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April 10, 2012 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Gu Kailai, the wife of senior Chinese party leader Bo Xilai, has been arrested for the murder of an English businessman. Bo, until his sudden fall from power this year, one of the most popular politicians in China, the leading figure of the Chinese New Left and Party Committee Secretary of the megacity of Chongqing, has completed his downfall by being expelled from the politburo and stripped of all party positions. The collapse started in February, when his top lieutenant, Wang Lijun, was suddenly demoted and then fled to the US consulate for a day - supposedly, either attempting to defect or to give incriminating evidence on Bo and Gu to the Americans for safekeeping.

The dead Englishman, Neil Heywood, had previously been a close business associate of Gu. His death last November had earlier been investigated and ruled to be due to alcohol poisoning. Xinhua broke with previous heavy censorship of the matter to release a statement that following allegations by Wang:
Police authorities paid high attention to the case, and set up the team to reinvestigate the case according to law with an attitude to seek truth from facts.

According to investigation results, Bogu Kailai, wife of Comrade Bo Xilai, and their son were in good terms with Heywood. However, they had conflict over economic interests, which had been intensified.

According to reinvestigation results, the existing evidence indicated that Heywood died of homicide, of which Bogu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly at Bo's home, are highly suspected.
As the most powerful figure in the 29 million person megalopolis of Chonqing, Bo instigated the "Chongqing model" of government that fused a populist attempt to address the growing wealth disparities in the new China with a revival of Cultural Revolution-era Maoist propaganda and a fierce campaign against organized crime that critics alleged departed from even PRC standards of due process and involved systematic torture of defendants.
posted by strangely stunted trees (38 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I want to see the movie.
posted by Brian B. at 8:08 PM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


So much I don't know about China.
posted by dave78981 at 8:20 PM on April 10, 2012


a fierce campaign against organized crime that critics alleged departed from even PRC standards of due process

normal PRC standards for "dealing with" organized crime involves getting paid off and looking the other way. Or alternatively, employing gangsters to harass and intimidate inconvenient people, especially where lucrative property development is involved. Bo's anti-mafia crackdown in Chongqing got Chinese people asking why the same couldn't happen in other cities. He's basically in trouble for being too personally popular, and making other Chinese leaders look bad.
posted by moorooka at 8:30 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's basically in trouble for being too personally popular, and making other Chinese leaders look bad.

Or he could be in trouble because most sane people do not think of the Cultural Revolution as a period of Chinese history to look back fondly on.
posted by fatehunter at 8:45 PM on April 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


He's basically in trouble for being too personally popular, and making other Chinese leaders look bad.

Oooo, I think that's a bit of a simplification. Did you read Garnaut's excellent piece about it? (condensed version ran in SMH).

Bo certainly promulgated his image as corruption crusader but subscribing so wholeheartedly to it would be a mistake. No one that high in the CCP is immune from the rampant corruption of the state.

He "got in trouble" for a whole lot more than that, and I would say it's unlikely anyone outside the CCP has good visibility of all the reasons. He made a lot of powerful enemies both on the "good" and the "bad" side of the ledger.
posted by smoke at 8:52 PM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The movie version of this is obviously going to have to be called "Fogtown" (雾都) -- one of the nicknames for Chongqing.

As probably goes without saying, there's been a campaign of online censorship to lay the groundwork for this announcement. Baidu, Sina, and other internet companies have all pledged to "not provide any space for online rumors," and have stepped up censorship significantly. Searches for, e.g., "Bo Guagua" -- Bo Xilai's son -- on Baidu now return only results from whitelisted government websites. The prominent new-Left website 乌有之乡/Utopia, which had been generally in favor of Bo's quasi-Maoist rebranding of himself, was ordered to close down for a month last week; this seemed at the time to be a reaction against postings that were critical of Bo's removal from the Politburo, but now looks (at least to me) very much like the hammer of the gun being cocked back in preparation for last night's trigger-pull.

Or he could be in trouble because most sane people do not think of the Cultural Revolution as a period of Chinese history to look back fondly on.

I think you would be very surprised about this, actually. There's a considerable amount of nostalgia for the Mao years (particularly on the part of people who did not actually live through them) as a simpler, less corrupt time.
In any event, it's an unfair oversimplification to say that Bo was promoting a new Cultural Revolution. He was borrowing populist aspects of Maoist rhetoric, but was appealing more to the nostalgia than to the ideology. In a city known for being unbelievably corrupt even by the standards of major Chinese cities, it's not surprising that many people went for that.
posted by bokane at 8:55 PM on April 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


The movie version of this is obviously going to have to be called "Fogtown" (雾都) -- one of the nicknames for Chongqing.

