Bo Xilai Trial: Liveblog

The long-awaited trial of fallen Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power concluded on Monday after five days, three more than expected. The date of the verdict’s announcement has yet to be decided. See updates posted before and during the trial below, latest first, and later ones at Bo Xilai Trial: Reactions.

This page will update automatically, with any new entries appearing at the top. You can link to an individual entry by right-clicking on its timestamp and copying the URL.

Samuel Wade August 26, 201312:29 AM

The New York Times’ Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield survey evidence released and concealed during the trial, and consider the unexpected and controversial degree of transparency with which it took place.

One clear indication the party’s strategy seems to be succeeding is that according to a family associate, Mr. Bo’s most loyal supporters — relatives who are watching the trial firsthand — seem appeased simply because he has been allowed to defend himself in court.

[…] Chen Ping, a Hong Kong publisher who knows party leaders, noted that officials were exposing only narrow crimes by Mr. Bo, not the wider abuses liberals accuse him of encouraging during the “strike black” anticorruption campaign in Chongqing. “The party wasn’t willing to try Bo Xilai on the charges that he should have faced — trampling on human rights, trampling on rule of law.” he said. “That’s because those mistakes are also the party’s mistakes.” [Source]

Samuel Wade August 26, 201312:25 AM

At The Washington Post on Saturday, William Wan examined the now slightly less unthinkable possibility that Bo Xilai might one day stage a comeback:

“The trial is Bo’s last chance, and he’s making full use of it to project an indomitable and unyielding personality and to defend his image,” said Li Weidong, former editor of China Reform magazine. “Even though he will go to prison without a doubt, he wants to depart as the standard-bearer of his cause.”

[…] In the party’s early years, rehabilitations often hinged on titanic shifts in political power and waves of turmoil such as the Cultural Revolution. If China’s political situation changes dramatically in the next few years, Bo may get his chance, said Zhang Lifan, a historian in Beijing whose father also lost party support and endured persecution. “China is currently in a unique historical period,” he said. “Society is polarized, and unrest may happen.”

Even falling short of a true comeback, however, Bo may have accomplished enough with his trial to ensure a shot at another role with a long history in China: the defeated but potent spiritual leader of a political faction. [Source]

See more speculation on Bo’s possible return or redemptive transformation below.

Samuel Wade August 26, 201312:04 AM

Some of the most widely discussed moments of the trial involved statements from or about Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai. It was reported before the trial that Bo insisted that Gu not be allowed to testify against him in person. In fact, it later emerged, he had twice requested this, but Gu refused, testifying instead in writing and on video. From James T. Areddy at China Real Time:

Wu Dong, a lawyer from Shanghai Hui Ye Law Firm, wrote on his microblog hosted by Sina that Chinese family ethics since ancient times have upheld the importance of “kin secrecy.”

Legal and political experts say that Ms. Gu’s testimony nevertheless fits a pattern in China. Family members turned on each other in the fanatical Cultural Revolution, which featured mock trials against capitalists. And historically, transgressions of political leaders are often blamed on their wives.

[…] While Mr. Bo’s feisty cross-examination of other witnesses against him has offered a welcome opportunity for Chinese people to see how cross-examination can work, New York lawyer Jerome Cohen said Mr. Bo should have been granted the same rights with Ms. Gu. “By deciding to show excerpts of Gu’s out-of-court statements on video, the authorities tried to make her testimony seem more credible without subjecting it to the acid test of a good cross-examination,” he said by email. [Source]

Nevertheless, Teddy Ng reports at South China Morning Post, Gu’s refusal to appear in court may have undermined her testimony. At the same time, her apparent efforts to protect herself and her son by giving evidence may have implicated them both in the crimes of which Bo was accused:

Gu should also face bribery charges given her admission, the expert said. “It does not make sense legally for the judge not to summon Gu to give evidence in person, and the whole procedure is unconvincing,” the expert said.

He Weifang , a legal scholar at Peking University, said Gu and Bo Guagua should be prosecuted for bribery and summoned before the court.

“The whole Bo family is very key to the case,” He said. “The arrangement gives rise to suspicions that there are more serious scandalous details underneath.” [Source]

Gu is already in prison with a suspended death sentence for the murder of Neil Heywood, but Bo Guagua is living abroad, having recently enrolled at Columbia Law School.

Samuel Wade August 25, 201310:42 PM

Offbeat China reports speculation that one of the guards towering over Bo at the trial is a 6’6″ basketball coach and former national team player. The other guard was not actually Ai Weiwei.

Samuel Wade August 25, 201310:29 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 201310:25 PM

Xinhua reports that Bo’s trial has concluded, with a verdict to follow “at a date to be decided.”

Samuel Wade August 25, 201310:09 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 201310:08 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 201310:04 PM

At The Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut argues that for all its faults, Bo’s trial demonstrates progress since the time of Mao, and even since the trials of Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun last year:

Bo’s brutal excesses in Chongqing — deemed by many to be a reign of terror – established his political dominance for a while but also served to galvanise a new breed of courageous and strategically-focused Chinese entrepreneurs, lawyers, journalists and intellectuals to fight to protect their interests and restrain him. The only weapon they had was to talk truth, in and outside the courtroom, while letting China’s information revolution and an increasingly engaged public take their course.

China’s nascent civil society network, now woven together by microblog, did not build a credible legal system but they did raise the political cost of committing grotesque judicial abuses. Eventually, the pressure they created by exposing Bo’s methods in Chongqing forced open cracks in the political elite. Bo’s court room persecutions of his rivals were so perverse and so public — despite his prodigious propaganda efforts – that enemies sharpened their hatchets and allies found it harder to defend him. Indirectly, I argue in The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo, this is what brought Bo crashing down. [Source]

Garnaut is the author of The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo.

Samuel Wade August 25, 20139:52 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 20139:44 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 20139:38 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 20139:35 PM

William Kazer reports on the prosecution statement at The Wall Street Journal:

“The defendant’s crimes are extremely serious and he has refused to admit guilt. There is no legal basis for leniency,” the prosecution said in a summation of its case, according to a transcript released by the court on its official Weibo microblog account.

[…] “We wish to remind the defendant Bo Xilai that the facts of a crime are objective and are not a matter of your subjective will.” [Source]

Samuel Wade August 25, 20139:33 PM

South China Morning Post’s liveblog notes that the transcript of the prosecution’s statement was replaced a second time with a more heavily altered version:

The third version of the transcript of the prosecution’s closing arguments is shorter than the previous two versions. It does not include a reference to Bo Xilai emphasising that he was following superior orders in regarding to Wang Lijun’s medical certificate.

[…] The deleted paragraph in the transcript of the prosecution’s closing arguments:

Defendant Bo Xilai ignored the facts in court, made unreasonable excuses in an attempt to confuse and mislead. For example, in the question of agreeing to issue a forged medical certificate for Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai repeatedly emphasised that this was based on superior orders. But as the evidence in the case shows, Bo Xilai’s approval of the forged medical certificate was given earlier, and the mentioned six-item orders from above followed later, moreover, these instructions did not include forging a medical certificate. Bo’s defense mentioned above is an attempt to repudiate the truth in an effort to shirk responsibility. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 25, 20139:25 PM

Malcolm Moore has more details of Bo’s statement.

Sophie Beach August 25, 20138:19 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 20137:52 PM

Regarding the temporarily deleted transcript:

Samuel Wade August 25, 20137:41 PM

The temporary disappearance of a transcript of the prosecution’s statement posted from the court’s weibo account on Monday [though apparently innocent: see above] underlined the control that the medium offers, despite its appearance of relative transparency. The New York Times reported on Saturday that details of Bo’s interrogations appeared to have been omitted, while China Real Time pointed out on Sunday that Bo had referred to testimony absent from the previous day’s transcripts. South China Morning Post’s Keith Zhai reports more details and context missing from the official releases, citing “three people who have either attended the trial or been briefed on proceedings”:

Censored testimony included Bo’s account of the five letters he wrote to the Communist Party’s central leadership, pleading for his wife’s pardon in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Also omitted were his descriptions of the less-than-subtle tactics by investigators from the party’s anti-graft watchdog, who told him of the corruption trials of two officials – one who confessed and lived and the other who fought and was executed.

The transcripts also left out some of Bo’s more sympathetic remarks about his wife, Gu Kailai , who was convicted of murder last year and has testified against him.

Similarly, the transcripts took some of Bo’s more negative remarks about Gu out of context, including his description of her as “insane”, according to a source briefed on the testimony.

The source said Bo was merely quoting what the investigators had said about her to prove that her testimony was unreliable. [Source]

Many of these exclusions appear intended to avoid fueling public sympathy for Bo, which began to build after his apparently defiant performance on Thursday. In any case, Adam Minter forcefully argued that the weibo feed is “in effect, a cynical and even contemptuous reminder that the Communist Party, jealous as ever of its monopoly on public opinion, won’t be loosening up any time soon.”

Samuel Wade August 25, 20137:41 PM

… and has reappeared, apparently unaltered.

Samuel Wade August 25, 20137:03 PM

The transcript of the prosecution’s statement has now been deleted.

Samuel Wade August 25, 20136:57 PM

Samuel Wade August 25, 20136:56 PM

With the presentation of evidence completed on Sunday, the trial will proceed according to the following sequence [zh]: statements by the prosecutor, victims and their representatives, the defendant and then the defenders, followed by debate between prosecution and defense. A transcript of the prosecution’s statement [zh] has already been posted.

Text transcripts of previous days’ hearings [zh] are available at Caixin (links at bottom).

Samuel Wade August 25, 20131:51 AM

What do reporters covering #BoXilai trial do during recess? Uncovering the mystery behind this vehicle on Jinan street.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20138:30 PM

Samuel Wade August 24, 20138:10 PM

Samuel Wade August 24, 20137:58 PM

Samuel Wade August 24, 20136:46 PM

Global Times profiles lawyer Zhang Sizhi, who led the defense team in the 1980 Gang of Four trials to which Bo’s has repeatedly been compared.

“It was a political mission that needed to be completed, and as lawyers, we also had to protect ourselves,” he said.

“If I had a second chance, I would not have taken any orders from the authorities,” he said. “Instead, I should have undertaken an innocent plea for my client, even if he was reprimanded by the government and others for making trouble during the revolution – to a certain extent, he was just a victim of that time.”

[…] “I’m not saying that rule of law is not making progress in China,” he said. “But our lawyers, and especially our young ones, need to push forward even more and take every case seriously by following the law regardless of the politics involved.” [Source]

This assessment is somewhat at odds with another of Zhang’s quoted in The Los Angeles Times this week: “Frankly, our legal system stalled 30 years ago and has not progressed since the time of the Gang of Four. The problems now are the same as then – the system is not separate from the Communist Party.”

Samuel Wade August 24, 20136:01 PM

The New York Times’ Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield report apparent omissions from the officially released transcripts:

The associate and another person close to the Bo family who has been briefed on the trial proceedings said some of Mr. Bo’s strongest assertions in court had been kept from the transcripts released on the court microblog. On Thursday, they said, Mr. Bo told the court that he had made one bribery confession last year to investigators only after being warned that his wife could be given the death sentence and his son, who had just graduated from Harvard, brought back to China to face charges.

