Guest Post: A Death In Chongqing

[Note: this post is cross-posted (with light editing) from the FOARP blog, and does not necessarily reflect anyone’s views other than my own. All errors are mine – Gil]

[Note from Richard: This guest post does not necessarily reflect my own views.]

Bo Xilai, disgraced politburo member

From my seat in a delightfully pretentious health-food restaurant (think Shanghai’s Element Fresh, but Polish) thousands of miles from Chongqing I do not have much to add to analysis of the various goings on in the PRC Politburo, but I would like to draw attention to a few articles which, to me, strike the right cord, as well as adding a little barely-informed speculation of my own.

I think Sinostand’s points – that the only remarkable things about the Bo case are that it involves the death of a laowai and that Bo’s wrongdoings, unlike those of other senior officials, have been acknowledged by the government – are very much correct. Had Bo Xilai been less obviously ambitious and more easily believable as a politburo bit-player, then it is impossible to believe that these accusations of corruption would have been directed against him.

The involvement of a foreigner in this case comes a long way second in this. It is very hard to believe that the investigation into Neil Heywood’s death would have been “reinvestigated” (was it investigated the first time?) if Bo was not in disfavour. The fact that the investigation only followed what we must now call the “Chengdu incident” (Wang Lijun’s apparent attempted defection), which itself came at a convenient time to ensure that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang’s main rival for the top spot was out of the way ahead of their coronation at the “Two Meetings”, strongly suggests that it is part of an attempt to make Bo’s name mud.

Incidentally, it also leaves a strong suspicion (in my mind at least) that Neil Heywood may not have been murdered. Indeed, I would not at all be surprised if, like the investigation into Ai Weiwei for tax evasion, the investigation was wound up without actually resulting in criminal charges. Since the China has the death penalty for murder (and many other crimes – including corruption), it would not at all be surprising if China’s ruling class wished to avoid a trial ending in the execution of a former politburo member or his wife. It is also hard to believe that the British government will wish to press an issue which, for them, there is no up-side to.

The second article I would like to draw attention to is Jeremiah Jenne’s latest post on Jeremiah is definitely correct to say that the impact of this case will be that, in future, people will be far more willing to believe rumours about the various goings on of those in power now that so many of the initial rumours surrounding the “Chengdu Incident” have been confirmed by the PRC state media. A lot of people, myself included, had been inclined to pooh-pooh the Weibo rumour machine – particularly after the fiasco surrounding last year’s supposed death of Jiang Zemin, which I was also initially taken in by. Reporting on rumours in China, so long as they are clearly marked as such, seems A-OK to me.

There’s also a couple of lessons in this for China expats and China watchers:

– Stay away from the CCP and its affairs. I always get a sinking feeling when I hear of an expat going to work for the Chinese government, be it in a state media organ like China Radio International, or in some other capacity. A foreign passport is no protection against CCP shenanigans and you cannot expect your own government to press too hard when there are no immediate national interests in doing so. The line I was told in Nanjjing in 2003 about it being much worse to be falsely accused of spying than to be accurately accused of spying, since no government will be willing to arrange an exchange for a non-spy, remains very true.

– The essential political system of the People’s Republic of China is still Leninist – that is to say, power is still reserved to a ‘revolutionary vanguard party’ exercising ‘democratic centralism’, or in plain language, a one-party dictatorship. Since 1989 it has been common for governing teams to serve a ten-year term, but this is in no way set in stone. If at any point it suits the top leadership of the CCP to give someone the shove this will be done regardless of public opinion or position – popular or not, seemly or not, and any weapon that can be used against them will be used – including, perhaps, allegations of murder.

Finally, Boxun (a Chinese emigre rumour-mill) is now carrying rumours (there’s that word again) that Zhou Yongkang, the PRC Politburo’s main enforcer, is next in line for attitude-correction, and that, as I had suspected since I first knew that the post-2012 politburo would include Bo in a non-top-two position, Bo may have been thinking of a coup:

“Insiders say Zhou had met Bo several times in Beijing, Chongqing and Chengdu, planning to prepare him for promotion to secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee later this year. If the plan succeeded, they would potentially be able to take power from Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as the party’s general secretary, within two years. Zhou reportedly told Bo and Wang that Xi was too timid and thus not suitable to lead the country. He suggested Bo take advantage of his media power and public support to seize power by 2014.”

If this report is true (something which is obviously unknowable at the moment), it appears that Bo and Zhou may well have gravely misjudged the Xi/Li team – or the people who picked them for power, the Hu/Wen partnership.

[Picture: Bo Xilai, disgraced former politburo member, Via Wiki]


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 63 Comments

To T-co:
agreed. It seems to me that transparency and authoritarianism are mutually exclusive things. And “accountable authoritarianism” certainly seems like an oxymoron.

April 21, 2012 @ 1:47 pm | Comment



高官愛錢如命 不敢開戰爭取領土

事實上所做所為跟 賣國求和 是完全相同的


April 21, 2012 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

Always nice to watch them squirm as they try to justify the CCP’s position which sits comfortably between a rock and a hard place. Did the CCP legal and justice system fail before, when a prominent politico and his wife were getting away with corruption and murder right up until one of his underlings had to go to foreign territory (ie the US consulate) in order to safely shed light on those misdeeds? Or is the CCP legal and justice system failing now with the usual kangaroo court song and dance? Ahh, what wonderful choices.

