China’s Fallen Politician Bo Xilai Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

The demise of the disgraced Communist Party official offered a rare glimpse of the corruption and infighting within China's political elite

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Xie Huanchi / Xinhua Press / Corbis

Bo Xilai, center, at the Jinan Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, capital of eastern China's Shandong province, on Aug. 26, 2013

There was no surprise turn. On the morning of Sept. 22, Bo Xilai — once one of China’s most coruscant politicians before his Shakespearean downfall — was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. The sentencing at the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court, the first time Bo was publicly seen in handcuffs, capped off a year-and-a-half-long scandal that allowed outsiders to glimpse the sordid subornation of China’s ruling Communist Party. Bo was also, as noted in the breaking news brief by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, deprived of his political rights for life.

Bo’s tale included plot points that the Bard himself would have discarded as straining even the most willing suspension of disbelief. There was murder by cyanide (by Bo’s wife Gu Kailai, of a British business consultant). There was a renegade police chief, Wang Lijun, who likely catalyzed the entire public scandal by fleeing briefly to a U.S. consulate in southwestern China (and who, it appears, was infatuated with Gu, despite her being his boss’s wife).

There was even a stray pair of shoes (the police chief’s) that ended up at Bo’s house (courtesy of his wife), causing Bo (who himself admitted to adultery) to take offense. “He hurt my family, he hurt my feelings,” Bo recalled of his onetime deputy, in a court transcript of his five-day trial last month. Not to be outdone, Wang, according to Bo’s testimony, slapped himself eight times in front of Gu to show his love or his frustration or some other inchoate emotion. (Gu was convicted of murder last year, and Wang is in prison too, for bribery and other offenses.)

Beyond the scandalous details — of which there were many in the rare edited court transcripts that were released to the public last month — the Bo case also gave the Chinese populace an opportunity to marvel at the political infighting plaguing a party that prefers to be viewed as a unified entity. Not to mention: if one of the government’s most charismatic politicians is yelling at his wife for bringing home her supposed paramour’s shoes, while consorting with multiple mistresses of his own, what does this mean for the respectability of a communist force that has ruled China for nearly 65 years? The fact that corruption clogs the gears of Chinese governance is something the public knows well — and understands even better now that microblogging sites allow some examples of official malfeasance to be aired. But do the lives of communist bigwigs have to be so sleazy and anodyne at the same time?

Bo, 64, avoided a death sentence, which could have been applied for some of the charges against him. In fact, although prosecutors tried to paint the former Politburo member as a prototypical corrupt cadre, the trial did not address the brawny fashion in which he ran the metropolis of Chongqing, where he is accused of having jailed those who displeased him with little regard to due process. Bo was popular among some locals for his retro embrace of Maoist flourishes. But he also made Chongqing his personal fiefdom, silencing potential dissidents and trampling over individual rights. Why were these alleged crimes not part of Bo’s rap sheet?

Despite Bo’s trial and sentencing, the ripple effects of his case continue. The purges in the highest echelons of power may not be done. In recent weeks, as President Xi Jinping has pushed an antigraft campaign, a corruption probe into PetroChina — the country’s largest state-owned energy firm — has gained pace. Top company executives have been detained and the stain of corruption is edging ever closer to China’s former security czar, Zhou Yongkang, who was reportedly one of Bo’s patrons. Rumors abound that Zhou is now under house arrest, but there’s no certainty about his fate. At least with Bo, he will likely remain locked up for the near term, although his parole is an eventual possibility. The deprivation of his political rights means that even if he were released for any reason, he would be banned from politics. But Chinese politics has a habit of churning out unlikely redemptions. To wit: Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader who kick-started China’s market reforms, once languished in jail. Perhaps the tale of Bo Xilai has one or two surprises in store, after all.

