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Corruption, intrigues and power games in modern China

Bo Xilai

by M. S. Shah Jahan

“Corruption is the most crucial threat to the ruling party”.

At an annual meeting of anti-corruption officials on March 26th, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, had little progress to point to. He said there were still frequent corruption cases in departments that possess great power and in areas where the management of funds is centralized.

On March 15 the Communist party suddenly dismissed the governor and party chief of Chongqing, (Chungking in English) Mr. Bo Xilai, 62 years.

Chongqing is a major city in Southwest China and one of the five national central cities, 50 times of London with a population of 30 million. Administratively, it is one of China’s four direct-controlled municipalities but the largest. The other three are Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.

Bo Xilai, an ambitious leader who cast himself as the crime-fighting boss, was accused of trying to block a police investigation into his family by Chongqing’s police chief, Wang Lijun. According to Reuters, Wang told Bo, he believed that Bo’s power-hungry, avarice lawyer wife Gu Kailai, 54 years, was involved in a murder case he was probing and that could not be covered up

Bo was shocked and angry. He asked Wang to leave, saying he wanted to be alone and clear his mind. When Wang returned half an hour later, Bo said to him that the issue carried too much significance and he would seriously punish his wife, Gu Kailai.

Two or three days later, Bo back flipped and shunted aside Wang in an apparent bid to quash the inquiry and protect his wife and his career.

So Bo quickly demoted Wang to the much less powerful role of vice mayor for education, culture and science. For Wang Lijun that was a terrible shock. If you took away his uniform, you stole his life.

Wang was not holy. Bo ruled Chongqing with an iron fist and Wang was his right hand- hit man –attack dog. The crimes they committed together were numerous under the guise of cleaning up mafia gang influence by torturing and confiscating their properties worth millions or billions. Chongqing was like a cow boy government that made the Central authorities highly worried. But Bo was immensely popular with the poor masses.

Wang feared that Bo, eager to preserve his reputation and chances for a spot in the next central leadership, could turn on him after central party investigators began probing Wang’s past. So Wang told central investigators that Gu Kailai turned on a business accomplice because of economic interests and that she wanted to destroy him.

Now Wang, in fear of persecution by Bo, sought asylum in the US consulate in the city of Chengdu on February 6th, driving 200 miles. Wang presented documentary evidence involving all about his boss as he tried to negotiate safe passage to the U.S

After staying there for a day, he was persuaded instead, as America did not want to annoy China, to hand himself over to Chinese central government officials, who detained him for “investigation” when he left the U.S. consulate on Feb. 7. But his where about is not known. Wang could now face treason charges.

Besides shocking news in this connection emerged in March with the revelation that a British businessman 41 year old Neil Heywood, a member of Bo’s close inner circle, had died in a suspicious manner on 14th November 2011 in a Chongqing hotel room.

Police said Heywood died of excessive alcohol-consumption, and his body was cremated immediately without autopsy in the presence of a British official. But latest reports claim he was poisoned with potassium cyanide, a tiny amount of which can kill within minutes and give the appearance of a heart attack. Authorities believe he may have been dead for nearly 36 hours.

Gu Kailai, a beautiful and driven lawyer, had her own nicknames like the Jacqueline Kennedy of China, for her beauty and adding value to her husband in power, the Hillary Clinton of China, for her superb legal brain, the Joan Collins, charming and manipulating wily actress.

The worst is, the Lady Macbeth who suppresses her instincts toward compassion, motherhood, and fragility associated with femininity, in favour of ambition, ruthlessness, and the single-minded pursuit of power.

Gu became one of China’s most prominent lawyers after she started her law firm Kailai. She was the first Chinese lawyer to successfully challenge and win a ruling in a US court. So she wrote a popular book called “Winning a Lawsuit in the U.S.”

Gu Kailai was everything the new, booming China wanted to be: wealthy, ambitious, respected and feared. She is a woman of beautiful face with serpent heart. Bo and Gu Kalli are considered “Princeling” or “Red Aristocracy” as their fathers were Mao’s revolutionary colleagues.

Powerful family links make such people particularly difficult to dislodge in any struggle.