"Forget it Jake. It's Fogtown (雾都)."
posted by BobbyVan at 9:00 PM on April 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fascinating. Thanks for this post.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:15 PM on April 10, 2012


There's a considerable amount of nostalgia for the Mao years (particularly on the part of people who did not actually live through them) as a simpler, less corrupt time.

I know. That's why I said most sane people. I've spent enough time on Chinese forums, blogs and weibo to feel the hatred toward the "elite" among the common people. Given the seeming certainty of Bo's faction's defeat, it's remarkable how many Bo sympathizers you can find online if you know your way around.

My patience for those nutjobs is substantially lower than my patience for, say, the Tea Party.

He was borrowing populist aspects of Maoist rhetoric, but was appealing more to the nostalgia than to the ideology.

The Cultural Revolution was never about ideology. "Strong leaders" used ideology to whip the mass into a violent frenzy that resulted in millions killed, but ideology was only a tool. That "revolution" was nothing more than a power struggle - exactly what Bo's faction had been engaging in.
posted by fatehunter at 9:19 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd be curious to hear what Abiezer has to say on this matter, if s/he is allowed to comment.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:31 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure he'll be weighing in soon. :)
posted by smoke at 9:39 PM on April 10, 2012


It's just after 12.30 PM in Beijing. Give a fellow a minute to collect his thoughts and smoke a ciggie, eh?
posted by Wolof at 9:44 PM on April 10, 2012


Sounds like a case for Inspector Chen!
posted by Bwithh at 9:45 PM on April 10, 2012


Having just read the Foreign Policy article smoke linked to (which, yes, is excellent):

I'm wary of foreign reporting on China, so I don't have any English article to link to. For anyone reading this thread who can read Chinese, I recommend googling 重庆 文革 武斗 as a starter to get some historical context. Chongqing had been a bona fide battleground during the Cultural Revolution. Bo and his faction made their major moves there for a reason.
posted by fatehunter at 9:52 PM on April 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Watching this unfold has been way more exciting than Chinese politics normally ever get.
posted by flippant at 10:02 PM on April 10, 2012


Watching this unfold has been way more exciting than Chinese politics normally ever get.

Operative word on watching there - we rarely get this much visibility in party machinations. It's kind of exciting, but becomes less exciting, I think, when you contemplate the number of innocent people - Chinese and otherwise - having their lives ruined by these power plays and players every day. Then it's sad and kinda gross. Certainly puts western political squabbles into perspective.
posted by smoke at 10:07 PM on April 10, 2012


I'm wary of foreign reporting on China,

Good point, this.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:44 PM on April 10, 2012


Caijing has a short, factual piece on the matter, but no analysis.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:46 PM on April 10, 2012


Serious question: How dirty is the rest of the politburo relative to Bo Xilai?
posted by benzenedream at 11:25 PM on April 10, 2012


there is a more to China's "Red" heritage than just the Cultural Revolution. There's a lot more to the widespread nostalgia than simply "insanity".

The appalling and widening level of income inequality, the endemic corruption and nepotism at every level of government, and the almost complete moral and spiritual vacuum that has accompanied the transition to capitalism - these things are why the "Red Culture" message has a resonance.

Comparing the Chinese people's frustration with their One-Party state and its hypocritical "communist" plutocrats to the racist spittle of anti-Obama teabaggers is way off-base.

Which is not to say that Bo was a genuine working-class champion or anything. But there were definitely non-insane reasons for his popularity, especially where the comparison is with the typical local government mafioso.
posted by moorooka at 11:44 PM on April 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm wary of foreign reporting on China

You might enjoy Perry Anderson's write-up on recent US-centric China books over at the London Review of Books.
posted by klue at 12:40 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The appalling and widening level of income inequality, the endemic corruption and nepotism at every level of government, and the almost complete moral and spiritual vacuum that has accompanied the transition to capitalism - these things are why the "Red Culture" message has a resonance.

Comparing the Chinese people's frustration with their One-Party state and its hypocritical "communist" plutocrats to the racist spittle of anti-Obama teabaggers is way off-base.

Which is not to say that Bo was a genuine working-class champion or anything. But there were definitely non-insane reasons for his popularity, especially where the comparison is with the typical local government mafioso.


Moorooka has got it. Automatically equating "Red Culture" to "Red Guards" misses a lot of the complexities and very real concerns of the situation, and does a disservice to both the people involved and any observer who might hope to understand the situation.
posted by bokane at 1:56 AM on April 11, 2012


Um. "very real concerns of the people involved, and does a disservice to them and to any observer who etc."
posted by bokane at 2:02 AM on April 11, 2012


