September 14th 2013

  Buy Issue 2908

Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Major challenges face an Abbott government

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Five lessons that Labor must learn

MARRIAGE DEBATE: Media's reaction to 'child equality' election campaign

SOCIETY: Same-sex marriage and social change:
Exceeding the speed of thought

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The folly of a US-led Syria strike

ENERGY: Affordable, clean way to achieve fuel self-sufficiency

SCHOOLS: Educrats trying to change their spots

CHINA: Long jail term looms for 'crown prince' Bo Xilai

UNITED STATES: White House and media ignore upsurge in racial violence

LIFE ISSUES: Does an unborn child feel pain during an abortion?

LIFE ISSUES: Dr Nitschke reveals euthanasia's dark side

HISTORY: Must we be slaves of time and place?


CULTURE: The forgotten art of dressing well

BOOK REVIEW Tim Fischer's time in Rome

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Long jail term looms for 'crown prince' Bo Xilai

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, September 14, 2013

The trial of former Chungqing mayor Bo Xilai has transfixed China. Hundreds of millions have followed the trial word for word on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, and other social media.

“The defendant’s crimes are extremely grave and he also refuses to admit guilt. As such, the circumstances do not call for a lenient punishment but a severe one, in accordance with the law,” say the prosecutors.

Like most things about China, the population figures for Chungqing are elastic; but at 28 million, Chungqing is the biggest city in China by most measures, ahead of Shanghai, which has a population of 20 million. Chungqing is in Szechuan Province in western China, birthplace of China’s late pre-eminent leader, Deng Xiaoping.

Bo Xilai, as mayor of Chingqing, instituted policies rarely seen in today’s China. His chang hong, da hei campaign made people excited about politics again. Chang hong, da hei means “Sing revolutionary songs and strike down the black elements (i.e., gangsters)” and harked back to Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.

Between 2007 and 2012, Bo was a member of China’s Politburo and tipped to become a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, thereby becoming one of the 10 most powerful men (they are all men) in the country.

Bo’s support came from the Maoists on the Left and the social democrats on the Right. The Maoists saw in Bo Xilai a hero who would lead them back to power. The social democrats saw in Bo someone who was attacking privilege and corruption.

The current regime is, in Chinese terms, pursuing a liberal economic policy. It will never share or surrender power.

However, fortunately for its future prospects, presiding over a population that is getting richer reduces political tensions. The Chinese Communist Party is nothing more than a conspiracy to enrich its members through the manipulation of power. Anyone who threatens their hold on power is their enemy, and Bo was a threat.

Bo is one of the “princelings” who have come to dominate Chinese politics. They are the sons of the revolutionary leaders who helped Mao gain power. Bo Xilai’s father, Bo Yibo, was one of the “Eight Immortals” who supported Deng Xiaoping in the transition to a more open economy.

The Eight Immortals — or, to be more correct, The Great Eminent Officials — is a playful pun on the mythical “Eight Immortals” of Taoist mythology, who are revered in traditional Chinese belief systems.

During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the senior Bo was prosecuted and, interestingly, like his son, caused pandemonium when he refused to admit guilt to the various spurious “crimes” of which he was accused. During this time, his wife was beaten to death by the Red Guards. Eventually, his hands shook so much that he could no longer control his chopsticks and had to eat his rice from the floor of his cell.

The younger Bo was imprisoned, at the age of 17, along with most of his siblings. One of his sisters went abroad and now lives in the United States, where she has been granted citizenship.

Bo Xilai’s recent trial was noteworthy not for how short it was, but how long it lasted. Bo was expected to admit his guilt, hang his head in shame and plead for mercy. He could have expected a lengthy term of imprisonment, but one which after a few years would have been quietly commuted to house arrest. He may now face the death sentence pour encourager les autres, as the French say. It is unlikely that any such sentence would be carried out. It is more likely to be suspended, then commuted to life in prison. Eventually, however, he will be released.

This trial was intended to be similar to the Stalin-style show trial depicted in Arthur Koestler’s classic novel, Darkness at Noon (1940). Though the proceedings were manifestly unjust, the accused was supposed to play along, no matter how ludicrous the charges, “for the good of the Party” — and for the future safety of his family.

This trial is not held in a court in the way we understand the word. The three branches of China’s government — the judiciary, the legislature and the executive — exist solely to serve the interests of the Communist Party. Thus, as in any important case, the verdict in the Bo Xilai trial will not be decided by the judge, but by a Communist Party committee. This is “revolutionary justice”.

China admits to executing “only” 3,000 people a year, a quarter of what it did until recently, but still more than the total number of judicial executions in the rest of the world.

As Chinese Australians who have crossed powerful figures have discovered, the Chinese judicial system has nothing to do with justice and is only an instrument of the ruling Communist Party.

Bo Xilai and his now estranged second wife, Gu Kailai (Chinese women retain their maiden names), were once described as the “Kennedys of China”. Gu herself was jailed last year for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Now the couple have nothing to look forward to except long prison terms. Like Icarus, they flew too close to the sun.

Jeffry Babb is a Melbourne-based writer, who spent several years in China and has visited most of the country’s provinces and major cities. 

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