Bo Xilai, the disgraced Communist Party boss, had his appeal against a life sentence for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power denied Friday during a brief hearing at the Shandong Higher People’s Court in eastern China.
This final dishonoring of China’s most charismatic and controversial politician was never in any doubt. While appeals are technically part of the Chinese judicial system, they are almost never successful in high-profile cases. For more than a year, the Chinese Communist Party made it clear that Bo would fall — and Chinese courts are bound to follow the mandate of the ruling party.
A former Politburo member and the princeling son of a Communist Party elder, 64-year-old Bo had once been tapped as a possible future member of the Standing Committee that rules China. But in the most scandalous episode to strike the Chinese Communist Party in decades, he was removed from power last year, after his deputy tried to defect at a U.S. consulate in southwestern China and his wife was implicated in the murder of a British business consultant. (Bo’s deputy, Wang Lijun, is serving a 15-year jail sentence, while Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence last year.)
As the hours to the decision on the Friday appeal ticked down, Bo’s fate was relegated to non-news status on Chinese state-linked media websites, which ran with homepage stories on strengthened ties between China and the E.U. and the impending departure of a giant inflatable duck from a Beijing lake, among other articles.
Still, the denouement in the Bo case proved a hot topic on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging platform. Some fans of Bo — who gained support for his populist Maoist revival campaign even as he trampled over individual rights during his time as party boss of the sprawling southwestern municipality of Chongqing — expressed their disgust with what they considered an unfair fight.
“The reality is very cruel,” wrote one Weibo user. “When the tiger and dragon fight with each other, the loser usually will be suppressed brutally by the winner. Sometimes human beings are no different from animals. I feel pity for [Bo].” Others commented on the predictability of the appeal rejection. “The director of this play will not change his script,” opined another Weibo user.
Aware of the poor reputation of its officials among the Chinese public, the Communist Party has launched a well-publicized corruption crackdown. Xi Jinping, who came to power as China’s leader last year, has made tackling official graft one of his signature campaigns. A report released this month by China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate stated that 32 ministerial-level officials (including Bo) had been investigated for graft from January 2008 to August 2013. A story on the judicial report by Xinhua, China’s state news service, did not mention whether all 32 senior cadres had been found guilty. It didn’t need to — Chinese reading the story know well the inevitability of these disgraced officials’ fates.
— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing