Does Bo’s conviction mean there is still hope for justice in China?

Death of a Salesmen and the Downfall of Bo Xilai

Only a few years ago Bo Xilai was one of the most powerful men in China.  The son of Bo Yibo, one of the eight elders of the Communist party, Bo Xilai was destined from a young age to inherit enormous power and influence in China’s political scene.  In line with his destiny he amassed enormous influence in both the party and in provincial politics, culminating in his appointment as the Minister of Commerce and induction into the 17th Central Politburo.  

While Bo solidified himself as an influential member of the party, his career is chock-full of acts of corruption, extortion, and misuses of power.  Through bribes, blackmail money from local businessmen, and other ethically questionable acts, Bo amassed considerable wealth.  It is no secret that nearly all of China’s powerful politicians possess tremendous wealth.  The stock market is known to be rigged by party members with insider information, allowing them to multiply their wealth and all SOE’s (State-Owned Enterprises) are owned and controlled by high-ranking politicians and their families.  However, unlike many in the party who are careful to avoid publicly flaunting their wealth, Bo was notorious for his lavish and carefree lifestyle.  Bo Xilai, until recently, owned a villa in France, paid for his son’s overseas education at Oxford and Harvard, and invested his rumored $136 million fortune overseas.  

In spite of his profligate lifestyle Bo was revered by many in China.  Many Chinese in the Chongqing province in particular admire his political style, and his tenacity for cracking down on crime.  Initially considered to take the reigns as Party Secretary, the most powerful position in China, Bo Xilai was immediately tossed aside as a contender following revelations that his wife had murdered Neil Heywood, a British businessmen.   Following Xi Jinping’s ascension to power as Party Secretary, Bo Xilai was faced with a string of corruption charges, and on September 22nd, he was convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment.


While the imprisonment of a Bo’s wife for murder, and of Bo for his corruption-laden career would seem to indicate China’s commitment to justice, nothing could be farther from the truth.  This entire charade was motivated purely by political interests.  The party strove to salvage its image by administering pseudo-justice to the political figure whose wife murdered a foreigner, and Xi Jinping, Bo’s contender for Party Secretary and orchestrator of Bo’s conviction, was simply ensuring his promotion to Party Secretary.

Had Bo’s wife murdered a Chinese citizen instead of a British national, one can be confident neither she nor Bo Xilai would currently be facing any jail time.  And while they are currently both facing life-sentences there is no indication that once in prison Bo will be treated blindly by the eyes of justice.

There is no official confirmation from the Chinese government as of yet, but Bo Xilai will likely be imprisoned in Qincheng prison, a complex that houses a good deal of ‘retired’ political leaders from the national, provincial, and municipal levels.  It is described by Celia Hatton as a ‘luxury prison’ with opulent accommodations and lenient policies.  Some prisoners are entitled to wear clothes from home, have well-furnished rooms, and can have their prison meals prepared for them by local hotels.

It is unsettling to dwell on the fact that the eyes of justice are so far from blind in the People’s Republic of China, but there is so little to be expected given the structure of China’s political system.  So much of their power is consolidated into the hands of a few wealthy and powerful men.  Not only does Bo Xilai still curry considerable favor amongst some of these peers, but even his rival Xi Jinping has a certain bond with Bo. Both of them grew up together as children of elite party members half a century ago, making it unlikely that he would ever face the death penalty.

This will hardly be the last Chinese political scandal to hit international airwaves, but its outcome speaks volumes about the state of China. Rife with economic inequality, China’s gini coefficient is one of the highest in the world. The fact that Bo Xilai will be imprisoned in luxury instead of a more common, draconian prison is analogous to the stark economic and social inequality present all over mainland China.

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