“I felt like there were two other lives tethered to mine,” Mr. Bo told the court, using a Chinese proverb.

Another detail left out of the transcripts on Friday also involved the pressure Mr. Bo said investigators had put on him, the two family associates said. They said he had testified that he had been interrogated hundreds of times and fainted 27 times. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 24, 20135:52 PM

Prosecution and defense will cross-examine Wang Lijun regarding his testimony.”

Samuel Wade August 24, 20135:45 PM

Sunday’s hearings have now begun, according to the court’s weibo feed.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20135:41 PM

Anne Henochowicz August 24, 20135:35 PM

Hu Xijin, chief editor of the state-run Global Times, shared his thoughts on the Bo Xilai trial via Weibo:

胡锡进: I don’t want to discuss what crime Bo committed–that is up to the court to decide. I just want to say that your subordinate Wang Lijun caused such a stir, and that your wife killed a man. By being drawn into these big scandals, you have already seriously defamed the Party and the government. We low-level Party members work with all our might, but we cannot counterbalance the havoc wrought from the top by someone like you. I hope that no matter how the court judges you, your final statement will be a sincere apology to the people and the Party.

我不议论薄到底犯了什么罪,这要听法庭裁定。我只想在这里说,你的手下王立军出这么大事,你的妻子杀人,你卷进这些重大丑闻时,已经给党和政府严重抹了黑。我们这些基层党员拼命工作,但经不起你这样的人从上面祸害。我希望无论法庭最终怎么判你,都听到你在最后陈述中说一句对人民、对党的深深道歉。

Netizen Javacai蔡 comments:

Javacai蔡: “Your right-hand man defected,  your wife committed a crime, and you yourself have defamed the organization!” …The portrait over Tiananmen is now a backside view.

”助手叛逃,妻子犯罪,你本人给组织抹黑!“……天安门城楼上突然变成背面像

Mao Zedong’s “right-hand man” Lin Biao died in 1971 when his plane crashed in Mongolia–it appears he was fleeing the country after a failed coup attempt. Mao’s wife Jiang Qing was sentenced to life in prison for atrocities she committed during the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s effect on “the organization” speaks for itself.

From the CDT series Netizen Voices.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20135:29 PM

The headline event of Saturday’s hearings was the appearance of former vice-mayor and police chief of Chongqing, Wang Lijun, to testify on Bo’s alleged abuse of power.

Following Friday’s detailed testimony on events leading to Gu Kailai’s murder of Neil Heywood, the court heard evidence on its aftermath. Bo admitted that he mishandled the matter after learning of Wang’s suspicions, but denied criminal responsibility, saying he had trusted his wife’s denials. Like Gu, he attributed his errors to concern for his family, saying that what he saw as Wang’s efforts to frame his wife had driven him into a rage. The two men offered different accounts of the “slap around the ears that changed history,” as lawyer Li Zhuang called it, which helped drive Wang to seek shelter at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. From Malcolm Moore at The Telegraph:

“I failed to handle this issue calmly at the critical moment and I judged the situation wrongly so I hold part of the responsibility for the Wang Lijun’s flight. I am deeply ashamed,” he said.

[…] Mr Wang, however, said Mr Bo had systematically tried to cover up his wife’s murder and demanded he hand over two hard drives containing the police investigation into Mr Heywood’s death.

A week later, Mr Wang said he felt he had to flee Chongqing after noticing that all of his colleagues, and everyone who had investigated Mr Heywood’s death, had suddenly gone missing. “It was very dangerous,” he said to the court. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 24, 20134:19 PM

Tea Leaf Nation’s Rachel Lu discusses the emergence online of sympathy for Bo, which appeared to prompt a change of tack in official information releases on Friday.

Lu reports that the online legal community has generally been impressed with the proceedings’ adherence to the law, but Donald C. Clarke noted yesterday that rules on admissible evidence and witness appearances appeared to have been ignored.

Any sympathy might be tempered by reminders of abuses in Bo’s Chongqing, which the trial will not touch: see below.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20134:03 PM

At the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog, Jackie Sheehan compares Bo’s treatment with that of victims of his rule in Chongqing:

Lawyer Li Zhuang was jailed for 30 months and barred from practising law after he tried to withdraw in court a confession his client said had been obtained through torture, a claim which gains credibility from all the other evidence which has emerged of the use of torture in Bo’s and police chief Wang Lijun’s crackdown. Once Bo’s trial is concluded, Li may yet succeed in having his conviction and disbarment overturned, but it will be much too late for another prominent Chongqing torture victim, Fan Qihang, whom months of pre-trial torture drove to attempt suicide by running head-first into a wall and biting through his own tongue. It is said that one of the police officers present couldn’t bear to witness what was being done to Fan and begged for reassignment to other duties.

[…] Let’s not forget that if the murder of Neil Heywood had not come to light, Bo’s Chongqing torture spree might have succeeded in propelling him into the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, and if it had, he would have continued to uphold and perpetuate a system of justice in China in which the rights of the accused, limited as they are, are violated by police, prosecutors, judges, and government officials daily and on a massive scale. [Source]

See more on torture in Bo’s Chongqing via CDT.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20133:38 PM

China Real Time has more on Bo Guagua’s mystery meat. See also expert testimony from Danwei’s Jeremy Goldkorn below.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20132:57 PM

“The overseas analysts have underestimated the powers of the senior leadership and the prosecutors. Authorities have taken into account Bo’s denials and they already knew how Bo was going to act during the investigation stage. Like a comedy skit on national TV, the trial needs a few dramatic elements to make it real and convincing.” — Beijing official quoted by Wenguang Huang and Pin Ho, on whether Bo’s trial is progressing according to plan.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20132:53 PM

Further instructions on how to turn into Malcolm Moore will follow as soon as they’re available.

Samuel Wade August 24, 20132:52 PM

(See below.)

Samuel Wade August 24, 20132:50 PM

As the court’s official Sina Weibo account passed half a million followers on Saturday, Xinhua joined Global Times in proclaiming Bo’s microblogged trial a resounding demonstration of transparency and rule of law:

Media home and abroad have hailed the openness and transparency showed by real-time online broadcasts and updates from Bo Xilai’s trial in an east China court.

The public also generally believe that this showcases the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) resolve in combating corruption and that the move represents historic progress for the rule of law in China.

[…] An article on bbc.co.uk said the broadcasts were “an unprecedented display of transparency for a trial in China, and therefore drew massive attention from the Chinese public.”

[…] “The real-time microblog broadcasting strikes a balance between information openness and courtroom order, and satisfies the public’s right to know,” wrote Shen Yang, a professor at Wuhan University, on Sina Weibo. This is a landmark event for trials being made public through new media, Shen added. [Source]

At The Daily Beast, chroniclers of Bo’s downfall Wenguang Huang and Pin Ho quoted New York-based legal scholar Chen Xiaoping: “The use of weibo during Bo Xilai’s trial is a sign of progress, even though the twitter broadcast is strictly controlled […] It shows that the Communist Party is confident that the court has a solid case in hand.” Writing at Bloomberg View, though, Adam Minter saw the weibo feed rather differently:

Obviously, restricting information to tweets is an excellent means of control. With no television or newspaper reporters offering original reports, the trial can be portrayed the way the authorities want. If that depiction includes Bo calling his wife “insane,” as he did Friday, or implying he had been tortured, all the better: The proceedings look more legitimate. Better yet, because those statements occur on paper — and not in videos that can be examined for facial expression or body language — there’s limited opportunity to doubt their legitimacy.

[…] By transmitting news of Bo’s trial only via microblog, the court is, in effect, co-opting and perverting one of Sina Weibo’s most treasured characteristics: its ability to crowdsource real-time reporting that might otherwise be manipulated by China’s propaganda authorities. It is, in effect, a cynical and even contemptuous reminder that the Communist Party, jealous as ever of its monopoly on public opinion, won’t be loosening up any time soon. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 24, 20132:24 PM

“I’m not kicking Bo Xilai while he’s down. No matter how you look at it, he’s a political prisoner too, even if it wasn’t exactly a thoughtcrime.” — translated by @aiwwenglish

Samuel Wade August 24, 20132:18 PM

Jake Fromer assembled a handy phrasebook for those wrestling with the official transcripts:

Samuel Wade August 24, 20132:17 PM

The first order of business in extended hearings on Saturday was to wrap up evidence on corruption charges against Bo. This included continued testimony from Dalian land official Wang Zhenggang. From Jonathan Kaiman at The Guardian:

Bo cross-examined Wang, dismissing his testimony as irrational, according to court transcripts released online. He said his family’s economic situation was stable at the time – Gu owned five law firms and his son was studying abroad on a scholarship.

Bo ridiculed Wang’s assertion that he had asked Gu to accept the money in a phone call made in front of Bo.

“It is not even what the most stupid corruption offender would do,” he said. “Corrupt offenders with even the lowest IQ would ask who else in Dalian was aware of the money.”

He added: “When people speak with me I first request they switch off their phone. I’m still a rather cautious person.” [Source]

See more on the corruption accusations from Barbara Demick at The Los Angeles Times.

Outside the courtroom, denials emerged of allegations that Dalian billionaire had paid for a trip to China for 40 Harvard students on Bo Guagua’s behalf. From The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore:

“I financed my trip to China. The trip was student led and organised; each participant was responsible for individual arrangements,” said Tameca Tillard, now the managing director of the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford Stuyvesant.

Each delegate paid for their own travel, said Zhuoyan Zhang, who now works in South Africa. “There were four organisers sponsored by the Ash Center of Harvard Kennedy School,” she added. [Source]

Having previously argued that Gu Kailai was mentally unwell and that the busy couple did not share details of their finances with each other, the defense revealed on Saturday that they were further estranged because of an affair that Bo had had. Bo also suggested that Gu’s testimony against him had been influenced by her own desire for a lighter sentence for Neil Heywood’s murder. From a partial translation of the court transcript at China Real Times:

She left because she was mad with me. During that period of time, I had an affair and she was furious about that. She took Guagua away, to a large extent because she was getting back at me.

[…] I still have feelings for Gu Kailai. She’s a relatively fragile woman. She would be sentenced to death if [she was prosecuted] for financial problems as well. She would get out of prison through informing [to the prosecutors]. Who else could she inform against? All allegations against me are from Gu Kailai. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 24, 201312:42 PM

Samuel Wade August 23, 201310:24 PM

CDT is closing for the night. Updates will resume on Saturday morning, PST. In the meantime, follow the trial with South China Morning Post’s live coverage.

Samuel Wade August 23, 201310:15 PM

Global Times’ editors are impressed with the court’s weibo feed, which has been the primary conduit of information from the trial:

 This Weibo live feed has served as an important guarantee of a fair trial for Bo in accordance with the law. The live show has addressed various doubts and rumors in and outside China. It demonstrated that the authorities are ready to receive more public scrutiny.

