A man disguised like an old woman sneaks into the United States (U.S.) consulate. Soon, 70 police cars besiege the building, forming a prelude to what would be deemed as the most scandalous event in recent Chinese political history. As every Hollywood spy thriller film goes, this is a story about a political quagmire behind the veil and the dramatic downfall of the leading figure that ensues. China is at a crossroad, with shaken morals of the highest elites. Now it is time for them to take action.
A Skeleton in the Closet
They say every house has its own skeleton in the closet – a covert shame that no family member wants to reveal. In this regard, every group has its own dirt and filth inside. Especially, a seemingly intact despotic regime is more prone to such corruption. China, a nation that has withstood decades of suppressive communist regime, is no exception. China purportedly has two amorphous political factions within the one Communist Party, by which this nation is polarized.
The contention between these two leading factions is not negligible, at times prompting razor-sharp tensions when it comes to filling the vacant seats of retired secretaries. In 2012, the tension simmered as China faced the historic power-transition debate, which sparked up an argument on who would be the next leader of China.The most promising figure was Xi-jinping, the former vice secretary who faced fierce opposition from the incumbent ruling faction, because he was the member of their opponents’ faction.
He seemed to skillfully maneuver the crisis with his inherent prudence and modesty. Yet, things did not go as he would have desired. At the precarious moment of power-transition, China was shaken by an unprecedented political scandal – Bo Xilai, who used to serve as a Communist Party secretary of Chongqing province as well as the leading figure in a faction where Xi belonged, was the ringleader.
▲ Bo Xilai attended at the press conference, denying all the charges against him.Provided by independent.co.uk
The Downfall of the Former Mogul
Widely known as the philanthropic politician who cared for the underprivileged, Bo used to be the legendary hero among the poor, with his ambitious agenda to wipe out gangster violence and poverty. However, his approach to these grandiose goals involved many controversial aspects, including accusations against innocent entrepreneurs to extort money and clandestine torture that ensued if they refused.
His precipitous downfall has much to do with his imprudent, insensible family members of which his wife, Gu Kailai, is the most notorious. As an alleged murderer who poisoned the British businessman Neil Heywood, she is known to have made an inappropriate relationship with him, let alone the formal relationship as a business partner. As conflict regarding the financial problem and potential adultery with him escalated, she schemed to poison him at last with the aid of Wang-lujin, the loyal chief of police who worked for her husband.
Though the rest of the details on this outlandish murder case is still under the veil, experts agree that Wang's betrayal must have been a fatal punch to Bo's collapse. This bears great relevance to the depravity that is deeply entrenched in Chinese politics. Bo’s only son, Bo Guagua, purportedly made a secret call to Wang, asking if he could do a favor, which was rejected by Wang’s eloquent excuses. Soon after, this boy was engaged in a car accident, which his mother Gu attributed to Wang’s fault. Infuriated, Wang had recorded the conversation of Gu and Neil, which later functioned as a conclusive evidence of her felony. Besides, he stepped further by keeping part of the victim’s heart – as a legal evidence – to take revenge on her.
Wang confronted Bo Xilai first, revealing that he connived at Gu’s murder. Bo Xilai, the populist politician at that time, was furious at his malicious threatening and smacked him in the face. As his fist flashed through the air, the most disgraceful saga in the recent Chinese political history was ready to unfold.
Xi and Bo, Conflict Yet Unsolved
This once-in-a-decade scandal coincides with the advent of the fresh new regime led by Xi. With his professed resolution to tackle rampant corruption in Chinese politics, Xi is the symbol of revolution as he put brakes on the extravagant lifestyle of Chinese elites marked by the second largest luxury market across the globe.
As Xi’s puritanical purge on bribery goes, the luxury market and expensive restaurants, the hotbed of the bribery, instantly shrank to a great extent. Bo, on the other hand, is the antithesis of Xi, falling into one member of the depraved 1,180,000 embezzlers in China. With his unscrupulous assets abroad amounting to six billion dollars, he is the symbol of the Machiavellian politician. While Xi, a man of integrity, ascended as the next leader, Bo, who used to be as promising as Xi, stumbled into the abyss.
The trial on Bo, which began on August 22, marked itself as “a concoction of shocking denials and swirling rhetoric.” However, that was only a tip of the iceberg. Alarming enough was not Bo’s denial of his misdeeds in court, which is in itself uncommon in a grisly atmospheric Chinese court. As Bo went stubborn to the authority risking more harsh punishment, a growing number of young people who are themselves defiant to the government slowly revived, questioning governmental intervention in the trial – the worst case scenario to Beijing.
Bo's misdeed appears to be punished in time, but a growing agitation Beijing harbors as the trial went awry hints at another grave challenge China now faces — the still undemocratic andauthoritative regime which sticks to censor the trial in fear of widespread public unrest Bo’s remarks might trigger.
Though information on this trial is selectively released to the public, Beijing’s decision to publicize trial proceedings is unprecedented, especially those on notable politicians like Bo. It is interpreted as Xi’s exhortation to the rest of depraved Chinese bureaucrats not to follow Bo’s tainted footsteps.
Yet, it is premature to exalt Xi, considering his anachronistic attempt to take control over trial proceedings in hopes of curbing possible public unrest. Xi’s dichotomy between his push for a transparent society and evergrowing control on its people seems contradictory. China is now at its great turning point, transforming itself in every aspect by tackling chronic environmental pollution and broaching so controversial a political scandal like this one. But one leader’s effort is not enough. China now faces a still rigid bureaucracy left untouched and a public muffled by secret polices. Constantly striving to progress, but still stagnated by rampant corruption, China is at a crossroad. Which way China will head for remains to be seen.