Hu from the state guesthouse in Chongqing was monitored on Mr. Bo’s orders. The topic of the call is unknown but was probably not vital. Most phones are so unsafe that important information is often conveyed only in person or in writing. In one other instance last year, two journalists said, operatives were caught intercepting a conversation between the office of Mr. Hu and Liu Guanglei, a top party law-and-order official.” In any cases “Beijing was galled that Mr. Bo would wiretap Mr. Hu, whether intentionally or not, and turned central security and disciplinary investigators loose on his police chief, who bore the brunt of the scrutiny over the next couple of months. [Ibid]
“The hidden wiretapping was previously alluded to only in internal Communist Party accounts of the scandal. These accounts suggest that the party views the wiretapping as one of Mr. Bo’s most serious crimes. One preliminary indictment in mid-March accused Bo of damaging party unity by collecting evidence on other leaders. Party officials, however, say it would be far too damaging to make the wiretapping public. When Mr. Bo is finally charged, wiretapping is not expected to be mentioned. “The things that can be publicized are the economic problems and the killing,” according to the senior official at the government media outlet. “That’s enough to decide the matter in public.” [Ibid]
“The story of how China’s president was monitored also shows the level of mistrust among leaders in the one-party state. To maintain control over society, leaders have embraced enhanced surveillance technology. But some have turned it on one another—repeating patterns of intrigue that go back to the beginnings of Communist rule. “This society has bred mistrust and violence,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a historian of Communist China’s elite-level machinations over the past half century. “Leaders know you have to watch your back because you never know who will put a knife in it.” [Ibid]
“Party insiders say the wiretapping was seen as a direct challenge to central authorities. It revealed to them just how far Mr. Bo, who is now being investigated for serious disciplinary violations, was prepared to go in his efforts to grasp greater power in China. That compounded suspicions that Mr. Bo could not be trusted with a top slot in the party. “Everyone across China is improving their systems for the purposes of maintaining stability,” said one official with a central government media outlet, referring to surveillance tactics. “But not everyone dares to monitor party central leaders.” [Ibid]
Bo Xilai’s Wiretapping Campaign in Chongqing
Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: “According to senior party members, including editors, academics and people with ties to the military, Mr. Bo’s eavesdropping operations began several years ago as part of a state-financed surveillance buildup, ostensibly for the purposes of fighting crime and maintaining local political stability. The architect was? Wang Lijun. “Together they installed “a comprehensive package bugging system covering telecommunications to the Internet,” according to the government media official. [Source: Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, New York Times, April 25, 2012]
One of several noted cybersecurity experts they enlisted was Fang Binxing, president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, who is often called the father of China’s “Great Firewall,” the nation’s vast Internet censorship system. Most recently, Mr. Fang advised the city on a new police information center using cloud-based computing, according to state news media reports. Late last year, Mr. Wang was named a visiting professor at Mr. Fang’s university. [Ibid]
“Together, Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang unleashed a drive to smash what they said were crime rings that controlled large portions of Chongqing’s economic life. In interviews, targets of the crackdown marveled at the scale and determination with which local police intercepted their communications. “On the phone, we dared not mention Bo Xilai or Wang Lijun,” Li Jun, a fugitive property developer told the New York Times. He now lives in hiding abroad. Instead, he and fellow businessmen took to scribbling notes, removing their cellphone batteries and stocking up on unregistered SIM cards to thwart surveillance as the crackdown mounted, he said. [Ibid]
“Li Zhuang, a lawyer from a powerfully connected Beijing law firm, recalled how some cousins of one client had presented him with a full stack of unregistered mobile phone SIM cards, warning him of local wiretapping. Despite these precautions, the Chongqing police ended up arresting Mr. Li on the outskirts of Beijing, about 900 miles away, after he called his client’s wife and arranged to visit her later that day at a hospital. “They already were there lying in ambush,” Mr. Li said. He added that Wang Lijun, by reputation, was a “tapping freak.” Political figures were targeted in addition to those suspected of being mobsters. [Ibid]
“One political analyst with senior-level ties, citing information obtained from a colonel he recently dined with, said Mr. Bo had tried to tap the phones of virtually all high-ranking leaders who visited Chongqing in recent years, including Zhou Yongkang, the law-and-order czar who was said to have backed Mr. Bo as his potential successor. “Bo wanted to be extremely clear about what leaders’ attitudes toward him were,” the analyst said. [Ibid]
Investigation of Bo Xilai’s Wiretapping
Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: “Over time Bo and Wang came “under increased scrutiny from the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which by the beginning of 2012 had stationed up to four separate teams in Chongqing, two undercover, according to the political analyst, who cited Discipline Inspection sources. One line of inquiry, according to several party academics, involved Mr. Wang’s possible role in a police bribery case that unfolded last year in a Liaoning city where he once was police chief. [Source: Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, New York Times, April 25, 2012]
“Bo wanted to push the responsibility onto Wang,” one senior party editor said. “Wang couldn’t dare say it was Bo’s doing.” Yet at some point well before fleeing Chongqing, Mr. Wang filed a pair of complaints to the inspection commission, the first anonymously and the second under his own name, according to a party academic with ties to Mr. Bo. Both complaints said Mr. Bo had “opposed party central authorities, including ordering the wiretapping of central leaders. The requests to investigate Mr. Bo were turned down at the time. Mr. Bo, who learned of the charges at a later point, told the academic shortly before his dismissal that he thought he could withstand Mr. Wang’s charges. [Ibid]
“Mr. Wang is not believed to have discussed wiretapping at the United States Consulate. Instead, he focused on the less self-incriminating allegations of Mr. Bo’s wife’s arranging the killing of Mr. Heywood. But tensions between the two men crested, sources said, when Mr. Bo found that Mr. Wang had also wiretapped him and his wife. After Mr. Wang was arrested in February, Mr. Bo detained Mr. Wang’s wiretapping specialist from Liaoning, a district police chief named Wang Pengfei. [Ibid]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2013