[…] Besides assuring a fair trial for Bo’s case, the Weibo live feed has also convinced more people about China’s sincere desire to improve the rule of law.

For a while, the Chinese public has been complaining about injustice in constant news reports of scandals or social issues.

The open and transparent trial of Bo provided a different picture to the public, which will significantly change the image of the judicial system. [Source]

Opinion is divided: see below.

Samuel Wade August 23, 201310:06 PM

At China Real Time, Fordham Law School’s Geoffrey Sant makes the case that Bo’s trial shows progress in China’s justice system:

Many Western critics of the Bo trial are comparing it to the stage-managed show trials of China’s past, including Jiang Qing [the wife of Mao Zedong] and victims of the Cultural Revolution. But this criticism misses the point. The Bo trial is exactly 180 degrees different in nature. In the show trials of China’s past, the politics would drive the criminal prosecution. In other words, the target would fall out of favor politically and then be legally persecuted as a result. In this trial, we have the opposite: the criminal prosecution is driving the politics. [Source]

The New Yorker’s Jiayang Fan is among those reaching for Gang of Four comparisons, and making the more widespread argument that politics are still firmly dominant:

Several regime changes later, the court remains largely a theatrical put-on. The legal system rests under the thumb of Beijing; public discussion is largely curated by censors. And the proceedings conveniently pave the way for new dynasties, this time of the newly anointed consensus-builder Xi Jinping.

In the People’s Daily, the Party mouthpiece, an op-ed commentator lamented: “What is regrettable is that, with regard to the facts, Bo Xilai made a supreme effort to quibble, to avoid the major charges while admitting the minor ones, and almost completely denied the facts of his crimes.” In any other trial, this might not be a remarkable thing to say. But in this instance, it simply seems farcical—Bo might be facing up to the truth, or he might not be, but it doesn’t matter. The facts are entirely irrelevant to the real point. [Source]

Jiang Qing’s defense lawyer at her 1980 trial claimed this week that “frankly, our legal system stalled 30 years ago and has not progressed since the time of the Gang of Four. The problems now are the same as then – the system is not separate from the Communist Party.”

Samuel Wade August 23, 20139:53 PM

Disagreement continues over whether Bo’s trial is progressing according to an official script. From James Areddy at The Wall Street Journal:

“I think it is a real trial and real defense,” said Zhai Jian, a Shanghai criminal defender.

[…] Mr. Zhai, who has represented defendants in high-profile corruption trials in recent years, estimates the conviction rate of his clients at around 95%. He said he sent a text message to Mr. Bo’s attorney applauding the strategy of doing “what a lawyer is supposed to do in court.”

[…] “The trial is a surprise to us,” said Mao Lixin, a criminal lawyer at Shangquan Law Firm in Beijing. “But we don’t know if it is surprising the authorities.” [Source]

The Brookings Institution’s Cheng Li told CNN that he believed Bo had decided not to cooperate, whatever deals he might earlier have made to secure lighter charges:

There were two surprises. One is that Bo has rejected all allegations so far, and said he “unwillingly” accepted the charge when he was being questioned by the central disciplinary commission investigation team. The second surprise is that the prosecution has performed very poorly in trying to make a strong case against him; it seems to be falling apart.

[…] Of course he will be convicted, otherwise it would be disastrous. But the sentencing now can’t be very severe because of the nature of the charges and how poorly they’ve conducted this trial. So there are difficulties for the prosecution unless there are dramatic twists and turns in the following days. I think certainly the sentencing won’t be the death penalty, probably not even the death penalty commuted to life. The worst is probably the life sentence, and the most lenient probably 15 years. [Source]

But at South China Morning Post, Alex Lo argued that Bo’s defiance was just part of the plan:

[…] Like Jiang Qing, a defiant Bo lashed out at his accusers, including his own wife. With the communist ideology taken out, the producers of the trial aim to make it a display of righteous justice punishing a corrupt and unrepentant mandarin: in other words, an ancient Chinese morality play for the 21st century. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 23, 20139:31 PM

Friday’s hearings involved the most detailed account yet of events leading to the death of British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011, which ultimately brought about Bo’s downfall. His wife Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence for Heywood’s murder almost exactly a year ago. From Malcolm Moore at The Telegraph:

[Heywood] had, the court heard, blackmailed the family and threatened to expose their corrupt ownership of a luxury villa on the French riviera. As his relationship with the Bo family descended into anger and bitterness, he then threatened the safety of Mr Bo’s 25-year-old son, Guagua.

[… From Gu Kailai’s written statement:] “Neil Heywood wanted to hurt Guagua in America. Then in the second half of 2011, we were talking to Guagua on a video call and he said Neil Heywood was threatening him. The image cut off and I was very worried. We feared that he had been kidnapped and we saw emails between Guagua and Neil Heywood and they made me even more worried.” [Source]

As William Kazer and Carlos Tejada explained at The Wall Street Journal, the events’ bearing on Bo’s case is to establish his knowledge of the French villa bought for Gu by Dalian billionaire Xu Ming (see also below). Bo himself described the testimony as “fictional” and irrelevant, arguing that the only link between him and the villa was a slideshow of photos he had allegedly looked at in 2002.

Another echo of Heywood’s death this week came with the resignation of senior forensic scientist Wang Xuemei, who last year blogged that there was “a serious lack of evidence […] to conclude that Neil Heywood died of cyanide poisoning” as Gu had claimed. The “ridiculous and irresponsible forensic conclusions” that persuaded her to quit, though, were in a more recent case, detailed along with others by Jiabao Du at Tea Leaf Nation.

Samuel Wade August 23, 20139:21 PM

Samuel Wade August 23, 20138:42 PM

BBC Monitoring has more on state media coverage of the trial, including excerpts from two critical commentaries designated for prominent website placement:

“One never expected that a corrupt element could be so composed when standing in the dock and that a criminal could be so glib when faced with various crimes… Faced with the solemnity of the court and the law and faced with irrefutable facts and evidence of criminal acts, Bo Xilai was not overawed in the slightest and had no repentance whatsoever!” says a commentary on the state-run China Central Television website.

“Obviously, the legitimate rights of the defendant were fully guaranteed, and fairness, impartiality and transparency were a major feature of the trial. However, Bo’s attitude towards the facts was to display cunningness and to deny them by every means possible,” said one commentary in Communist Party-affiliated website Guangming Net. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 23, 20137:15 PM

Samuel Wade August 23, 20136:38 PM

Samuel Wade August 23, 20135:52 PM

The court will continue to examine charges that Bo embezzled five million yuan of public funds, according to its official weibo account.

Samuel Wade August 23, 20135:45 PM

Samuel Wade August 23, 20135:43 PM

As some weigh his chances of a comeback, Sam Crane contemplates Bo’s possible “redemptive transformation” into a “Latter Day Confucian Hero”. From The Useless Tree:

In striking a pose of defiance, Bo has taken the first step toward redemption. He is rejecting the idea that he is somehow different from others at the very top of the power heirarchy. But to gain the upper hand in moral-political terms, he has to take another step: assert that his fall has transformed him. If he comes out and says something like: “yes, now I see how immoral this entire lifestyle has been and I reject it and will live a simpler, more upright life from here on.” And if he follows that with a call for all of the other corrupt high officials to also renounce their abuses of power and embrace righteousness, he could retain his political viability. He would be the man who changed, the elite politician who had reveled in the fruits of corruption but who now is tranformed by adversity into the one honest man at the top. And if he did that he could call on some Confucian imagery to help him along. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 23, 20135:04 PM

While the amount and substance of information released by the court on Thursday surprised many, Friday’s disclosures came more slowly. Foreign Policy’s Isaac Stone Fish explained the reasoning for holding a relatively open trial in the first place:

On its Sina Weibo account, the state-run newspaper Beijing Youth Daily explained it thusly:

As Jinan Central Court continues to hear the case against Bo Xilai for bribery, corruption, and abuse of power, the prosecution and the defense have been locked in an intense confrontation. Bo has conducted a spirited defense, but the key fact is that he’s released some opinions which are mutually contradictory, leaving a cover up difficult and awkward. The courts and the official media have thoroughly released the information, allowing every netizen, every reader, to become a ‘judge.’ An open China, a confident China, becomes mature and sharp by practice. Each step is steady, each step is good. Good night.

It’s a strategy that works well under the assumption that the Chinese following the trial will be convinced that Bo is guilty. Calling on netizens to judge his guilt becomes more fraught in the very unlikely event he convinces them of his innocence. [Source]

After Thursday’s performance, though, there were signs that exactly this might have been happening. From Liz Carter and Rachel Lu at Tea Leaf Nation:

@贺江兵 tweeted on Sina Weibo, “I’ve changed my view of him! He is much more gentlemanly than those with power and he really does know the law.”

@戴老鼠 wrote, “What a huge twist, we shall see how this ends… I feel [the prosecutors] have blown it. So far, the material presented by the prosecutors do not seem to prove Bo’s guilt. Instead, Bo and his defense attorneys are quick on their feet, have airtight logic and are able to rebut each allegation on the facts.”

@thomasluo骆轶航 tweeted, “This man has remarkable logic, eloquence and memory. As someone who likes smart people, for a moment I almost forgot about his avarice, evilness and ruthlessness.” [Source]

See more in this vein from Offbeat China. The possibility that Bo might be gaining sympathy, even if not enough to fuel a possible comeback, apparently played a part in the authorities’ apparent change of tack on Friday. From Jonathan Ansfield and Edward Wong at The New York Times:

The party authorities took measures to temper some of the spectacle on Friday. A person briefed on the proceedings said late Friday that under orders from the authorities, the day’s transcripts were considerably less comprehensive than those released Thursday. The newer ones were vetted longer before being posted, and offered fewer rebuttals from Mr. Bo and his lawyers.

[…] Officials from the court, the police and state security met late Thursday in Jinan to review the handling of the trial, according to a person briefed on the case. They determined that it was under control despite the uproar caused by Mr. Bo’s spirited defense on Thursday. “The authorities did not seem to think that was so unexpected,” the person said.

There was no doubt, though, that the unveiling of testimony on Friday was more tightly managed. Though more than an hour of video testimony from Ms. Gu was played in court, officials posted only an 11-minute clip online, he said. Ms. Gu spoke to an interrogator about expensive items that Mr. Xu had bought for the Bo family, including abalone, airplane tickets and a Segway-like vehicle that the son wanted. [Source]

Social media controls were also stepped up, while as Ansfield and Wong noted, “official news outlets issued a chorus of commentaries that said the evidence against Mr. Bo […] was overwhelming.” Web sites were ordered to prominently display a pair of such articles entitled “Scoundrelry and Sophistry: The Ultimate Insanity of Hypocrisy” [zh] and “Listening to the Wind: Opening Day of Bo Xilai Trial Shows Complexity and Difficulty of the Fight Against Corruption” [zh].

