Fall of a party strong man

By Carol Huang

Bo Xilai rose quickly up Communist ranks but ended his political career in disgrace.

Bo Xilai appears in court in Jinan, in eastern China's Shandong province. Photo / AP
Bo Xilai appears in court in Jinan, in eastern China's Shandong province. Photo / AP

With a suave demeanour, well-cut suits and an easy smile, Bo Xilai presented, in his heyday, a stark contrast to the usual ranks of stiff, buttoned-up Chinese politicians.

But his open ambition and lobbying for promotion, coupled with his "princeling" status as the son of a hero of China's revolution, irritated some of his colleagues in the upper echelons of the ruling Communist Party.

His revival of "red" culture, sending officials to work in the countryside and pushing workers to sing revolutionary songs, also raised eyebrows.

The ousted political star was sentenced by a court to life in prison yesterday, convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in the country's highest-profile trial for decades.

During the five-day proceedings last month, Bo reinforced his larger-than-life persona with an unapologetic defence and grilling of witnesses. Enjoying a rare chance as a Chinese defendant to speak out, he dismissed his wife as "insane" and a close aide as secretly being in love with her.

He admitted to having affairs himself, though he insisted on his modesty by saying his underwear was 50 years old.

Born in 1949 - the year the party took power in China - Bo embraced his leftist streak despite tragedy suffered by his family during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, a decade of deadly chaos launched by then-leader Mao Zedong in which youths tormented their elders and officials were purged.

His father, revolutionary general Bo Yibo, was jailed and tortured and his mother beaten to death, while Bo Xilai himself spent time in a labour camp. But after Mao died and reformist leader Deng Xiaoping took over, Bo Yibo was rehabilitated and became one of the most powerful men in China, a party "immortal" who retained influence over state affairs through the 1990s.

The father's outsized stature bestowed on the son an impeccable pedigree that long protected him - and may have also facilitated his rise through the ranks.

Bo studied history at Peking University and took a master's degree in journalism from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences - an educational background that stands out in the crowd of engineers and scientists who make up China's political elite.

For nearly two decades from 1985 he was based in China's northeastern rustbelt, first as Mayor of Dalian, a decaying port city that he is credited with transforming into a modern investment hub. He brought glamour and attention to the city with flashy signature projects including a mounted female police squad, international fashion show and successful football team.

There, he left his first wife, with whom he had one son, for Gu Kailai - another privileged child of a renowned general, herself an accomplished lawyer who also studied at Peking University.

Bo was promoted to governor of Liaoning province and in 2004 entered the Beijing limelight as China's Commerce Minister, dazzling foreign counterparts with his modern, can-do attitude. During that time, he hosted many foreign visitors including European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, with whom he appeared to be on friendly terms.

Outside observers who said his move to the megacity of Chongqing in the southwest in 2007 would push him out of the limelight found themselves proved wrong. Yet those who had praised Bo as relatively liberal grew disillusioned, particularly with his ruthless corruption crackdown which saw scores of officials detained - some executed - and has since been criticised as flouting the law.

An early critic, journalist Jiang Weiping, was jailed for five years in 2000 and later moved to Canada after accusing Bo and Gu of corruption in Dalian as early as the 1990s.

The couple's son Bo Guagua jetted across Europe and Africa, and treated 40 classmates to an expenses-paid trip to China, they said. He also attended elite universities, including Oxford and Harvard.

But the family's gilded existence fell apart after British businessman Neil Heywood was killed in a Chongqing hotel room in 2011.

Gu was convicted of his murder and given a suspended death sentence, normally commuted to life imprisonment in China. Now Bo is also set to spend his life behind bars.

- AFP

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 22 Sep 2014 20:33:20 Processing Time: 2031ms