Bo Xilai

Bo Xilai, left, on trial (Source: Xinhua), and Gu Kailai, right, his wife, on trial (Source: CCTV)

Bo Xilai, left, on trial (Source: Xinhua), and Gu Kailai, right, his wife, on trial (Source: CCTV)

Xinhua News Agency announced on 28 September 2012 that former Chongqing Communist Party chief and Politburo member Bo Xilai had been expelled from the Communist Party and removed from his remaining public offices. According to Xinhua, the decision was made during a Politburo meeting and was based largely on Bo’s handling of Wang Lijun’s unauthorised entry into the US Consulate in Chengdu early that year, the involvement of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, in the murder of Englishman Neil Heywood in late 2011, and disciplinary violations dating back to Bo’s time as mayor of Dalian in the 1990s. Bo was removed from the Politburo and the Party’s Central Committee, and his case was turned over to the judiciary.

On 23 October 2012, the neo-Maoist website Red China published an open letter to the Politburo Standing Committee arguing that Bo’s removal from office was politically motivated and legally questionable. It was purportedly signed by more than 300 people, including former senior officials. There were other small, muted acts of protests, but on 25 July 2013, Bo was formally charged with taking bribes, corruption, and abuse of office.

Gu Kailai, whom the state media consistently referred to as Bogu Kailai after her arrest, had already been formally charged with Heywood’s murder on 26 July 2012. During her one-day trial on 9 August 2013, she reportedly confessed to the crime, blaming her actions on a mental breakdown. On 20 August, the court handed down a suspended death sentence. Her aide, Zhang Xiaojun, was sentenced to nine years in prison. According to the official Xinhua narrative of the crime, Gu had poisoned Heywood out of fear for the safety of her son, Bo Guagua, whom he had reportedly threatened via email during a financial dispute.

Wang Lijun was tried on 17–18 September 2012 for abuse of power, attempted defection, taking bribes and bending the law for selfish ends. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. State and commercial media portrayed Wang as an image-obsessed wheeler-dealer who had assisted Gu in covering up the Heywood murder.

Gu’s trial took place in a closed court in Hefei, Anhui province, that released a terse, scripted statement about what took place, but during Bo’s trial, conducted by the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court just over a year later, from 22 to 26 August, edited excerpts of the court transcripts were released regularly to Sina Weibo. Gu testified via video. Bo called her ‘crazy’ and vigorously cross-examined businessman Xu Ming, a witness for the prosecution.

On 22 September the court found Bo guilty on all charges, stripped him of his assets, and sentenced him to life in prison. Xinhua published photographs of him listening to the verdict. As during the hearings, the 1.85 meter tall Bo, wearing fashionable black sneakers as clearly visible as his handcuffs, is flanked by two policeman specially chosen to tower over him. In some of the photos, Bo is smiling, in apparent defiance, or in sheer disbelief; or a perhaps sign that he was dreaming of revenge.