Samuel Wade August 23, 20133:30 PM

The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore, who has been heroically live-tweeting the information sporadically gushing out of the courtroom, reports that evidence “began to submerge” Bo Xilai on Friday following his defiant performance the day before. Bo’s claims to have no knowledge of dealings between his wife, Gu Kailai, and others including billionaire Xu Ming began to unravel in the face of her video and written testimony, he writes. One of her statements suggested that the evidence of these dealings had been literally right under Bo’s nose:

The fallen Chinese politician, who has claimed he was entirely oblivious to the vast sums spent all around him by his family, tried to disqualify Mrs Gu’s testimony.

“How credible can she be? BoGu Kailai has changed, she is crazy, she always tells lies. She made her confessions when she was mentally ill and under severe pressure from investigators,” he said.

[…] One hand written statement from Gu seemed to prove that Mr Bo, despite his denials, was well aware that Mr Xu had paid for his 25-year-old son Guagua to visit Africa in August 2011, flying by private jet from Dubai to the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Bo Xilai asked if it was safe for Guagua to go and I said Xu Ming had made all the arrangements, so he stopped worrying,” related Mrs Gu. “When he came back, Guagua brought presents. He brought Bo Xilai a big piece of meat from a rare animal. Guagua said we could eat it raw but Bo said we needed to steam it. Guagua said it was very expensive, he was angry that it would be ruined. But we steamed it and all ate it and it tasted pretty good. We ate it for a month.” [Source]

See also Friday’s official post-hearing press briefing.

The mystery of the unidentified meat became a hot side topic.

Mystery meat aside, Clarke offered some observations on Day 2 at his China Law Prof Blog:

As in day 1, there’s an awful lot of evidence about stuff Gu Kailai did and varions things Xu Ming did for the family, but almost nothing that suggests a quid pro quo delivered by Bo in exchange for all these goodies. At one point Bo (pretty much correctly) pointed out that 99% of what the prosecutor was saying was irrelevant to the question of his guilt. The only direct piece of evidence I can recall is Bo’s own confession from his time in shuanggui (Party disciplinary) detention, in which he says that he did a lot for Xu Ming in return, including some quite unusual favors. He explicitly uses the word “trade” (交易).

[…] The grossest twisting of the rules on witnesses appears in the debate over Gu Kailai’s testimony. Her testimony has been delivered via a written statement and a videotaped statement. According to the transcripts posted by the Jinan court, both Bo and the prosecution requested that she appear in court to testify, and the court agreed with the request. But when they went to the prison to ask that she come along, she refused. The court then, incredibly, cited Art. 188(1) of the CPL, which states that while reluctant witnesses can be required to appear in court, this does not apply to the spouse, children, or parents of the defendant. Now, I’m pretty sure this provision was intended to protect the defendant and his close relatives; it expresses something like a spousal privilege. Here it’s being used perversely to prevent the defendant from directly cross-examining a hostile witness. [Source]

Clarke points out that evidence from shuanggui is not supposed to be used in court. Bo has argued this himself, and claimed that his confession there was in any case made unwillingly. The news that Bo had requested that Gu testify in person contradicts earlier reports that the trial had been delayed by his insistence that she not appear in court.

Lawyer James Zimmerman also commented on the proceedings to China Real Time’s James Areddy, assessing Bo’s performance more positively than Moore:

Is Mr. Bo helping himself? Yes, absolutely. He (with the help of his overseas son and supporters in China) will make a comeback at a later time. Maybe not a comeback in the sense of assuming a political position, but a comeback in the sense of having a direct or indirect influence over the course and direction of the country.

Are there risks to Mr. Bo’s defense strategy in his words and actions? What choices does he have? He has no effective judicial remedy given the political ramifications, and thus the only recourse is to challenge the system. He knows that the party will not execute him, and nor will they truly be able to silence him in today’s connected world. He knows that the Party wants him silenced, and so why should he go out quietly? He will always be a thorn in the side to the leadership. [Source]

While the outcome of the trial remains in little doubt, Zimmerman was not the only one to raising the possibility of a comeback, which was previously (and remains) widely regarded as unthinkable. Bruce Einhorn weighed Bo’s chances at Businessweek:

[…] What is Bo’s strategy? He might just be trying to appeal to historians, according to Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This was quite a surprising performance,” Lam told Bloomberg Television today. “By and large, I think Bo put up a spirited defense of himself. This is his last act for the history books, because it’s most unlikely that he will be able to return to the political stage.”

It might be too early to write off Bo, though. In China a purge is not always final. Way before Bill Clinton crowned himself the Comeback Kid by weathering reports of infidelity and still managing to finish second in the 1992 New Hampshire presidential primary, Deng Xiaoping showed how to stage a real comeback in politics. The architect of Chinese economic reforms was purged multiple times under Mao and still made his way back to the top.

Perhaps Bo has that kind of second and third act in mind. By insisting on his innocence and berating his critics, he may be trying to preserve for himself a political future. That’s the take of [Minxin] Pei, who told the Wall Street Journal that Bo’s defiance may have a political upside in the unlikely—but not impossible—event of the Chinese government later reversing course and clearing his name. “Had he appeared an abject loser, he would have destroyed any possibility of a comeback,” Pei said. “He wants to show that his case is one of egregious miscarriage of justice.” [Source]

Samuel Wade August 23, 20132:32 PM

Samuel Wade August 23, 201312:27 PM

See CDT’s coverage here.

Samuel Wade August 23, 201311:39 AM

Samuel Wade August 23, 201311:31 AM

Anne Henochowicz August 23, 201310:42 AM

Two new leaked propaganda instructions:

Central Propaganda Department: Regarding coverage of Bo Xilai’s hearing, headlines cannot express anything of benefit to Bo, such as his questioning of Xu Ming in court. (August 23, 2013)

中宣部:关于薄熙来庭审的报道,标题不能出现对薄熙来有利的字样,如薄和徐明当庭对质连发二十问等。

State Council Information Office: Web portals are requested to post the following two articles on both homepages (that of the portal itself and of its news center): “Scoundrelry and Sophistry: The Ultimate Insanity of Hypocrisy” from China.org.cn, and “Listening to the Wind: Opening Day of Bo Xilai Trial Shows Complexity and Difficulty of the Fight Against Corruption” from the CCTV website. Carry this out immediately. (August 23, 2013)

国新办:“中国网”《无赖与狡辩:虚伪最后的疯狂》,和央视网《听风者:从薄熙来案首日庭审看反腐斗争之复杂艰巨》两篇文章,请门户网站和主要新闻网站在双首页(首页和新闻中心首页)转载,立即执行。

Sophie Beach August 22, 201311:00 PM

Restrictions have also been placed on the use of content from the court’s weibo feed in news coverage of the trial.

Sophie Beach August 22, 201310:56 PM

Sophie Beach August 22, 201310:45 PM

Sophie Beach August 22, 201310:44 PM

Eventually, Gu Kailai transferred her 50 percent share in Russell Real Estate to Neil Heywood.

Sophie Beach August 22, 201310:29 PM

The transcript of the court testimony released today focuses on the villa in Cannes, France, allegedly owned by Bo. It also looks the involvement of French businessman Patrick Devillers, an associate of Gu Kailai’s, who will provide testimony later in the session. The details of the purchase of the villa give a glimpse into the convoluted channels through which huge amounts of money travel from officials in China to family members, bank accounts and property overseas. Malcolm Moore at the Telegraph is giving blow-by-blow translations of the transcripts:

Samuel Wade August 22, 20139:53 PM

Samuel Wade August 22, 20139:45 PM

Two transcripts [zh] have now appeared.

Samuel Wade August 22, 20139:43 PM

While Thursday saw a steady stream of transcripts and other information from the courtroom, Friday has so far only produced pre-recorded video testimony from Gu Kailai (see below). China Real Time comments on the change of pace:

The court’s relative reticence was mirrored elsewhere online. Comments on Weibo were fewer in number than Thursday. Some postings disappeared after a short time, suggesting that microblog censors were tightening the limits on discourse. For example, on the Jinan court’s Weibo feed, the posts have hundreds of thousands of repostings but only a handful of comments, mostly praising the system.

In another sign of official discomfort, the party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, ran its report on the trial on page 4. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 22, 20139:29 PM

Samuel Wade August 22, 20139:04 PM

Video available here [zh], via Miss XQ.

Samuel Wade August 22, 20138:27 PM

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Samuel Wade August 22, 20138:07 PM

The court has been hearing more evidence relating to the bribery charges against Bo, according to its official weibo feed, including multimedia witness testimony, documentary evidence and Bo’s own written confessions. No further details have yet been announced.

Samuel Wade August 22, 20137:52 PM

At ChinaFile, Ouyang Bin talks to Pin Ho, co-author of A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China:

What will be the result of the ongoing trial?

There won’t be more than two kinds of results. A severe punishment will mean Bo did not compromise. In this case, he will win even firmer support from the Maoists and will become the flag bearer of the left-wing of the CCP’s political spectrum. If he compromised—or if Xi shows him mercy—Bo may get a lighter sentence, like imprisonment between fifteen and twenty years. If this is the case, Bo’s opponents will be unconvinced and Xi will be regarded as a weak leader. So, this is the paradox and the reason that this trial cannot deliver a fair and convincing sentence. It’s just a part of a political struggle. Chinese society will continue to be split. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 22, 20136:13 PM

Samuel Wade August 22, 20136:09 PM

Bo’s challenges to the charges against him on Thursday have sparked disagreement over whether or not they were part of the script. The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore describes Bo’s vigorous rebuttal of charges that he had accepted bribes from billionaire Xu Ming:

In a blow to prosecutors, [Xu] was forced to concede, after being peppered with questions by Mr Bo, that the defendant might not have directly known of his largesse, despite it being designed to win his favour. The politician claimed that the billionaire was his wife’s friend, not his, and that he had little idea of what was occurring.

[…] “Did you say anything to me about your [financial] support of Bo Guagua and that you reimbursed his flights, credit card and bought him an electric scooter? Did you tell me about Africa? Did you say you would pay for them?” Mr Bo continued.

“No,” said Mr Xu, one of a string of seven consecutive negative responses that left many Chinese starting to doubt the government’s case against Mr Bo. [Source]

Bo also argued that his wife did not know enough about his financial affairs for her written testimony on them to carry weight. From William Kazer and Carlos Tejada at The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Bo testified that he and Ms. Gu rarely saw each other, as he climbed up the party ranks and she lived in U.K. to be near their son. When they did see each other, he testified, she made sure to talk about things of interest to him, not about matters of money.

“From start to finish, I believe Bo Gu Kailai is a person of culture, a female of contemporary sensibilities,” he said, referring to his wife with the same version of her name used by Chinese officials. “Every time she saw me, she always talked about things that we shared a common language in.”

Once he took the top party position in Chongqing in 2007, his time with her “was extremely limited,” he said. “It was impossible that when together she would talk about plane tickets and living expenses. It is even more impossible she would talk about how much money Guagua spends.” [Source]

Fairfax Media’s Philip Wen commented that Bo’s behavior “smashes any theories that Mr Bo would co-operate with authorities“; The Economist’s James Miles wrote that “the leadership will not be happy that Mr Bo has chosen to defend himself so vigorously.” Others, though, argued that Bo’s apparent defiance might all be part of the plan. From John Ruwitch at Reuters:

“He (Bo) is clearly going along with this trial,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch. “The outcome has been already decided. There’s probably an agreement already between Bo and the party as to what the outcome will be.”

