China’s Bo factor

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SummaryThe fallen Chinese Communist Party leader’s trial is not just about him

In China, in a year that has seen an upsurge of reality television shows such as ‘Stars in Danger’, ‘Celebrity Splash’, ‘I Am A Singer’ and ‘Superstar China’ made by television channels across China’s provinces, comes the biggest reality show of them all—the ongoing trial of disgraced Chinese Communist Party leader, Bo Xilai, in the northern city of Jinan (Shandong province) for embezzling public funds. The so-called “corruption” trial is actually a political trial, exceptional in the sense that it is a reality show, edited by the Party—but one with a script that has twists and turns, including the sensational revelation of a love triangle on the last day of the trial.

Sinologist Joseph Fewsmith once noted, relevant in the immediate context, that “Politics is always in season in China, but the years in which China convenes its quinquennial party congresses are even more political”. As if writ in stone, Bo fell from grace in 2012—coinciding with the fifth generation leadership transition and the 18th Party Congress (held every five years) in November 2012.

But how credible is the case?

There are intriguing bits in the case that has captured public imagination. Bo’s once-upon-a-time close confidante Wang Lijun (his police chief in Chongqing) turned against him and sought political asylum at the United States consulate in Chengdu in 2012. Before anybody knew, Bo was asked to step down, and his wife placed in custody.

It has been reported that Bo fainted 27 times during his brutal interrogation in the past year. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, is known to be of fragile physical and mental health. According to rumours, she suffered heavy-metal poisoning in 2006. Recently, Gu testified against Bo, but critics question its veracity—possibly pressure or plea bargaining? Gu has been convicted of having British businessman Neil Heywood killed. Heywood was allegedly a middleman who brokered money-laundering deals for the family.

In court, Bo has spiritedly dismissed Gu’s testimony as “laughable”, and ex-confidante Wang Lijun’s testimony as “to have him as a key witness means that the law loses credibility”. Xu Ming, an entrepreneur who allegedly pumped money to Bo’s family, footing bills for the

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