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Chinese political drama a fascinating read

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/3/2013 (1600 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The 2011 death of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing, China, was going to be declared an accident by local police.

But Heywood's death was no accident. He had been murdered. The ripples from that crime would cause an international incident and topple some senior Communist leaders.

Then-Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai, right, with his wife Gu Kailai in 2007.


Then-Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai, right, with his wife Gu Kailai in 2007.

This valuable book has been ripped from the headlines by journalist and publisher Pin Ho, whose Mingjing News website broke many new developments in the story.

Pin worked for a Chinese government-run newspaper and left in disgust after the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989, the Los Angeles Times has reported.

Wenguang Huang is a writer, journalist and translator who recently wrote the memoir The Little Red Guard.

Pin's previous book, China's Princelings, coined that phrase to describe the children of Chinese revolutionaries now in key political and business posts.

Two of those princelings share centre stage: Bo Xilai, the Communist party boss in the city-state of Chongqing and his beautiful but conniving wife, Gu Kailai.

Both had fathers who were Chairman Mao's comrades in arms during the 1949 revolution that brought the Communists to power.

Mao turned on both men during the Cultural Revolution and they and their families were subjected to torture and public humiliation by the Red Guards.

After Mao's death, both their families were rehabilitated, and the two old generals jailed and executed their political friends and opponents with equal alacrity.

Before Heywood's murder, Bo's friends in high places were preparing to usher him onto the exclusive Politburo Standing Committee, the supreme decision-making body for China.

But that was not good enough, according to some. Bo plotted with the head of the state security apparatus, who controls the country's police and courts, to stage a coup.

When Heywood's corpse was discovered in the unlucky (for him) Lucky Holiday Hotel, enter Wang Lijun, local police chief, appointed by Bo.

Wang ordered his investigators to collect all the evidence -- including fingerprints on a water glass -- knowing it would incriminate Bo's wife, Gu. Gu believed Heywood was blackmailing her son.

Then Wang closed the case by declaring Heywood died of alcohol intoxication.

In return for not charging Bo's wife, Wang expected Bo to protect some of Wang's friends from a corruption investigation. Bo responded by slapping Wang.

Wang attempted to defect to a U.S. consulate with damaging information about Bo and his wife. The U.S. refused him asylum, and Bo sent armed police to arrest him.

Wang bargained for a lighter sentence by giving detailed evidence to Beijing investigators about Bo's corruption and Gu's guilt in the Heywood case.

Gu Kailai was tried and convicted of murder, with a suspended death sentence.

As the book went to press, Bo had lost his job and party membership and was awaiting trial on charges of corruption, cronyism, womanizing and complicity in Heywood's murder.

The authors have done an admirable job of sorting through the contradictions, half-truths and outright lies perpetrated by all the players in this drama.

Their careful research and meticulous explanations will help everyone from general readers to veteran China-watchers sort out the meaning of Bo Xilai's rise and fall.

Donald Benham is director of hunger and poverty awareness at Winnipeg Harvest.


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