The Cultural Revolution was never about ideology. "Strong leaders" used ideology to whip the mass into a violent frenzy that resulted in millions killed, but ideology was only a tool. That "revolution" was nothing more than a power struggle - exactly what Bo's faction had been engaging in.
The vast majority of the millions killed were Red Guards, shot by the PLA when the centre tried to put the genie back in the bottle after the initial phase of the CR. It was about ideology for many of the young people who took part, and was different things in different times and places - elite schoolgirls murdering a poor teacher during the Bloody August in Beijing is one thing, workers trying to create factory soviets during the Shanghai Storm another.
Basically, it's a disservice to history and especially to ordinary Chinese people to consider them merely a stage mob who get whipped up by leaders and then smash what they're pointed at. A decade-long period in one of the most populous countries in the world is obviously not going to be a mono-dimensional thing, so when you hear that someone is nostalgic about the era, it does pay to consider what aspects they are looking back on - are they celebrating random violence against innocent victims or power-games in Beijing, or are they, like Han Donping, recalling how rural people used it to overthrow the elites who'd beaten and starved them during the GLF and attempt to institute local democracy?
posted by Abiezer at 2:39 AM on April 11, 2012 [25 favorites]


Basically, it's a disservice to history and especially to ordinary Chinese people to consider them merely a stage mob who get whipped up by leaders and then smash what they're pointed at.

Very well said.
posted by Wolof at 4:29 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Disclosure — Abiezer, Klue and I got pretty arseholed in a bar in Beijing fairly recently. If you're travelling that way you should definitely annoy these very pleasant and intelligent people.
posted by Wolof at 6:03 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sounds like viral advertising for the new season of Game of Thrones.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:17 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to this FT article, Wang Lijun made an appointment with the British consulate on the same day as his US consulate visit.

One theory I've read on Wang's consular visits, is that Bo and his family had been using the anti-corruption campaign to intimidate and wipe out business rivals. The English businessman Neil Heywood got caught up in the Bo clans' business dealings, ran afoul and was taken out. The murder was covered up and the body quickly cremated but criminal investigations were leading back to the Bo family. Wang saw where things were going, got scared (capital punishment?) and tried to apply for asylum at the US and British consulates. He tried his luck with the Americans and is now enjoying vacation-style treatment.

Or in short, life imitates art in this scenario.
posted by tksh at 7:31 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


....a big tower of billy carter beer cans atop a bronze of Deng with a mouth full of pennies giving the bird to Jiang Qing.
posted by clavdivs at 7:37 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bo's approach to organized crime was basically straight out of The Highlander: 'there can be only one'.

One of the most dangerous people in the world has been nullified, in my opinion.
posted by jamjam at 10:28 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bo Xilai's political fall from grace dominates Chinese news: Hourly news bulletins across China trumpet politician's disgrace and wife's detention on suspicion of murdering Neil Heywood
posted by homunculus at 12:14 PM on April 11, 2012


In other news: Chinese activist jailed for fraud and 'making trouble'. Supporters say prison sentence given to Ni Yulan, disabled after police beating, is illegal, unfair and inhumane
posted by homunculus at 1:35 PM on April 11, 2012


if the Chinese state media says she did it, she didn't do it.
posted by bardic at 9:23 PM on April 11, 2012


Another FT article, which talks very briefly about the military connections that Bo had cultivated. The People's Liberation Army doesn't report to the President and instead reports to the Central Military Commission.
Half of last week was a public holiday in China, but it was a busy week in the barracks. In many military bases and academies, political schooling sessions were scheduled at short notice to hammer home the message of absolute leadership of the Communist party over the armed forces.

“Everyone knows it’s about Bo Xilai, but we’re not supposed to talk about it,” says a young officer.
posted by tksh at 9:34 AM on April 12, 2012


bardic: if the Chinese state media says she did it, she didn't do it.

Some of the FT comments are definitely taking this view. That Wang's visit to the consulates was staged as a pretext for Bo's fall, which was engineered to derail an otherwise seemingly smooth ascension of a charismatic, efficient and powerful man with uncomfortably close ties to the military and his penchant for 'Red Culture'. His ruthless and speedy cull of the 'unwanted' in Chongching probably didn't help.
posted by tksh at 9:54 AM on April 12, 2012


Briton killed after threat to Bo's wife: sources:
Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, asked Heywood late last year to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut of the money than she had expected due to the size of the transaction, sources said.

She accused him of being greedy and hatched a plan to kill him after he said he could expose her dealings, one of the sources said, summarising the police case. Both sources have spoken to investigators in Chongqing, where Heywood was killed and where Bo reinforced his reputation as a crime-fighting Communist Party leader.

...

Police suspect Heywood took a poisoned drink, according to one of the sources, and died on November 15. Both sources said Gu was not present at the scene.
posted by tksh at 5:27 AM on April 16, 2012


In other news: Chen Guangcheng, blind Chinese lawyer-activist, escapes house arrest
posted by homunculus at 5:29 PM on April 27, 2012


Noted New Left intellectual Wang Hui writes on the Bo affair in the LRB.
posted by Abiezer at 11:15 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


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