[…] “He knows exactly what to say and what not to say,” said Zhang Sizhi, who defended Mao Zedong’s widow Jiang Qing during the Gang of Four trial in 1980. “It seems some sort of understanding was reached ahead of time.” [Source]

Bequelin added on Twitter:

The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page presented a range of views:

Mr. Bo’s apparent defiance could still be part of a script agreed on in advance, reflecting some senior party figures desire to preserve some of his integrity, and to shift the focus away from the party leadership and the blame onto Mr. Bo’s wife and his U.S.-based son.

In a possible indication of the leverage Chinese authorities still hold over Mr. Bo, prosecutors alleged for the first time that the son, Bo Guagua, who recently enrolled at Columbia Law School, had taken bribes on his father’s behalf. Bo Guagua didn’t respond to a request for comment.

[…] Minxin Pei, an expert on Chinese governance at Claremont McKenna College, said Mr. Bo’s defiance might allow him to emerge with some dignity and could cast doubt on the proceedings. “He wants to show that his case is one of egregious miscarriage of justice. It might also suggest that he continues to have some support from current or retired senior officials,” he said. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 22, 20135:17 PM

The exclusion of foreign media and non-appearance of a rumored video feed prompted unfavorable comparisons on Thursday with the televised Gang of Four trials in 1980. But as photos, audio, and lengthy transcripts began to emerge from the courtroom, it became clear that the hearings would not be a “show trial without the show” to the same extent as Gu Kailai’s and Wang Lijun’s. From Chris Buckley and Amy Qin

“There’s never been anything like this before,” said Li Yonggang, an expert on the Internet and Chinese society at Nanjing University in eastern China. “It’s likely that there’s so much attention on this that they had to choose a relatively open way to report it. Otherwise, it would have triggered all kinds of speculation.”

[…] The spectacle was a demonstration of how important the Internet has become in Chinese political life. For the government, it potentially offers a tool to monitor and persuade a population jaded by traditional, state-run media. By midyear, China had nearly 600 million officially registered Internet users. Even discounting duplicate and fake registrations, the number is a daunting challenge for a state that prizes its grip over information. [Source]

Not everyone was impressed. China Media Project’s David Bandurski told The Guardian, “it’s not even a bone they are throwing to the public in response to great interest in the case. It’s a public relations strategy [….] They have to create the perception that law is being exercised here.” Others felt similarly, according to Didi Tang at the AP:

Zhang Zhi’an, a journalism professor at Sun Yet-sen University in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, said the posts were a clever move by the court in that they offered the appearance of openness while retaining the control of information.

“The postings could be selective,” Zhang said.

[…] Nevertheless, the Weibo posts mark progress in transparency, said Yang Dali, a political scientist at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing.

“It is a great move by the Jinan court. In many ways, it has lent a lot more credibility to this case,” Yang said. “You read the case, and you can get a sense of different personalities. It is a very riveting case so far.” [Source]

The Central Propaganda Department warned media outlets not to use the weibo content as a news source, apart from simply republishing it, but to rely on Xinhua copy instead. Fei Chang Dao, meanwhile, found that although searches for “Bo Xilai” itself were not blocked on Baidu or Sina Weibo, several related terms were:

[…] Sina Weibo was censoring searches for “Cherish the Memory of Bo Xilai” (怀念 薄熙来) and “Support Bo Xilai” (拥护 薄熙来), both Sina Weibo and Baidu were censoring searches for “Chongqing Model” (重庆模式), and Baidu had banned users from opening a PostBar (Tieba 贴吧) forum on “Bo Xilai,” and a search for “Bo Xilai” on Baidu’s Knowledge (Zhidao 知道) product returned no results. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 22, 20135:10 PM

Samuel Wade August 22, 20132:08 PM

After almost 18 months of detention and two rumored hunger strikes, Bo Xilai looked somewhat thinner in court yesterday. (“A good political purge will do that to you,” someone was heard to comment in the hotel press room.) He was firmly outshone in the weight loss stakes, however, by witness Xu Ming, the former billionaire said to have paid him over 20 million yuan in bribes.

By contrast, Gu Kailai’s weight gain ahead of her trial a year ago—possibly a side-effect of antidepressant use—prompted speculation that the woman in court was not her at all. The practice of ding zui, or hiring a stand-in to undergo criminal punishment, is reportedly “not common, but not rare either,” according to one police officer.

The Bo photos spawned a conspiracy theory of their own: the policemen on either side of him, presumably chosen specifically to tower over the 6’1″ defendant, were said to be wearing the same badge number. Others wondered whether Bo was sending coded hand signals, while artist Ai Weiwei posted a version with his own head Photoshopped onto one of the guards.

Samuel Wade August 22, 201312:49 PM

Bo’s elder son Li Wangzhi released a statement following Thursday’s hearings. From The New York Times:

After undergoing a worldwide investigation involving in excess of 300 people and 500 days, he has endured a tremendous test, and nonetheless has stood by his ideas. I would like to say: first, true gold does not fear fire, facts can endure the test of history; and second, I am proud of my father. I hope that my father will continue to respect the law, and that the law may also respect the facts, and leave the people an explanation, leave history an explanation, and leave his son an explanation too. [Source]

Li’s half-brother Bo Guagua, who as Gu Kailai’s son has featured much more prominently in the saga, also issued a statement to the Times earlier this week.

Samuel Wade August 22, 201312:30 PM

Sina has posted a Chinese transcript of Thursday’s hearings in a much more convenient format than that offered by the court weibo account, as well as English-dubbed video from the subsequent press briefing. The BBC provides an English-language summary of the day’s proceedings, including the indictment; Bo’s claim that he had confessed to bribery unwillingly; his description of witness Tang Xiaolin as a “crazy dog snapping at things for reward”; and his challenge to the “ridiculous” testimony of his wife Gu Kailai, described by his lawyer as “mentally unsound” and therefore unfit to testify.

Samuel Wade August 22, 201311:51 AM

Foreign Policy’s Isaac Stone Fish boils Thursday’s proceedings down to six key points:

  • The Chinese government live-Weiboed the trial.
  • That strategy is risky because Bo has always been a very media-savvy politician.
  • Bo was surprisingly outspoken during the trial, drawing sympathy on Weibo.
  • That said, Bo’s responses were probably scripted.
  • While he doesn’t have a political future, Bo may yet have a voice after the trial.
  • That day may even come during the trial. [Source]

Thursday’s developments came just in time to scrape into the new edition of The Economist, which sums up the trial’s political context:

[… S]ome still hope that, on economic matters, Mr Xi may prove a reformer. Earlier this month he and his party colleagues convened their annual retreat at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, east of Beijing. Their discussions are thought to have focused on wrapping up Mr Bo’s case and moving on to the next big item on the party’s agenda, a plenum of its central committee that is expected to take place in October. There Mr Xi will indicate the course of reform in the coming years.

[…] It is not at all clear, though, that Mr Xi has the will or the muscle to confront the interests of China’s state-owned behemoths—essential if he is to fulfil the party’s stated ambition of shifting away from investment-heavy growth. Despite suggestions in some quarters that the plenum will be a turning point in China’s economic reforms, little indicates that bold decisions have yet been made. The economy badly needs less government interference, more room for private enterprise, and a stronger rule of law. Each will antagonise powerful parts of the party establishment. Silencing Mr Bo may prove the easy part. [Source]

Anne Henochowicz August 22, 201310:19 AM

Central Propaganda Department: Regarding Bo Xilai’s court hearing today: content broadcast on the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court Weibo may be republished, but do not use this content as a news source. Media reports must use Xinhua News Agency wire copy. The media must conscientiously strengthen supervision of the contents of their employees’ weibo. (August 22, 2013) [English Source] [Chinese Source]

Samuel Wade August 22, 20132:00 AM

Updates will resume on Thursday morning, PST.

Samuel Wade August 22, 20131:32 AM

(“Melon Melon [Guagua], I am OK,” an interpretation of Bo’s much scrutinized hand gesture as a message to his son.)

Samuel Wade August 22, 20131:10 AM

At Foreign Policy, John Garnaut examines the trial, the path that led to it, and its implications for the prospects for Maoism and rule of law in China:

In the eyes of liberal lawyers, journalists, and intellectuals, and descendants and protégés of the deceased reformer Hu Yaobang, this trial is a unique opportunity for Xi and their Politburo colleagues to move China away from its lawless and Maoist past, where imagined utopian ends can be used to justify any means.

But they know that’s unlikely. The trial, which will probably take place over just two days, will be choreographed down to the finest details. The verdict […] has already been pre-determined; the judgment largely pre-written. And it will be framed in narrow, criminal terms, which cannot easily serve to push China toward rule of law. Bo’s erstwhile colleagues are set to banish him to at least a decade in jail, while borrowing much of what he stood for. For now, at least, the scars of the Cultural Revolution remain red raw. He Weifang, the lawyer who raised the specter of the Cultural Revolution in Chongqing, said it best: “It’s not a fair trial, but rather just evil to fix evil and violence to fix violence.” [Source]

Samuel Wade August 22, 20131:00 AM

Samuel Wade August 22, 201312:51 AM

Samuel Wade August 22, 201312:43 AM

Samuel Wade August 22, 201312:22 AM

(See the transcript in question here [zh].)

Samuel Wade August 22, 201312:20 AM

Samuel Wade August 22, 201312:14 AM

The Economist’s James Miles explains why the Bo Xilai trial matters so much:

Mr Bo’s case is about more than the sensational fall of a rising political star. It has had huge political ramifications. For Xi Jinping, who became China’s paramount leader in November, it has helped remove a charismatic potential rival. But it has also been damaging for the party. The murder of the businessman, Neil Heywood, and its attempted coverup, exposed the untrammelled power of senior officials to a global audience. It is likely the case would not have come to light had it not been for the flight of Mr Bo’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, to an American consulate. Mr Xi has had to tread carefully. He does not want too much of the party’s dirty linen washed in public. Neither does he want trouble from the Maoists, many of whom regard the case as a stitch-up. But he also wants to give the impression that he is serious about tackling corruption and about building rule of law. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 21, 201311:57 PM

Barbara Demick reviews the trial so far, including Bo’s resistance to bribery accusations involving businessman Tang Xiaolin. From The Los Angeles Times:

The 64-year-old Bo said as his trial opened that he had wrongly confessed last year to a disciplinary panel of the Communist Party without fully understanding the charges against him.

“I didn’t know the details at the time. My brain was a blank,” Bo said, according to an excerpt released by the court.

[…] In particular, he objected to an assertion that he had taken bribes from a real estate developer, Tang Xiaolin, who worked for the city of Dalian, where Bo had been mayor in the 1990s.

Bo said he had allowed Tang to build an office building on Dalian’s behalf in the city of Shenzhen out of public interest, not greed.

