China's Communist Party changes leadership every 10 years. This time, the scandal surrounding Bo Xilai has muddled up the plans. It has also revealed a number of problems in the party from which he has now been expelled.
Power and the abuse thereof; moral and the lack of it; murder and money - the story surrounding Bo Xilai is enough for a full length thriller - a thriller that has gripped the Chinese public since February. Bo Xilai created chaos in China's carefully planned change of leadership. At the same time, he also brought to light uncomfortable truths about the country's leaders.
Bo was formally expelled from the Communist Party on Sunday, in a decision at a meeting of top party officials which paves the way for his criminal trial.
Through the scandal, a number of things have become clear. For one, there is a deep-seated ideological divide among the members of the Communist Party, which to the public presents itself as a homogenous, unified entity. Another thing that has become evident is that the top tiers live in astonishing luxury. They are involved in offshore banking and money laundering and will literally go over dead bodies if they have to, as Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai has proven.
Bo Xilai, as the son of legendary party revolutionary Bo Yibo, is one of the so-called "princelings." The children of the party's elite go to expensive schools, enjoy other privileges and, thanks to their excellent contacts, make up their own faction within the Communist Party. As party head of China's largest city, Chongqing, with over 30 million residents, Bo still had a good chance of being promoted into the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee - the party's inner circle of power.
Normally Chinese politicians rise through the ranks quietly. Not Bo. The urbane and charismatic started a populist campaign to make Chongqing his model city. He invested in low-income housing and attracted foreign investment.
But there are two campaigns for which he will be especially remembered: "sing red" and "strike black." Bo revived the ideals of the revolution by having songs from Mao's era sung in parks. "Strike black" referred to his crack-down on organized crime. Around 5,000 people were arrested in his ruthless campaign. A number of people were sentenced to death. The campaign attracted attention from the party elite. Five of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee travelled to Chongqing to visit him.
Xi Jinping, who is expected to become the next head of the party and also a "princeling" himself, travelled to Chongqing in December of 2010. Xi praised Bo's crackdown on crime. He called it an "outstanding accomplishment." But Bo didn't even attempt to make the impression that he was going by the rule of law. His Maoist campaign made Bo the most prominent representative of the so-called "new left." The new leftists want to solve China's societal problems such as the growing disparities between the rich and poor, and rampant corruption by giving the state more control.
On the other side of the spectrum are more liberal forces, like Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. This group wants to eradicate the country's problems through reform. They want less state and a stronger rule of law. No surprise, then, that Wen Jiabao did not visit Bo in Chongqing.
Escape to US-consulate
Bo had storybook career. That is, until his police chief Wang Lijun turned up around 300 kilometers away at the American consulate in the city Chengdu dressed as an old woman on February 6.
The top policeman got into trouble with his ex-boss when he confronted Bo with evidence that his wife was involved in the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood. Bo became furious and fired Wang on February 2. Wang apparently feared for his life, and felt the US consulate was the only safe place for him.
His escape to the American consulate turned the incident into an international affair which could no longer be concealed. But the Americans try to stay out of China's domestic issues. Wang stayed at the consulate for around 36 hours before turning himself over to Chinese authorities. Then he disappeared for months. At the beginning of March, the People's National Congress convened. Bo Xilai was allowed to speak at a press conference. It was not until the closing press conference that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spoke about the incident. Wen was unusually direct when he criticized Bo Xilai and his "Chongqing model." He warned of the return of "conditions during the Cultural Revolution" and expressed the importance of continuing and expanding political reform. Just a day later, Bo was arrested.
Death sentence for Bo's wife
In August, Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai's wife, received a suspended death sentence for the murder of Neil Heywood from a court in the southern Chinese city of Hefei. Usually, such sentences are commuted to life sentences. The trial only lasted seven hours and it seemed to have covered more up than it clarified; there was talk of a "business dispute," but no details were mentioned.
Rumor has it that Heywood had helped the Bo family transfer money to offshore accounts - money laundering is the only logical explanation for the luxurious lifestyles the elite politicians have; Bo's son, Bo Guagua, for example, studies at the elite Harvard University in the US. But Bo is not alone there - a number of other high-ranking officials have assets outside of China and send their children to study at elite foreign universities.
At the end of September, Wang Lijun went to trial for defection, abuse of power and corruption. He was sentenced to 15 imprisonment.
The fate of 63-year-old Bo Xilai was not played out in the press, but instead, taken care of behind closed-doors. At the end of October, Bo was expelled from the legislature. Up to that point, he had received immunity from criminal persecution. The official news agency Xinhua reported a criminal investigation had been initiated after he was removed from his post. Bo faces charges of corruption and covering up the murder of Neil Heywood.