Magazine article The Spectator

The Bo Show

Magazine article The Spectator

The Bo Show

Article excerpt

In a stuffy courtroom in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, a major political triumph is being celebrated. Bo Xilai, the Communist princeling, challenged the system and lost, and the system is having its revenge.

Under Marxism-Leninism a trial isn't an exploration of truth, it's a balletic demonstration of the rightness of the political system. Accused, witnesses, judges all join in the choreographed display, to prove to everyone's satisfaction that justice, Chinesestyle, is objectively correct. Until recently, the onlookers were expected to burst into delighted applause.

And in case you think this is something Mao Zedong introduced, take a look at the cases of Judge Dee - not Robert van Gulik's fictional detective, but the genuine Tang Dynasty article. Time and again, before being led off to their excruciatingly unpleasant punishments, the accused would confess their guilt in grovelling terms and thank Dee brokenly for sorting them out. A trial vindicates the rightness of the entire world order.

This, of course, is not how Bo Xilai sees things. He knows that the rough methods he used against the rampant gangster bosses in his fiefdom of Chongqing were fully approved by the party hierarchy, of which he was himself a member. He recently told his lawyer that he wanted a real trial, where he could argue his case in the full hearing of the world's press. And since the case against him is distinctly dodgy, he might have scored something of a victory.

Hence the huge pressure on Bo not to defend himself, on his wife Gu to give evidence against him, and indirectly on his son Guagua not to make too much noise in distant New York, where he's attending Columbia Law School.

So what is really going on here? First of all, let me declare an interest. I know Bo Xilai, I like him, and I suspect he may not be guilty of much more than plenty of other senior party functionaries have done. But he was profoundly ambitious, in a system which demands that you should appear quiet and modest.

'I think 2012 will be my year, ' he told me several years ago. He meant he was expecting to be promoted to the top ranks in the forthcoming leadership, but I had the feeling his eyes were on the topmost position of all: the golden triple, combining General Secretary of the Chinese Communist party, President of the People's Republic, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. …

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