“I approved the [real estate] project because I believed it was good for the city of Dalian,” Bo said, according to the transcript. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 21, 201311:40 PM

Samuel Wade August 21, 201311:22 PM

In Crazy Crab’s take on the trial for CDT, Bo’s removal inadvertently exposes infighting in the darkness behind the Party’s facade:

Samuel Wade August 21, 201310:56 PM

Video from the morning’s hearing is available at CCTV (via Chris Buckley).

Samuel Wade August 21, 201310:44 PM

CNN’s Steven Jiang reports from Jinan:

I received a text message from human rights activist Chen Guangfu, elder brother of the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who had intended to “witness” the trial. He said, after he got off the train, state security agents awaiting him at Jinan’s west railway station forced him to return to his home village some 125 miles (200 kilometers) away. Hu Jia, another prominent rights advocate, tweeted that the authorities in Jinan had tightened their grip over all activists ahead of the trial. [Source]

This is the second time Chen has been forced to return home this week: Radio Free Asia reported on Tuesday that he had also been made to cut short a visit to supporters in Shanghai.

Samuel Wade August 21, 201310:28 PM

One of Bo’s unusually tall guards has been identified ….

Samuel Wade August 21, 20139:59 PM

Samuel Wade August 21, 20139:54 PM

China Real Time’s Tom Orlik asked Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution for his thoughts on the charges against Bo, which are rather narrower than the grounds upon which he was expelled from the Party last year:

Now they only focus on three charges, all related to corruption. That focus makes sense from the perspective of China’s leaders for two reasons. First, making serious charges stick might require revealing evidence that triggers fresh public criticism of the Chinese political system. Second, more serious charges would require a stiffer sentence, making it harder to cut a deal with Bo.

[…] I interviewed people who personally knew Bo at the time of his arrest. As a very ambitious politician, Bo thought that the entire country would be his in the future, so he was not so interested in petty corruption. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 21, 20139:38 PM

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Samuel Wade August 21, 20138:42 PM

Samuel Wade August 21, 20138:41 PM

More photos from inside the courtroom, from the official weibo feed:

Samuel Wade August 21, 20138:32 PM

The official weibo account has posted the first image of Bo in court, without rumored protest beard:

Samuel Wade August 21, 20138:22 PM

As Xi Jinping is accused of co-opting Bo Xilai’s populist politics, Michael Anti weighs in on the issue of Bo and Xi’s relative redness in a new ChinaFile Conversation:

[…] Neither Bo nor Xi is an orthodox red communist. They both sent their children to crimson-clad Harvard and both have family wealth, counted into the billions of dollars, that could buy them a mountain of rubies. They’ve both already betrayed Chairman Mao Zedong’s public teachings and the textbook definition of communist. Bo was the Minister of Commerce, in charge of China’s free trade talks with the U.S.A.; Xi was the party boss of Zhejiang province, overseeing a boom in private business there. Neither man trusted a single word of Karl Marx’s all-sharing Utopian vision.

But each man has tried to copy Mao’s secret to power: the redder, the better. Neither man was elected by the people, but rather selected within the Party system, which was founded by their red army fathers. The only difference between Xi and Bo is that, by 2007, when Bo was sent to Chongqing, his dramatic and over-passionate shift to red politics only served to strengthen Beijing’s suspicions of his ambition and opportunism—one of the most important reasons why he’s wearing a scarlet letter today. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 21, 20138:03 PM

Rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig comments that the pre-trial conference reported earlier is “nothing untoward, though probably not available to every defendant in practice. This was a new provision added to CPL in revisions that took effect on Jan 1 (see art 182, para 2).” See more on last year’s Criminal Procedure Law amendments and the controversy surrounding some of them via CDT.

Samuel Wade August 21, 20137:26 PM

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Corruption charges involving Dalian billionaire Xu Ming could backfire, The New York Times’ David Barboza writes, given Xu’s connections to other leaders including former premier Wen Jiabao.

Mr. Xu, who is 42, funneled millions of dollars in bribes to Mr. Bo and his family, including paying for trips to Europe and perhaps even giving the family a $3.5 million villa on the French Riviera, according to the indictment against Mr. Bo that will be presented when the trial gets under way.

[…] But the Communist Party’s decision to rely on evidence linked to the businessman could also be risky, analysts say, because Mr. Bo was by no means Mr. Xu’s only political patron.

Although the trial itself is expected to be closed to the public and its proceedings released only selectively by the state news media, judicial scrutiny of how broad political connections can greatly enrich an otherwise obscure businessman could prove delicate to more than one member of the Chinese leadership — and raise questions about whether Mr. Xu’s ties to other leaders should receive legal scrutiny. [Source]

See more on Bo’s history in Dalian from Kathleen McLaughlin at Christian Science Monitor.

Samuel Wade August 21, 20136:57 PM

Samuel Wade August 21, 20136:53 PM

As information slowly drips out of the courtroom, The Los Angeles’ Times Barbara Demick compares today’s trial with those of the Gang of Four over thirty years ago:

In 1980, hundreds of millions of Chinese people gathered around communal televisions set up in schools and on basketball courts, mesmerized by the trial of Mao Tse-tung’s widow and members of the so-called Gang of Four who had led the nation’s catastrophic Cultural Revolution.

[…] “Frankly, our legal system stalled 30 years ago and has not progressed since the time of the Gang of Four. The problems now are the same as then – the system is not separate from the Communist Party,’’ said Zhang [Sizhi, Jiang Qing’s lawyer in 1980], now 85 and active in the human rights community. [Source]

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Samuel Wade August 21, 20135:47 PM

The court’s official Sina Weibo feed (in Chinese) reports that five relatives with an entourage of two, plus 19 journalists and 84 others are attending the trial.

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Samuel Wade August 21, 20134:52 PM

Law professor Donald C. Clarke argues that Bo’s trial represents business as usual for rule by law in China. From The Atlantic:

Far from being a victory for the rule of law […] the Bo Xilai trial looks to be just the same old, same old. Nobody believes that Bo is the only corrupt politician of his stature in China; the fact that others are not being prosecuted suggests that what is operating here is not a law-like principle of cause and effect, of crime and punishment. (Indeed, a commentary by China’s official Xinhua News Agency admits, astonishingly, what everyone really thinks: that Bo’s real offense was to fail to be a team player.) Nobody believes that China’s top political leaders haven’t dictated the procedure and outcome of the trial. […] Few people like to be cynics all the time, and so it is always tempting to look for sprouts of the rule of law in China. But this case is just not that sprout. [Source]

See more from Willy Lam at the Wall Street Journal, and from various sources below.

Samuel Wade August 21, 20134:30 PM

Samuel Wade August 21, 20134:29 PM

Following speculation about Bo’s wife Gu Kailai’s possible testimony at the trial, William Wan reports uncertainty over which other family members will attend. From The Washington Post:

“They don’t have any illusions,” the friend said. “They know the decision will come down from the top of the party.”

Instead, the relatives have spent recent days trying to decide who among them should attend the trial. Bo has relayed to them that he sincerely wants someone from his family present, and the court has indicated it would allow four to five family members, the friend said. But some of Bo’s brothers who are businessmen have expressed worries that by attending the proceedings — especially in light of the corruption charges against Bo — they could open themselves to similar accusations in the future.

[…] Bo’s family has been unable to meet with him for the past year, according to the family friend. During that time, Bo wrote multiple letters to his relatives, but they were not delivered; government investigators displayed them in recent months in front of the family. In the letters, the friend said, Bo asked his family to send him clothes as well as books about Marxism, Maoism, Deng Xiaoping and the “transformation of China.” [Source]

Wan also describes the “simultaneously friendly and threatening” treatment of journalists covering the trial. Both family members and foreign reporters could compromise the authorities’ ability to control the flow of information from the courtroom, The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page writes:

[Bo’s] ability to influence the official narrative of his trial is clearly highly limited. Chinese authorities are tightly controlling media access to the trial—there will be no live broadcast and only two official news outlets are likely to have reporters in the courtroom. But Chinese officials worry, according to party insiders, that Mr. Bo could still try to influence public opinion with the help of relatives and others in the courtroom, who could spread word of any statement he makes that state media doesn’t carry.

[…] Chinese reporters say they have been ordered to report only the official account from the Xinhua news agency. But a defiant statement from Mr. Bo could still be leaked to foreign media and spread quickly across social media in China, reviving popular support for him, and reopening splits in the party elite. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 21, 20133:15 PM

Samuel Wade August 21, 20132:08 PM

Ben Blanchard and Benjamin Kang Lim describe how some of Bo’s allies have ridden out his fall, highlighting Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan who claimed in January that he had “banished” Bo’s influence from the city. From Reuters:

Three years ago, the mayor of China’s sprawling southwestern city of Chongqing was asked to describe how well he got along with his then boss, the ambitious Communist Party leader Bo Xilai.

“Like fish and water,” the portly Huang Qifan told reporters on the sidelines of the annual full session of parliament, using a Chinese expression meaning an almost symbiotic relationship. “Everything is great, magnificent. The whole Communist Party secretariat works smoothly together with one mind.”

[…] Several junior officials lost their jobs or were detained because of their proximity to Bo, but Huang is one of two senior allies not purged, underlining the leadership’s caution as new President Xi Jinping seeks to maintain stability and unity. [Source]

Bloomberg’s Henry Sanderson points out that Xi himself once offered similarly effusive praise. Chang Ping wrote on Tuesday that many “followers of Bo and his Chongqing model have now become the foot soldiers of the new government of Xi Jinping,” while others have discussed whether China is now “walking on the path of Bo Xilai without Bo Xilai himself.”

Samuel Wade August 21, 20131:55 PM

See more background below.

Samuel Wade August 21, 20131:44 PM

William Wan reports at The Washington Post that media focus on the trial has drawn petitioners to Jinan:

One woman in a green shirt camped out by the court gate and cursed the Communist Party for 10 minutes, railing against corruption and the “burning and looting” on the backs of China’s citizens. When last seen by Washington Post reporters, she was receiving a stern talking-to by police.

Reporters from the Associated Press made note of a woman with a pink umbrella who rode up on a bicycle and shouted, “Give me justice!”

Long suffering and often ignored, petitioners have become a regular staple in China’s political system. Their grievances often involve government corruption or cases like forced demolition of their homes. Bo’s trial, some explained, offered them a rare chance to vent to a captive audience of journalists with nothing better to do and little information offered by authorities ahead of Thursday’s trial. [Source]

Policemen drag elderly petitioner away from the courthouse entrance.

Reuters’ John Ruwitch also noted protests outside the courthouse, by petitioners and Bo supporters.

Samuel Wade August 21, 20131:34 PM

Security forces, media, and Bo supporters gathered on Wednesday:

Policemen march out of the courthouse where disgraced Communist Party leader Bo Xilai will be tried.

Bo Xilai supporters speak to media in front of the court before police cordon off the area.

