Arrested over a year ago, Bo was a rising star in Chinese politics. But someone wanted to eliminate him.
The trial that opened last week implicating Bo Xi Lai has all the political trappings. According to all analysts, a guilty verdict is a given. Judiciary power in China is tied to executive power, and acquittals are very rare when the accused is a public figure. The sentence will be determined on the basis of two elements: the management of legal proceedings and the political power invested in the prosecution. This case represents the most important political trial since the defeat of the “Gang of Four” in 1976.
Bo Xi Lai was arrested over a year ago, and since then his name has progressively faded from official reports and the mass media, which questioned the legitimacy of his arrest. He left the stage when he was on the springboard to arrive at the communist party’s upper echelon. Last November’s congress would surely have elevated him to new political office, perhaps even the general secretary’s throne. His political pedigree was impeccable. Son of Bo Yi Bo—one of the “Eight Immortals” of the PCC, Mao’s minister of finance, persecuted by the cultural revolution and supporter of rigid party control—successfully climbed all the ranks of the organization.
His last assignment earned him strong political support and enormous public popularity. He was governor of Chongqing, a 33 million-inhabitant megalopolis, which he transformed from a sleepy agricultural center to a manufacturing district with peaks of excellence. The city changed its landscape with a spectacular skyline of skyscrapers, while simultaneously reducing crime. Bo’s moralizing campaigns were accompanied by cursory actions against organized crime. While his public support grew, the news reported on the hurried flight of local mob bosses, leaving their cars at the airport and disappearing forever. The glue unifying these actions was nostalgia, a rediscovery of socialist Chinese egalitarian values, sacrificed to an uneven accumulation of wealth, the vanishing of ideals in the name of debatable progress.
In the mornings, Chongqing simultaneously witnessed to criminal arrests and public rejoicing to the sound of 40-year-old revolutionary marches. It was not a coincidence that a section of the party consolidated itself around Bo Xi Lai, a substantial perhaps “neo Maoist” current. In a strange twist of fate, Bo is now accused of corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of power. Beijing has not censored the websites that detail his son’s Ferraris, his foreign education, and his wife’s luxurious lifestyle. She was arrested, too, and was recently sentenced to death for the murder of an English businessman with whom she had an ambiguous business relationship. Bo was spared indictment for this charge, with the probable intention of sparing him capital punishment and to give a definitively political undertone to his likely conviction.
Beyond formal accusations, Bo’s decline can be explained politically with two arguments. The first is the power and charisma that he accumulated. He gathered the nostalgic, military fringes, intellectuals that didn’t harness the advantages of Chinese growth, farmers and common people weary of arbiters and bureaucracy’s arrogance. For a joint management system, where XI Jin Ping is the expression of the synthesis of various interests, Bo represented a figure of too great power and eccentricity.
Moreover, he embodied the success of a city far from Beijing’s control. The peripheral provinces’ autonomy is perhaps the principle problem that the central Chinese administration must solve. If the various provinces elude control, they have different access to credit, financing public works the capital disapproves of, and increasing investments when they should promote consumption; then, Beijing’s ability to govern the whole country will be called into question. It’s one of the cornerstones of Chinese history because the flexion of such power always precedes periods of chaos and instability. China must face two dangers, even at the cost of sacrificing one if its most vital, one if its most brilliant minds, like Bo Xi Lai.