“But the authorities have made it clear that they are investigating a murder and violations of Party disciplines and that the investigations into the homicide of Heywood and Bo’s violations of disciplines will follow proper legal procedures. ”
— well that’s reassuring. Here I was thinking that they haven’t been, and won’t be. I feel so much better already.

“Premier Wen Jiabao promised us a report on the investigation’s findings that “would stand the test of law and history”.”
— and if past history is any guide, I’m sure we can take that to the bank.

“but that does not mean the investigations are politically motivated or an outcome of “political in-fighting”.”
— No, cuz that would never happen…in China…under the CCP. Perish the thought.

April 22, 2012 @ 1:45 pm | Comment

Minor niggle: Consulates and embassies remain sovereign territory of the receiving state. Local police are prevented from entering them without permission as they are inviolable under international treaty.

April 22, 2012 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

The messages sent by Chinese-language and English-language party mouthpieces have converged somewhat, over the past few years. The linked China-Daily article reflects pretty much what is being written at Huanqiu Shibao. Could also be that the topic is so sensitive that editorialists are required to write along a given set of arguments anytime they address the issue.

April 22, 2012 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

The topic being the Bo Xilai issue, that is.

April 22, 2012 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

@JR – Yeah, Sinostand pointed out the same thing with CCTV and the People’s Daily. What’s left of the pre-Olympics promise of a freer, less politicised media? Anything?

April 22, 2012 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

Hi Gil,
yeah, poor word choice on my part. Should’ve said foreign safe haven.

April 23, 2012 @ 6:49 am | Comment

Re corruption. I read a piece somewhere that it is almost necessary (wrong choice of words..bear with me) to indulge in corruption.
As it is, most people enter this line of work for money. Not the wages, but the moneu associated with it. My in laws apparently joined the CCP not because of a love of the international community of the workers but because of guanxi. With that you get progression and, yes, money. Same with rising in the heirarchy of the CCP. The wages are poor, relatively speaking, so you use your position to supplement what you earn. The system encourages it and nothing is done until some examples have to be made to show the system is “clean” (killing the chicken to scare the monkeys, I believe?). How would any of us stay clean in such a system when it is basically encouraged from top down – as a junior you’d almost, I dare say, be told to indulge in some form of corruption for your seniors – the whole system is geared to it. “5000” years of culture don’t change overnight.
One is innocent until proven guilty, yes, but to be innocent, one actually has to be innocent.

April 23, 2012 @ 7:53 am | Comment

@Mike – Indeed. I wouldn’t go so far as saying every CCP official is corrupt, but since every one of them that I’ve gotten to know at a personal level turned out to be so, I’m not afraid to generalise by saying that the majority of them are. More to the point, since the entire reason why the majority of people join the party nowadays is for personal advancement, and since this is because membership in the party enables people to take part in sharing out coorupt income and influence, I see no problem in saying that corruption is THE thing that keeps the CCP going: it brings people to the party, it allows them to prosper in it, it binds them to the party even if they no longer believe in party rhetoric.

Someone referenced “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” above. This is the standard of proof in criminal courts – but this is a blog thread, not a criminal court, and we are not making definitive statements as to whether certain individuals are or are not corrupt, but merely giving an opinion on the likelihood of politburo members being corrupt. Given what is known (three politburo members charged with corruption in 17 years) you would have to say it is non-trivial. Given what is rumoured (i.e., pretty much all politburo members being corrupt to a large degree) if you choose to believe these rumours – and I by-and-large do – then whilst still keeping reasonable doubts in mind as to individual cases, the rotteness of the politburo, and the party as a whole, is very apparent.

To talk of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ officials in the politburo requires you, therefore, to include people who are likely corrupt as ‘good’ officials. I actually have no problem with this, but let’s not kid ourselves by saying that the ‘good’ officials in the CCP necessarily have clean hands – in all likelihood, they don’t, it’s just that the rumours of their corruption have not been substantiated, and, barring large constitutional changes in China, likely never will be.

April 23, 2012 @ 3:14 pm | Comment

To JR #55,
there is a NYT article today that is completely in step with what you’ve suggested. Namely that the CCP mouthpieces have the propaganda machine in overdrive, and their distinguished and highly classy work-product has become mandatory for re-broadcast and re-publication in all manner of newsies far and wide. It’s the beatification of Bo Xilai, CCP style. But carried out with the same zeal and vigour as one would expect from the Vatican.

April 24, 2012 @ 2:48 pm | Comment

The silence of the trolls on this one has been remarkable.

I wonder if they’re being paid to refrain from posting.

April 25, 2012 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

Jim – Nah, they were quiet at first, but now the official line has come out they’ve already started with their favourite (“evil western media”) and moved on to some other classics (“the west is just as bad/worse”, “this was caused by foreigners” etc.).

April 26, 2012 @ 3:19 pm | Comment

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