Samuel Wade August 21, 20131:30 PM

A patriotic color theme emerges:

Anne Henochowicz August 21, 201311:20 AM

Central Propaganda Department: Bo Xilai will be escorted to Jinan, Shandong Province on the evening of the 21st and tried at the Jinan People’s Intermediate Court on the 22nd. The presiding judge and public prosecutor have already been determined. Unified plans have been made for related reports; the media must not independently report this information. (August 21, 2013)

中宣部:薄熙来将于21日晚被押解到山东济南市关押,22日在济南市中级人民法院开庭审判,审判长公诉人均已确定。相关报导有统一安排,各媒体不得自行报道此消息。 [Source]

Samuel Wade August 20, 201310:24 PM

Offbeat China examines the curious uniformity of comments on the court’s weibo announcement of Bo’s trial:

All 3000+ comments were synchronized into 3 major themes: 1) Bo deserves harsh punishment; 2) the case is an example of rule of law in China; 3) the case shows the central government’s determination to fight corruption. For example, netizen 德孤有邻 commented: “Support rule of law! Firmly oppose corruption!” Another netizen 带你去森林动物园 commented: “Down with Bo Xilai. [We need to] firmly uphold Party regulations, law and justice.”

Could this be a truthful representation of China’s online public opinion on Bo’s case? Definitely not! Further examination reveals that most of the 3000+ comments were posted by netizens who left paraphrased comments with the same meaning multiple times. And there is a name for netizens like this – the Internet water army.

[…] One netizen 小鸡抓兔子V2013 commented: “I’m shocked to death after reading the comments. They are as uniform as the military parade on national day.” [Source]

See more on the topic from Reuters’ Anita Li and South China Morning Post’s Keith Zhai and Patrick Boehler.

Samuel Wade August 20, 201310:14 PM

Edward Wong and Chris Buckley explain Beijing’s delicate task of neutralizing Bo without alienating his supporters or discrediting the Maoist politics with which he is associated. From The New York Times:

The tension lays bare the continuing need to preserve the vaunted place of the party’s original ideology in China’s political life, nearly 35 years after the party turned from Maoism to economic reform and opening. As Mr. Bo showed, the ideology remains the most fundamental wellspring that Chinese politicians can tap for popular support and legitimacy. Some political analysts say China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is taking a page from the Bo playbook when he stresses the importance of learning from Mao and Marx and pushes an old-school “mass line” rectification campaign among party officials.

[… “New Leftist” professor Han Deqiang] said he had noticed Mr. Xi and fellow party leaders donning Mr. Bo’s neo-Maoist mantle after taking power in November. “China is walking on the path of Bo Xilai without Bo Xilai himself,” Mr. Han said. “What it proclaims in public banners is still the same as what Bo Xilai did in Chongqing. But the problem is, a Bo Xilai road without Bo Xilai lacks substance. It’s flimsy and fake.” [Source]

The “Bo without Bo” accusation is not only heard from the far left. Liberal journalist Chang Ping used very similar language on Tuesday, and argued that “followers of Bo and his Chongqing model have now become the foot soldiers of the new government of Xi Jinping.” Bloomberg’s Henry Sanderson, though, while pointing out further similarities and Xi’s “wholehearted championship” of Bo’s politics in the past, noted that there are firm limits to Xi’s adoption of Bo-ism:

While Xi has paid public homage to Mao, his government is pressing ahead to ease the state’s grip on the economy as part of reforms set to be unveiled later this year. Bo advocated just the opposite — more state control over the economy.

“Xi Jinping is not a conservative, he is a reformer,” said Zhang Qianfan, a professor of law at Peking University. “But his reforms have run into many obstacles. How does he overcome these obstacles? By using the examples of great history from the party, so that he can further encourage reform. He doesn’t want to give those who oppose reform an excuse.” [Source]

Samuel Wade August 20, 20139:15 PM

Samuel Wade August 20, 20139:12 PM

Reuters’ John Ruwitch reports from Jinan:

About 10 supporters of Bo protested briefly outside the courthouse in Jinan, holding signs that said: “We’re watching the Bo trial to see if it’s fair and just.”

“Bo Xilai is not corrupt, Bo Xilai works for the people and is a good cadre,” said a protester from Beijing surnamed Li. “Others have talked about serving the people but they have just left the people hanging out to dry and not done anything practical for the people.”

[…] “I have my own case for over 20 years and have come to see if Bo Xilai can get justice because if a member of the Politburo can get no justice, then we have no hope,” Bao Runpu, a petitioner from northern Hebei province, said. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 20, 20139:05 PM

Samuel Wade August 20, 20139:02 PM

Authorities have denied reports that journalists will be shown a live stream of the trial at a nearby hotel, The Guardian’s Tania Branigan reports:

Sophie Beach August 20, 20135:29 PM

Wang Xuemei, China’s leading forensic scientist, has resigned her posts both as vice chairman of the Chinese Forensic Medicine Association and at the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, according to Malcolm Moore at The Telegraph. Last September, Wang published a blog post dismissing the official cause of Neil Heywood’s death. She has also expressed doubts about another case involving a man who died in the Beijing subway three years ago. Upon resigning, Wang said, “I cannot stand my name being mixed up with an academic body that presents such ridiculous and irresponsible forensic evidence.”

Samuel Wade August 20, 20134:32 PM

While foreign reporters have been unable to secure access to the courtroom itself, Ta Kung Pao reports that “according to the Shandong People’s Government Taiwan Affairs Office, Jinan Secondary Court has arranged a hotel as a media center for the Bo Xilai trial. The trial will be broadcast and ‘Weibocast’ live to the hotel, and a press conference will follow.” The New York Times’ Chris Buckley and The Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore discussed the report:

Samuel Wade August 20, 20133:07 PM

At The Wall Street Journal, Jeremy Page profiles Bo’s lawyers, whose firm boasts “close, long-term relations with governmental departments.”

[… L]awyers and legal experts say that for Li Guifang, Mr. Bo’s chief defense lawyer, the case isn’t about winning over a jury—there isn’t one—or defeating the charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power that Mr. Bo faces in a courtroom in the eastern city of Jinan.

Mr. Li’s main role, they say, is to act as an intermediary between Mr. Bo, his relatives and prosecutors to try to negotiate an outcome acceptable to all sides in the run-up to the trial—and to help ensure that the trial itself goes according to plan.

See more on DeHeng’s Party ties, and on blocking of family-appointed lawyers and other reported obstructions of Bo’s defense, via CDT.

Samuel Wade August 20, 20132:04 PM

Reuters’ Anita Li explains how the online conversation about Bo’s trial, as previously discussed by Keith Zhai and Patrick Boehler at SCMP, is being padded and filtered to fit the official narrative.

Samuel Wade August 20, 20131:33 PM

Gillian Wong charts Bo’s rise and fall at the AP:

“It’s dealing with a ghost, really. The guy has been absolutely annihilated,” said Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat in Beijing and China expert at the University of Sydney.

[…] At a labor camp in Chongqing, inmates cheered at the announcement [of Bo’s removal last year] on the evening news. “We all thought: He’s finally getting what he deserves,” said Fang Hong, a forestry official who had been sent to the camp for a year for posting a scatological ditty online that mocked Bo. He spent that year making Christmas lights for export to Germany.

Fang’s was no isolated case of extralegal abuse — dozens of people were locked up for various minor transgressions, said Fang, whose case was overturned by a court recently.

“It was a time of red terror,” he said in a recent interview. “The labor camps were overflowing with people.” [Source]

(See Fang’s offending weibo post here.)

Anne Henochowicz August 20, 201312:58 PM

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online:

Central Propaganda Department: The media must absolutely follow Xinhua wire copy as the standard in covering the Bo Xilai trial. Heads and sponsors of news media must conscientiously strengthen monitoring of the weibo and blogs of subordinates. (August 20, 2013)

中宣部:有关薄熙来案件开庭的报道,媒体一律以新华社的通稿为准。各新闻媒体主管主办单位要切实强化对所辖媒体工作人员之微博、博客的监管工作。

Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The date may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source.

Samuel Wade August 20, 201312:43 PM

Reuters’ Benjamin Kang Lim and Sui-Lee Wee highlight the possibility, noted here yesterday, that abuse of power charges against Bo may be dealt with in early closed proceedings on Wednesday. The charges reportedly revolve around Bo’s illegal dismissal of Wang Lijun after Wang shared his suspicions about the death of Neil Heywood. When Wang then fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, Bo again overstepped his authority by sending security personnel to retrieve him.

Wang held a rank equivalent to a cabinet vice minister as he was also a deputy mayor of Chongqing, and it was the prerogative of the Ministry of Public Security and the Communist Party’s powerful Organization Department to appoint or dismiss officials of his rank, not Bo, the sources said.

[…] “Bo did not report the incident to higher-ups, which he should have done,” a source familiar with the case said. “Also, he was in no position to mobilize security personnel to grab someone in another city.”

[…] “If it’s the abuse of power charges, which involve (state) secrets, then it’s highly possible the trial will actually start tomorrow (Wednesday),” said [Wang Lijun’s former lawyer] Wang Yuncai. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 20, 201312:09 AM

Conflicting reports have emerged about the pursuit of compensation by Neil Heywood’s family for his murder in 2011, apparently reflecting disagreement between his wife and mother on how to proceed. Heywood’s mother went public with her request a week ago, expressing concern for the financial security of his children and disappointment that “repeated discreet approaches to the Chinese authorities” had been produced no results. Read more at CDT.

Samuel Wade August 19, 201311:37 PM

At South China Morning Post, Chang Ping examines ongoing official criticism of constitutionalism, much of it emanating from “followers of Bo and his Chongqing model [who] have now become the foot soldiers of the new government of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.”

I am not suggesting that scholars and journalists who once supported Bo should now be black-marked and silenced.

I merely point out that such “rehabilitation” is rare in a political culture that prizes above all the qualities of loyalty and staying in line. That these writers have been allowed to continue serving the new party leadership, by modifying and recycling ideas from their old essays, may seem like social progress. At the least, it seems like China is no longer in thrall to the vindictive cycle of political revenge.

But, more likely, the real reason is that the new government is following the “Bo Xilai line”, without Bo. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 19, 20139:19 PM

Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan declared in January that the city had “worked hard to banish the serious impact of the Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun cases.” Aspects of Bo’s legacy have been uprooted, but efforts to redress the excesses of his rule have now stalled, according to Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee:

Lawyers estimate there are thousands of cases demanding restitution in the foggy southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, which Bo ruled as Communist Party boss until he was dramatically sacked early last year amid lurid allegations of graft and murder.

[…] But despite the official repudiation of Bo’s tactics in Chongqing, China has shown little appetite to follow or publicize cases brought by the victims of his crackdown, largely because it could focus unwanted public attention on how the Communist Party operates. [Source]

A series of articles at Caixin in December described the use of torture in Bo’s Chongqing, where lawyer Li Zhuang described the authorities’ actions as “like a crazy mouse on a rollercoaster going to a slippery slide.”

Samuel Wade August 19, 20138:33 PM

Authorities’ efforts to control the narrative on Bo Xilai found a focal point in an official weibo post announcing the date of his trial, according to Keith Zhai and Patrick Boehler at South China Morning Post:

The Jinan Intermediary People’s Court turned to Sina Weibo, China’s largest micro-blogging platform, to announce Bo’s trial date in what could be the most historic statement it has made in its 59-year history.

