Trial of Disgraced Chinese Politician Concludes as Public Feasts on Details of His Alleged Excesses

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Feng Li / Getty Images

Chinese attendants looks at the laptop behind a television screen that shows a picture of former police chief Wang Lijun, right, testifying on the third day of the trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, left, at the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, in the Chinese city of Jinan, on Aug. 24, 2013

If there’s one lesson to be drawn from the salacious, five-day trial of fallen Chinese princeling-politician Bo Xilai, which concluded on Aug. 26, it’s this: the Chinese government gets this whole Internet thing. Displaying a media savvy at odds with the leaden propaganda statements usually released in Communist Party–run publications, court officials in the eastern city of Jinan have provided an eager public with a slew of online transcripts of China’s most riveting courtroom drama in decades.

On Monday, Bo, a Politburo member before his downfall last year, was quoted in his closing statement mounting a defiant final defense in his trial for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. “All the written testimony I signed was done against my will,” he said, according to the officially released transcript, which is only a partial rendering of the courtroom proceedings. “The investigating staff have worked with a lot of effort … and compiled more than 90 volumes of evidence … but how many of these 90 volumes have anything to do with me?”

The verdict will be announced at a later, unspecified date. In the meantime, releasing selective examples of Bo’s bold courtroom performance on Weibo, China’s hugely popular microblogging service, has been surely designed to foster a sense of transparency about the remarkable judicial proceedings. Trials are usually closed-door affairs in China, particularly those of disgraced Communist Party cadres whom the state would hardly wish to gain public sympathy. Yet the court testimony that kept streaming on the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court’s microblog has allowed Bo to emerge with one of his most important qualities intact, that of a Chinese politician with a rare sense of Technicolor showmanship among a cavalcade of colorless leaders. Bo’s alleged brutality and extralegal excesses while helming the cities of Dalian and Chongqing earned him the wrath of some Chinese reformers. His showy populism, however, garnered him many admirers among the broader Chinese public.

(MORE: Bo Xilai’s Trial by Microblog: China’s Biggest Court Case Gets Under Way)

Despite nearly a year and a half of detention, Bo, 64, defended himself in the trial with his characteristic rhetorical swagger. “The lowest type of television soap opera could not possess this kind of plot,” Bo said in his closing statement, a fitting recap of one of the strangest episodes in modern Chinese politics, in which his wife was convicted of murdering a British business consultant; his deputy fled to a U.S. consulate and was later jailed for defection, among other offenses; and Bo himself was purged just as speculation mounted that he soon might, during the nation’s once-a-decade leadership transition, join the inner circle of men who run China.

The details gleaned from the transcripts are certainly sensational. The prosecution alleged that Bo and his family accepted lavish gifts from business associates, including a French villa and a chunk of rare African beast to feast upon — the kind of animal was not specified, but the meat was apparently brought back to China by Bo’s son Guagua, after he was gifted a holiday to Africa by a Chinese businessman. In one of the tawdriest details that materialized on Monday, Bo appeared to imply that there were romantic flickers between his deputy Wang Lijun and his wife Gu Kailai. (In earlier court testimony, Bo said he and his wife were estranged because of an affair he had conducted more than a decade ago.) Part of the trial was devoted to ascertaining whether, in one combative episode, an incensed Bo had punched Wang or merely slapped him.

(MORE: How Bo Xilai’s Fall Will Affect China’s Leadership Transition)

China’s leader Xi Jinping came to power late last year promising to attack official corruption. Surely one message the party wants to send with Bo’s trial is that it is deadly serious about its antigraft campaign. Yet the former Chongqing party chief has not been charged with more serious crimes that some believe he committed during his reign over the southwestern metropolis. And even as members of the public have savored the examples of alleged excess aired during the Bo court saga, there’s little public doubt that his downfall has as much to do with his clash with other Chinese politicians as with a true cleaning of the Communist Party stables. The Bo trial may be best defined as a political triumph, not a judicial one.

To wit: even as the Bo trial unfolded in Jinan, authorities rounded up several bloggers, social-media activists and journalists, just the latest detentions in a summer during which dissent has been stifled by the Chinese state. If these individuals are eventually charged for supposed crimes that range from fabricating rumors and starting quarrels to soliciting prostitutes, what are the chances they’ll receive a fair trial?

MORE: China’s Emerging Civil Society Prompts Fresh Media Crackdowns

17 comments
buhaodongxi
buhaodongxi

This report is somewhat misleading, because some quoted words were not revealed by the Court or said by Mr. Bo. Like “The lowest type of television soap opera could not possess this kind of plot”. The Time magazine should check its articles more seriously. 

PIXY
PIXY

直接打中文好了,昨天那一场大戏堪称暑期档第一狗血剧。当开始是官场片,后来又变成了谍战片,昨天竟然演变成了言情泡沫三角恋。真是高潮迭起,情节紧凑,不看终身后悔,看完三观崩裂。我先去吐会儿~



norm_an12
norm_an12

@TIME: Trial of Bo Xilai may be a political, but not judicial, success | ti.me/16Km3xH” so goes for the former Chief Justice

Xavier Raja
Xavier Raja

THE EARTH AND ITS GRAVITATION The sun is a fire ball which has no regular shape or size of its own. The inner part of the sun has water in it. When the water in it gets evaporated due to the pressure difference there is an explosion in the sun causing a supernova and many other new planets. The supernova has water droplets and many other stones. During the earth’s explosion from the sun the earth possess water and all its contents within it. http://www.xavierraja.com/telescope.php

nini
nini

tinyurl.com/lr69xbu

Khalid Elkasem
Khalid Elkasem

After the murder by aircraft and sniper fire .. And the burning of the field hospital .. Cutthroat Sisi bulldozers run over the bodies of the martyrs of # _ massacre fourth and ignite the fire in. .. Sitters and families of the martyrs are trying to extinguish the fire and rescue bodies 1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md6jIh9MzHw 2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMfTFpSr5II Clip complex ground filming and photographing plane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvE-p3YJKNs the To each commissioner .. Just imagine yourself in this situation .. See you in front of your eye Aziz (brother / father / son) was killed and his body was run over and burned in front of your eye! .. Then after all this your imagination planes that carves the scene and you're trying to save the remaining of his body .. Falsifies reality on the ground crimes and broadcast on ONTV and section titled coup channels: Look at how to deal with corpses... https://www.facebook.com/Nabd.Rab3a#!/photo.php?fbid=594971170564343&set=a.568037026591091.1073742011.185332328194898&type=1&theater

romano70
romano70

To those who think that China will become superpower, keep reading. A great country cannot remain superpower unless their leadership is accountable. For us, it's elections. The Chinese don't have this and as a consequence, while they may make a ton of money while they are still in the process of catching up with 21st century, Americe will continue to be the World's Superpower

duduong
duduong

Bo comes to his trial defiant and clearly not tortured; Manning comes to his broken from torture. This is considered an opportunity to ridicule China by American propagandists like Ms. Beech. Have you no shame?

hbabu121
hbabu121

@TIME গনধষ'নের কারনে ভারতবাসীকে ঘুনা করি,We hate indian people for gang rape

PIXY
PIXY

@romano70 partly agree with you. USA is and will be the world's only superpower in at least 20 years.