Hollywood and The Bo Xilai Saga

With China embroiled in a political scandal fit for a Hollywood thriller, and Hollywood eager to tap into China’s movie market as never before, The Atlantic’s Damien Ma takes a stab at what Bo Xilai: The Movie might look like:

EXT. HIGHWAY IN CHENGDU–NIGHT

SUPER: TWO NIGHTS AGO

A jeep careens into view and screeches onto the highway in this city, the capital of Sichuan province.

INT. INSIDE THE JEEP

At the wheel is a Chinese man of Inner Mongolian heritage. He wipes perspiration off his forehead and whips his neck around. In the rear view mirror, a fleet of police vehicles with flashing lights come into view. The faint sound of sirens grows louder.

This is Wang Lijun, until recently Bo Xilai’s police chief and right-hand man on fighting crime in Chongqing. If Bo is Rudy Giuliani, then Wang is his Bernie Kerik. Now, recently removed from his post, he is running for his life.

WANG LIJUN

(muttering through clenched teeth)

Come on, come on, you’re gonna make it.

Wang cranes his neck around another time, fiddling with his glasses, which have fallen down his face. A blanket of police cruisers are gaining.

He glances at the passenger seat: a pistol rests on it.

He turns back to the road, steels his expression and floors the jeep.

A couple of miles ahead, a stately building rises into view. Standing before it is the star-spangled banner fluttering in the wind.

The news that the former Chongqing party chief deployed China’s state-financed surveillance apparatus to eavesdrop on President Hu Jintao and other leaders adds yet another layer to the mistrust and deception that has marked China’s biggest political scandal in years, but The Washington Post’s Michael Levy claims that the Bo Xilai saga has not and will not change the way Chinese view their government:

When Western media report on Chinese scandals, they decontextualize them to such a degree that melodramatic conclusions are all but inevitable. From Guo Meimei to Sanlu milk, there’s always something about to bring down the curtain and reveal the sad little wizard running the Communist Party.

Or at least that’s the subtext in reporting packaged for Western consumption. Our media often seem caught in a feedback loop of schadenfreude and narcissism.

But looked at from a Chinese perspective, things are more circumspect. My Chinese friends do not see the Bo Xilai scandal as anything more than high-stakes politics. They know politics is a dirty business and that many people use government to enrich themselves. This upsets them. Overall, however, they see things moving slowly in the right direction.

To understand scandals in China, westerners would do well to remember that China is not a banana republic. There is no wizard behind a curtain. This is not a country run by thieves and warlords. China has a stable, highly effective government. Yes, there are officials who are rotten through and through. There are also officials who are serious about reform. China has its Jimmy Carters (men beyond reproach) and its Oliver Norths (grotesque halflings, oozing around in filth).

The Washington Post also reports that Premier Wen Jiabao has moved aggressively to push forward a reform agenda that had gained little momentum prior to Bo’s ouster. In an interview with PBS Newshour’s Margaret Warner, CDT’s Xiao Qiang reminds China watchers that Bo’s dirt has been aired publicly not because he’s a glaring exception in the world of China’s upper leadership, but rather because he lost a succession battle:

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Meanwhile, the hits keep coming for Bo Guagua. Though he denied having driven a Ferrari and defended himself against claims he led a lavish and pampered lifestyle in a Tuesday statement to the Harvard Crimson, The Wall Street Journal reports that the “princeling” has picked up three traffic citations in Massachusetts while driving a Porsche:

Mr. Bo’s whereabouts is unknown, but he has lived until recently at an upscale apartment building in Cambridge, Mass., with a full-time concierge and sun deck. Apartments like his typically rent for about $2,950 a month, according to rental websites. Mr. Bo appeared to have left his apartment nearly two weeks ago escorted by private security personnel, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation records show Mr. Bo was stopped by police for allegedly running stop signs in December 2010 and May 2011, one of them at 2:20 a.m., and for speeding in February 2011. The license plate of the car, which the Journal learned from someone familiar with the matter, showed it was a black 2011 Porsche Panamera registered to someone at his address. Cars similar to that cost $80,000 or more new, according to Edmunds.com.

The license plate on the car is registered to James Jun Cui, according to state records. A person with that name has an address in New York City. A man who answered a cellphone linked with Mr. Cui on Thursday evening was asked about his relationship with Bo Guagua. He replied, “I’m traveling, now is not a good time,” and hung up.

The less-publicized Li Wangzhi, one of the many aliases of Bo Xilai’s eldest son, tells Bloomberg that his father’s downfall has ruined his life:

Li, 34, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the last time he saw his father was at the funeral of his grandfather, Bo Yibo, in early 2007, and he hasn’t had any contact with him since. The former Citigroup Inc. (C) banker, who later went into private equity, said he was in China and not under detention.

Li’s comments seek to dispel speculation he profited from the position of his father, who was suspended earlier this month from the ruling Politburo. The ouster of Bo and the arrest of his wife on suspicion of murder have heightened scrutiny of the family’s business interests and sparked China’s deepest political crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen uprising.

“This incident has destroyed my life,” said Li, who also goes by the name Brendan Li. “I have no way to control how others think, but I have no desire to bask in his glow,” he said, referring to his father.

On Thursday, Bo’s brother Li Xueming resigned from his position on the board of state-controlled alternative energy company China Everbright International.

April 27, 2012 9:06 PM
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