Bo was seen until recently as one who might be promoted to the top-level Politburo Standing Committee. He believed he could one day become China’s paramount ruler.

Heywood’s family was told by the Chinese authorities that he had died of a heart attack, and that there would be no autopsy and his body was swiftly cremated. Although Heywood’s Chinese wife Wang LuLu, did not ask for an inquiry, members of the British community here wanted, saying Heywood was not a heavy drinker or a teetotaler, and pressed their embassy to ask for a probe.

Heywood’s death set off one of the biggest upheavals in Chinese politics since the Tiananmen Square crackdown on demonstrators in 1989. After five months Briton announced that it had made a strong request to the Chinese central government to re-examine and investigate his death fully, in light of fresh suspicions emerged. China responded by promising to “take it forward”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he welcomed the probe. “We did ask the Chinese to hold an investigation,” he said.

“We are pleased they are now doing that and I stand ready to co-operate in any way we can. It is very important we get to the truth of what happened in this very disturbing case, this very tragic case,” he said. This investigation has unlocked a tale of corruption at the heart of the ruling elite and a power struggle in the party.

Neil Heywood came from a British middle-class family and was educated at Harrow, a private boarding school, and Warwick University. Arriving in China in the 1990s and studying Chinese in Beijing, he moved to the northeastern city of Dalian, where Bo was mayor from 1993 to 2001 and where Heywood met the local girl Wang LuLu, his wife. He started his career as an English tutor to students including Bo’s son Guagua and changed to business.

The impeccably dressed Heywood, who drove a silver S-class Jaguar and imported classic Aston Martins for China’s new rich, wrote to Bo and offered his services as a consultant. He was quickly brought into the family fold, a foreigner who could help the internationally minded Bos to send their son to Britain for a public school education.

Heywood’s relationship with the family became close after he played a key role in organizing a place for Mr. Bo’s son, Guagua, at Harrow, an exclusive British private school that usually requires entrants to be on a waiting list from birth, and helping to look after the son while he was there between 2001 and 2006.

Harrow charges fees of £7,345 a term, despite Bo’s political salary being little more than £300 a month. When media questioned the affordability Bo’s family insisted he had won scholarships to attend Harrow and Oxford. But Guagua turned out to be a Ferrari driving spendthrift play boy who described himself having a ‘strained relationship with books.’ His partying behavior caused enough concern to his parents that attracted the attention of higher authorities too.

Gu was said to be godmother to the Heywoods’ 11-year-old daughter Olivia and seven-year-old son Peter, British citizens, who both attend the Beijing branch of Dulwich College, an international school for expats and privileged Chinese children.

He became a “fixer,” or middleman, for the Bo family, playing a role in organizing meetings between Bo and foreign officials and business people. He set up several companies, including one called Neil Heywood & Associates, some of which offered consulting services to foreign businesses trying to invest in Dalian and other parts of China.

Neil Heywood had been helping Gu Kailai with her overseas financial dealings. Recently Heywood told a friend that Gu handled much of the Bo family business but had grown increasingly erratic after a corruption inquiry in 2007 and at some point had asked Heywood to divorce his Chinese wife and swear an oath of loyalty, as she became convinced someone in the family’s inner circle had betrayed them. When he refused she got angry.

In late last year Gu, asked Heywood to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut than she had expected due to the size of the transaction. Gu accused him of greedy and threatened him. Heywood told her that if she thought he was being too greedy, then he didn’t need to become involved and wouldn’t take a penny of the money. Heywood also countered he could expose ‘everything’. What was ‘everything’?

Since then Heywood expressed concern that his life was in danger as relations had dramatically deteriorated between him and Gu.

He had told a friend earlier that he had left documents detailing the overseas investments of Bo’s family with his lawyer in Britain as an “insurance policy” in case anything happened to him, which Gu Kailai had come to know.

As Gu Kailai found that Heywood wouldn’t agree to go along and was even resisting with threats saying he could expose the deals that would be a major risk to Gu Kailai and Bo Xilai, Heywood was summoned on short notice to a meeting in Chongqing with representatives of the family of Bo Xilai.

There’s an Oriental proverb: ‘Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil.’

Did handsome Heywood have a romantic affair with Gu Kailai?

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