Bo Xilai

What Bo Xilai’s body language says about his power, downfall

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2012, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 9:36pm

As the high-flying Communist Party chief of Chongqing and a former Commerce Minister, Bo Xilai had been expected by many to take a seat on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in the Chinese leadership transition this autumn.

But Bo’s political fortunes came to an abrupt end after his police chief Wang Lijun fled into the US consulate in February, and revealed that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered British business partner Neil Heywood.  Weeks later, the 62-year-old 'princeling' of Chinese politics was dismissed as Chongqing party chief, then suspended from the party's Central Committee and its Politburo, pending investigation for 'serious disciplinary violations'.

Bo's wife was given a suspended death sentence in August 2012. Wang received a prison term of 15 years on September 24 for crimes including attempted defection, abuse of power and taking bribes. On September 28, the Communist Party announced that it had stripped Bo of his Party membership and all official roles, and that he would be handed over to judicial authorities to face justice. 

Joe Navarro is a renowned body language expert. 

In this exclusive analysis, ex-FBI agent and body language expert Joe Navarro examines photographs of Bo Xilai from different stages of his political career, and gives his take on what might be going through the mind of the beleaguered former politician.

Navarro did not know the people in the photos, nor the dates and locations they were taken, and based his analysis purely on facial expression and body language.

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Navarro: The gentleman is obviously very comfortable communicating and expressing himself.

Just from his gestures we can tell that he is accustomed to speaking his mind but also being diplomatic. His gestures are not demure and at this point he is defying gravity, so whatever he is discussing, it is a topic he is confident talking about and in this instant he is being forceful or assured.

We don’t know the context, but his behaviours are consistent with a business meeting or gathering, and he is allowed to freely express himself.




Navarro: We don’t know who took this picture, but obviously it is staged. There is a certain amount of reservation but overall the sentiments are positive. We see a lot of closeness, touching (arms on shoulders) and hip-to-hip closeness. Notice both males have tilted their heads towards the woman. It shows respect and deference for her. If you notice the smiles, they are reserved and are for social or public consumption, not necessarily how they feel. This is consistent with the setting (public – tourist location), location and request of the photographer. The head-tilt is probably the biggest indicator of caring for the woman on the part of both men. 


Navarro: There is a placid sadness in the countenance of both the man and the woman. They appear to be grieving but also resolved, as though something has happened that was expected, or is natural, and they have accepted the circumstances. 

As in the previous photo, he is tilting his head towards her which shows he cares about her. He is trying to hide his feelings for social-public reasons, but his sadness leaks out in his eyes which are heavy and in pain. She is accessing her feelings, but she is also processing thoughts – unfortunately, we don’t know enough about the context and the moment when the photo was taken to know where her thoughts are taking her. I think she is trying to be strong, and she probably is, even though her eyes indicate that she has been emotional, perhaps even crying. The clothing is somber and consistent with what appears to be a somber event.  There is a certain amount of strength that we see in her face. It is fleeting but she has a strong disposition and may be stronger than she lets on or the public may know – we see this in her chin.


Navarro: This is a very formal setting; we can tell by the attire and the identification badge. Some things stand out, such as his awareness for fashion (blue tie is currently the favoured colour), and in this instance we don’t see his watch as we have in other circumstances (in a hurry, stressed). It is difficult to tell if he is waving with his left hand, he is blocking his left eye, or if he is touching his eyebrow as a pacifier.

All we can say is that  at this moment he knows he is being scrutinised, and his eyes are fixed on something, we are not sure, but he has no fear. And yet, the corners of his mouth are compressed and dimpled, which is usually indicative of dislike or contempt. The issue for us is, we don’t know what he is looking at or what has happened prior to this moment to put it all in context. Because he is revealing his emotions, it suggests that he is in front of people he knows well or sees often. Still the compressed lips say, “I don’t like.”


Navarro: This man is very uncomfortable right now. We can see it in his face but also in his body and in his clothes. He looks downtrodden and resigned to whatever is occurring. He isn't sad but rather processing what he is going through. He would like to get away, but he can’t. We don’t see his hands because they are likely grasping the arms of the chair, which suggests he is self-pacifying by holding onto something that is hidden and out of the way. In this moment, he is accessing some thought or emotion that renders him placid, even if for an instant.


"Looking up at the stars" may be a way of expressing exasperatoin or lack of control, or a look for heavenly assistance.

Navarro: This one is difficult because there may be some cultural factors at play here. I think this picture was taken either at the end of a long day (tie is loose, face is stressed) or he is listening to things that are painful or he disagrees with. He is enduring a process. His eyes are puffy which suggests this has been a stressful day or that the day or days before were stressful. In some cultures, looking up “at the stars” is a way of expressing exasperation and/or lack of control. In other cultures, it is a look for heavenly assistance.