Why disgraced Chinese official Bo Xilai may not quietly fade away

Bo Xilai's trial transfixed China with its revelations of political skulduggery and murder. The once highly influential boss of Chongqing has two weeks to appeal his life sentence.

Jinan Intermediate People's Court/AP
Fallen politician Bo Xilai (c) is handcuffed and held by police officers as he stands at the court in Jinan, in eastern China's Shandong Province Sunday. The Chinese court convicted Mr. Bo on charges of taking bribes, embezzlement, and abuse of power and sentenced him to life in prison, capping one of the country's most lurid political scandals in decades.

A Chinese court sentenced disgraced former leader Bo Xilai to life imprisonment on Sunday, declaring him guilty of taking bribes, embezzlement, and abuse of power.

But that may not be the end of the most sensational trial in recent Chinese history, which has gripped the public with revelations of enormous wealth, murder, and political skullduggery at the very top of the ruling Communist party, and sexual peccadilloes among the elite.

Mr. Bo has two weeks in which to appeal the verdict and the sentence. The combative way in which he defended himself during the five-day trial last month suggests he may fight until the end.

The court, however, dismissed almost all the arguments Bo made in his defense during the trial, such as the allegation that his wife was mad and that her testimony against him was unreliable.

“Bo Xilai was a servant of the state, he abused his power, causing huge damage to the country and its people,” the court found in its judgment announced on Sunday, which also seized Bo’s assets and stripped him of his political rights for life.

Bo was the boss of Chongqing, a megalopolis in southwestern China, who was gunning for a place at the pinnacle of national power on the ruling Standing Committee of the Communist party. His neo-Maoist policies and naked ambition made him a controversial figure, but his career came to a dramatic end last year when his wife murdered a British businessman and friend of the family.

The life sentence was harsher than many observers had expected, perhaps because Bo refused to repent. But it was in line with prosecutors’ demands for heavy punishment. Though Bo could have faced the death penalty, the authorities did not want to make a martyr of Bo, who still enjoys considerable support both among the public and in some quarters of the Communist party.

“This was a proper sentence, neither too harsh nor too lenient considering his crimes,” says Tong Zhiwei, a professor of law at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai. Professor Tong’s report to China’s leaders in 2011 about Bo’s autocratic ways in Chongqing was the first official sign that the charismatic politician’s days might be numbered.

Bo is expected to be held in Qincheng prison in Beijing, a relatively comfortable high-security jail for high-profile offenders where, according to Chinese press reports, inmates do not have to wear prison uniform, live in spacious cells with en-suite toilets, and enjoy generous creature comforts.

Bo could be free within a dozen years or so, released on bail or on medical parole, legal experts say.

“When you are dealing with political icons at a certain level, the sentence has only symbolic significance,” says Yuan Yulai, an activist lawyer. “This was a political trial, not a trial by law. The point is that life imprisonment means the end of Bo’s political career.”

Bo, however, appears still to hold out hopes of a comeback in the manner of his father, Bo Yibo, a Communist elder who was himself jailed in Qincheng by his political enemies but was later rehabilitated to hero status.

“I will follow in his footsteps,” Bo wrote recently in a letter to his family that was reported by the South China Morning Post. “I will wait quietly in prison.” 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why disgraced Chinese official Bo Xilai may not quietly fade away
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today