31 comments
EgeoghoK
EgeoghoK

@TIME that's something we're familiar with in Washington

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oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

Wumaos are paid Chinese shills who work as propaganda agents posting pro-ccp messages on Western media comment sections. Zephon-baal is one such example of the 50 cent/wumao poster at work here. 

zephon-baal
zephon-baal

I think it is an interesting juxtaposition to have a leading Chinese politician get life in jail this week, Bo discussed here and then have Tom Delay conviction overturned on appeal.

Delay a Republican and once Speaker of the House was convicted by a jury, basically of similar charges as Bo, money laundering, had his conviction overturned by political lines - 2 republicans for dismissal and 1 democrat for conviction.

Delay was more notable for the Abramhoff scandal.

jefforsythe9
jefforsythe9

Though his sentence may seem harsh, his real crimes were never mentioned at his trial. Bo and his American partner Heywood were involved in organ harvesting. This is when organs are taken from living donors for sale on the International market and the bodies are immediately cremated to eliminate all evidence. One CCP doctor recently confessed to removing the corneas from one hundred children, leaving them blind. Most of, if not all of the leaders of the blood-thirsty Chinese Communist Party are engaged in an attempted genocide of the tens of millions of innocent Falun Gong practitioners and they are all guilty of similar atrocities. This genocide has been going on since 1999 and has been hidden from both the people of Mainland China and the rest of the World. So Bo's sentence may not appear to fit the crimes that he was accused of, it does fit his actual crimes against humanity.

chinesesay
chinesesay

As a Chinese,what should i say,though xilai is not perfact !But he is almost a good guy, a great politician, good luck to him!

Randomcynic
Randomcynic

@madhutrehan This same execution happy nation would hang citizens for a lot less. I think Xilai made a deal to spare the execution.

bmbagri
bmbagri

@madhutrehan n here we have them make laws to safeguard themselves - we wait for deliverance ;)

vijaygkg
vijaygkg

@madhutrehan Lower officials have got death sentences in china for less corruption than Bo Xilai

bitchybeee
bitchybeee

@madhutrehan will this China like punishment to corrupt politician ever happen here in my life time? I m already 66, and waiting !

nitwit_duh
nitwit_duh

@madhutrehan In China even smuggling cigarettes can attract a slug to the brain, Bo is privileged and so has gotten away lightly.

perhapshey
perhapshey

@law_ye @TIME NONONO.There are something you don”t know

zephon-baal
zephon-baal

Can you provide evidence from multiple independent and reputable sources to back your accusations?

jefforsythe9
jefforsythe9

@chinesesay Xi is a blood-thirsty gangster just like everyone else in the heinous Chinese Communist Party. To learn the truth of the evil Party, read the Nine Commentaries, on line free.

jefforsythe9
jefforsythe9

@zephon-baal

This story, almost too dreadful to believe, was first revealed in 2006 when a woman claimed that as many as 4,000 Falun Gong practitioners had been killed for their organs at the hospital where she worked. Her husband was a surgeon and disclosed to her that he removed corneas from the living bodies of 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners. (Falun Dafa is a traditional Chinese self-improvement practice of mental and physical wellness through meditation and gentle exercises. The core teaching principles are Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance).In response, congressional resolution H.RES.281 was recently introduced by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Congressman Robert Andrews, D-N.J. The resolution expresses concern over persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience in China, including from large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners imprisoned for their beliefs, as well as numbers of other religious and ethnic minority groups.
 The above article has been taken from the Montana Chronicle a few days ago. Many of the corneas were taken from the eyes of children, leaving them blind for life. Bo was behind many of  these atrocities and his entire trial is a farce. Before the genocide began, there were one hundred million Falun Gong in Red China all from different social positions so they have a very clear view of the truth of the blood- lust of the heinous Chinese Communist Party. Western media never writes a word of the genocide because of corporate greed.

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

@jefforsythe9 @zephon-baal Jeff this poster "Zephon" is a paid shill working for the Chinese communist party's propaganda arm at the Global Times. I recommend you check out the wikipedia article about the "50 cent army" or the wumao.