[…] “Server data synchronisation has been delayed, please wait 1-2 minutes,” is the message anyone who wishes to comment on the announcement of Bo’s trial sees. Negative comments don’t appear on the site after the waiting time has passed. The more than 1,000 comments which do appear are consistently in favour of his widely predicted conviction. [Source]

Offline, both supporters and critics of Bo Xilai have faced detention since his indictment last month.

Samuel Wade August 19, 20137:39 PM

Bloomberg’s Henry Sanderson examines state media’s focus on punishing corruption in Bo’s case, rather than on the political considerations emphasized elsewhere:

Bo, charged with bribery as well as abuse of power in the death of a British businessman, will face trial Aug. 22, the Xinhua News Agency said Aug. 18. He’ll join a line of punished officials including a minister who steered contracts to associates, court judges removed for hiring prostitutes and a township cadre fired for spending $32,000 on his daughter’s wedding banquet.

With his verdict, Bo will be the highest-level official to have faced prosecution during a war on graft that Xi said was necessary to keep people from losing faith in the Communist Party. While Bo was removed from his posts and expelled from the party before Xi came to power, Chinese state media are attempting to portray Bo’s trial and corruption cases against other officials as evidence of the party’s zero-tolerance policy toward graft under Xi. [Source]

See more on Xi’s twin crackdowns on corruption and anti-corruption activists via CDT.

Samuel Wade August 19, 20137:20 PM

Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai’s son Bo Guagua has issued a brief statement to The New York Times expressing concern about his father’s trial and mother’s health:

It has been 18 months since I have been denied contact with either my father or my mother. I can only surmise the conditions of their clandestine detention and the adversity they each endure in solitude. I hope that in my father’s upcoming trial, he is granted the opportunity to answer his critics and defend himself without constraints of any kind. However, if my well-being has been bartered for my father’s acquiescence or my mother’s further cooperation, then the verdict will clearly carry no moral weight. [Source]

The possibility that Gu might testify against her husband, in writing or in person, has been the subject of much recent rumor. A source told Reuters on Monday that “Gu loves Bo [Xilai] very much and the only way for her to provide any evidence against Bo would be because some deal to protect their son has been struck.”

The younger Bo enrolled at Columbia Law School last month, having graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government last summer. In another statement released shortly before that, he addressed questions about sources of funding for his studies and his reportedly opulent lifestyle. A recent profile at Foreign Policy highlighted speculation that his father’s prosecution could trigger a metamorphosis “from a dandified playboy to a man of political conviction.”

Samuel Wade August 19, 20136:31 PM

At Deutsche Welle, Rebecca Liao outlined the charges against Bo, the motives behind them, the near certain verdict and the likely sentence:

Bo Xilai will almost certainly be found guilty on each of the charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. However, he probably faces a lenient sentence. Officials have not put forth specific allegations, but Caijing, a respected magazine in China, reports that sources close to the matter say Bo has been accused of receiving more than 20 million yuan in bribes and embezzling another five million yuan while mayor of the northeastern city of Dalian. And according to a lawyer close to the Bo family, the charge of abuse of power stems from his dismissing Wang Lijun, his former right hand man and police chief of Chongqing, without the approval of the Ministry of Public Security.

If true, the allegations are far less severe than they could be, glossing over Bo’s disregard for the rule of law in Chongqing in his anti-crime campaigns and the hundreds of millions sources say Bo ferried into offshore accounts. For comparison, his wife Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Liu Zhijun, former head of the endemically corrupt Ministry of Railways, was handed the same fate for accepting 64.6 million yuan in bribes. Bo will share like punishment, possibly even less. [Source]

The Washington Post’s William Wan also explored the likely leniency of Bo’s punishment:

Some in the party believe that Bo will be spared a death sentence — even a suspended one — because of an informal agreement protecting Politburo members against it.

A harsh sentence is also not necessary politically because Bo has already been removed from power, said Li Weidong, an analyst and former editor of China Reform magazine. With Bo already ousted, Xi mainly needs to ensure that he does not cause any more trouble during the next 10 years while Xi heads the party.

“There is already consensus in the party to ‘protect’ Bo to some degree,” Li said. “Among the princelings I know, a majority of them support or are sympathetic to Bo. Xi Jinping doesn’t want to lose their support.” [Source]

As James Miles explained at The Economist’s Analects blog, Bo had and still has supporters beyond his princeling peers:

[…] He enjoyed considerable public support in the regions he led, most recently as party chief of the south-western municipality of Chongqing. He was also a darling of die-hard Maoists and members of the
“new left”, who believe that China is turning too capitalist. Mr Xi appears eager to avoid creating new enemies while settling into his new role.

And so far he appears to have succeeded in keeping the leftists at bay. Mr Xi’s studied adoption of Mao-era rhetoric, just like Mr Bo’s in Chongqing, has helped win over some on the left [….]

[…] Some leftists have not been persuaded by Mr Xi’s seeming love of Mao (RedChina, a Maoist website that is only published in Chinese but blocked in China, is still peppered with anti-Xi vitriol). But they are likely to think twice about taking to the streets. As the Daily Telegraph reported recently, some of Mr Bo’s most outspoken supporters, along with some of his critics, have been detained or put under police surveillance in recent days, apparently to prevent them from making trouble during the trial.

While state media describe the trial as an expression of rule of law, all of the above analyses emphasize the primacy of political factors in determining the process and outcome of Bo’s case. At The Useless Tree, Sam Crane described the trial in terms of Han Feizi, the Legalist philosopher “who helped invent the very notion of ‘rule by [rather than of] law.'”

When cadet houses become too numerous, the royal family will face anxiety and grief. The way to prevent this is to prune your trees from time to time and not let the branches grown too luxuious.  If the trees are pruned from time to time, cliques and parties will be broken up.  Dig them up from the roots, and tehn the trees cannot spread. (Watson, p. 41).

And that is essentially what the Bo Xilai trial is all about. It is a “pruning” of the “trees.”  Bo had grown too big and too powerful.  For Xi to consolidate his power, Bo had to be cut down.  And on Thursday we will witness (if indeed the proceedings go forward publicly, which itself is part of the political calculations) the start of the chopping. [Source]

Some observers have, though, expressed qualified hope that the trial could mark a turning point. Rebecca Liao argued recently, for example, that the very insistence that “the whole case is progressing normally under the law,” true or not, is an encouraging sign: “if the Chinese government now views the law as something to be navigated and not simply ignored, then it has already overcome a significant ideological obstacle.” At Bloomberg View, on the other hand, Adam Minter suggested that by inadvertently putting the politicization of Chinese justice on prominent display, Bo’s case could help foster change:

Bo is not a sympathetic character. During his time in Chongqing he ruled ruthlessly and lived like a depraved Roman emperor. Nonetheless, he can still serve as a poster boy for China’s judicial failings. Bo’s residual power -– his father was Chinese Communist royalty — isn’t enough to change a leveling fact: His verdict and sentence will be decided by senior Communist Party officials according to political need, not by judges according to law. This predicament will resonate, for instance, with Chinese farmers robbed of their land by local government officials with connections to, if not control of, the courts and other means of appeal.

[…] His defense, insofar as he can mount one, should be political, negotiated behind closed doors with hope that his public — whoever that might be at this point -– sees in him a symbol of a failing much greater than his own corruption. Leniency, much less mercy, is unlikely. But if Bo’s trial leads to greater public pressure for reform of China’s unjust judiciary, history might just grant him a bit of accidental redemption. [Source]

Samuel Wade August 19, 20133:57 PM

State media have repeatedly stressed that Bo will have an open trial as part of a general emphasis on the proceedings’ claimed transparency and fairness. From Global Times, for example:

The open trial notice has received nationwide attention, and has been featured prominently on top news sections on nearly all the news portals in China.

“Contrary to some people’s speculation, the whole case is progressing normally under the law,” Qin Qianhong, a constitutional law professor with Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that punishing Bo in accordance with the law will reassure the public that the Party and the government will stick to their vow to govern through the rule of law.

[…] Compared to the cases of Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu, Qin said that matters related to Bo’s trial have been more transparent and the information was revealed in a timely manner. “The rule of law is becoming more effective,” he said. [Source]

The openness does not appear to extend to foreign media, however:

Jeremy Page reported that The Wall Street Journal was also unable to secure access:

The announcement said the trial would be “open.” But public access to the proceedings in Jinan, capital of the coastal eastern province of Shandong, appears to be as tightly controlled as it was for last year’s trial of Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai. She was convicted of the murder of a British businessman close to the Bo family.

Shortly after Sunday’s announcement, a court official confirmed the start date but declined The Wall Street Journal’s request to attend the trial, saying all the seats in the courtroom had already been taken—a pretext commonly used in politically sensitive cases in China to control access, according to legal experts.

[…] Chinese authorities barred foreign media and handpicked the observers for Ms. Gu’s trial, which also took place outside Beijing. But two British diplomats were allowed to attend those proceedings, along with a Chinese lawyer representing Mr. Heywood’s family.

A British Embassy spokesman said Sunday that no British official would attend Mr. Bo’s trial. He Zhengsheng, the lawyer for the Heywood family, said he could not confirm whether he would be attending. [Source]

During Gu’s trial in Hefei, nearby streets were cordoned off and police sent to monitor local hotels, while outside the courthouse, men tried to block cameras with umbrellas.

In the trial of Bo’s former right-hand man Wang Lijun, charges of defection and abuse of power were unexpectedly dealt with in closed proceedings the day before his pre-announced open trial. According to “an anonymous source close to Bo,” Global Times reports, the abuse of power charge against him “is mainly related to the case of Wang Lijun.” If these charges significantly overlap, it is possible that Bo’s trial will follow a similar pattern, beginning behind closed doors on Wednesday.

Samuel Wade August 19, 20133:57 PM

A long time ago, in a municipality far, far away …

At Murder Is Everywhere, crime author Lisa Brackman summed up Bo’s story so far:

Bo is the former [party chief] of Chongqing and was a very powerful fellow who had ambitions of becoming a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body in China, and maybe even premier or president, and he might have done it. He was charismatic, popular, a guy who used old-style Maoist propaganda and “Red Songs” to appeal to the masses of Chinese who feel left behind in the current “to get rich is glorious” hyper-capitalism that runs the country these days. Bo had the reputation of a man who got things done, who cleaned up Chongqing, cracked down on organized crime and corruption. He combined this with the outspoken, glad-handing style of an American politician, something of which the gray men of the CCP did not approve, accustomed as they are to doing things behind the scenes and by consensus.

[…] And then his wife, Gu Kailai, a lawyer once known as the “Jackie Kennedy of China” murdered a British businessman.

At least, that’s the story. [Source]

See also John Garnaut’s concise ebook The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo, Gillian Wong’s account at the AP, a timeline at CNN, and more background on Bo via CDT.

August 23, 2013 8:00 PM
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Categories: Law, Politics, Society