Bo Xilai

Bo a victim of his own ambition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2012, 12:00am


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'Legitimacy belongs to the victor; losers are always in the wrong.'

For thousands of years of Chinese history, that phrase has inspired countless ambitious peasant bandits and generals alike to seek the ultimate glory of being crowned king.

Although victors were few and far between, with most contenders ending up badly defeated and usually beheaded, that has not prevented them from trying to seize power.

In this context, it is not difficult to understand why Bo Xilai has become a victim of his own ambitions by pursuing a course that has led to his spectacular fall from grace.

The irony will not be lost on many mainlanders that, until a few months ago, Bo, the flamboyant and controversial party secretary of Chongqing, would have looked certain to become a key member of the new leadership to be unveiled at the Communist Party's 18th Congress, scheduled to be held in the autumn. But Bo's fate changed on February 6 when Wang Lijun , his right-hand man and former police chief of Chongqing, walked into the US consulate in Chengdu with incriminating evidence against Bo and Bo's wife, triggering one of China's biggest political crises of recent decades.

As analysts have pointed out, Bo's character had the hallmarks of a typical populist politician easily found in a Western country - smart, abrasive, ruthless and media-savvy (he has a master's degree in journalism).

He is anything but dull and wooden, which are the characteristics of the mainland bureaucrats who seek to rule by consensus and hide their true colours behind the tightly scripted propaganda.

Much has been written about how Bo has become the flag-bearer of the country's rising neo-leftists and took advantage of the widespread discontent over the widening income gap and rampant official corruption by launching the twin campaigns of 'striking black and singing red' in Chongqing.

The campaigns won him popular support nationwide but caused considerable anxiety among the reformists and liberals, who accused him of disregarding the law and human rights and recalling the painful memories of the Cultural Revolution.

As a man of many contradictions, Bo is hardly the person who wanted to bring back another Cultural Revolution, not least because he and his family members, including his father, a revolutionary veteran, suffered terribly during that period.

As the mayor of Dalian, later as the Minister of Commerce, and then party chief of Chongqing, Bo, speaking in accented but fluent English, has long been known as business friendly.

In Dalian and in Chongqing, he tried hard to woo foreign investment by cutting red tape and meting out preferential policies.

He is credited with turning the sleepy port of Dalian into a modern metropolis and, in Chongqing, he has pushed for comprehensive policies to push for urbanisation and other business-friendly agendas.

Other analysts have argued that his pedigree as a high-powered princeling led him to take bigger and reckless risks.

But according to people who know him, Bo's downfall, though triggered by one incident, was inevitable and had much to do with his troubled youth and his formative years in the northeastern province of Liaoning .

Bo was born in 1949 into a family of prominent revolutionaries and his father, Bo Yibo, one of the founders of the People's Republic, was a high-ranking government official.

Bo was just 17 years old when the Cultural Revolution started. After his father was purged, the younger Bo spent five years in jail, which had a big impact on the formation of his character, moulding him into someone unruly and high-handed when dealing with people.

One example is that after he was promoted to become the party chief of Chongqing in 2007, he brought with him not only his secretary but also his top adviser at the Ministry of Commerce. Later, he even managed to bring along Wang Lijun, who had worked with him in Liaoning.

These appointments, though seemingly innocent to outsiders, broke a time-honoured tradition within the party's leadership that once a senior official is transferred he may take with him only his own secretary to the new position.

Also, Bo spent nearly 20 years in Liaoning working his way up from deputy county chief to Liaoning governor from 1984 to 2003.

He was believed to be heavily influenced by the so-called Jianghu culture, which was developed in the wild years of bandits and secret societies in the 1920s and 1930s and is still prevalent in much of the northeastern provinces.

The code values loyalty and camaraderie above all else and calls for severe punishments for betrayal.

After failing to secure a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee at the 17th Congress in 2007, Bo appeared determined to do something big and different at the 18th Congress - hence his high-profile campaigns, even though he well knew top leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao disapproved of these.

By then, it was already very clear to him that he would be either a victor or a loser.



Bo Xilai is appointed Communist Party chief of Chongqing municipality after more than 15 years as an official in Liaoning province.



Wang Lijun, Bo's close ally for many years, is made director of public security in Chongqing.


The Chongqing municipal government begins its 'red culture' movement, releasing a list of communist revolutionary songs it encourages locals to learn.



A 'red text messages' campaign sees Bo send out quotes from Mao Zedong's 'little red book' to Chongqing's 13 million mobile phone users. The city also launches an anti-mafia campaign targeting government officials and police officers suspected of working with local gangsters. High-level officials, including Wen Qiang, former director of the Chongqing Municipal Judicial Bureau, are arrested.



Wang becomes vice-mayor of Chongqing.


British businessman Neil Heywood dies in a Chongqing hotel. Officials say he died of alcohol poisoning, but no autopsy results are released. Heywood maintained close links with Bo's family for more than a decade and helped Bo's son with his overseas education.


February 6

Wang takes refuge at the US consulate in Chengdu for a day in an apparent attempt to defect. On leaving the consulate he is whisked away by government officials.

February 8

The Chongqing information office says on its weibo account that Wang is receiving 'vacation-style treatment'.

February 9

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledges Wang's visit tothe US consulate, saying the matter is 'under investigation'.

March 5

A Chongqing government spokesman says Wang left the US consulate only after 'earnest and patient persuasion' from three of Chongqing's top officials and a degree of central government intervention. Huang Qifan, Chongqing's mayor, says Wang is being investigated by the Ministry of State Security.

March 8

Bo is absent from the second plenary session of the National People's Congress.

March 9

Bo makes his first comments on Wang's case in a question-and-answer session on the sidelines of the NPC meeting, saying he had picked the wrong man for the job. He also talks about his wife, Gu Kailai, who 'basically just stays at home doing housework', which leaves him 'really touched by her sacrifice'.

March 14

Premier Wen Jiabao comments on Wang in his annual news conference at the closing of the NPC session, saying Chongqing authorities should seriously reflect upon and learn from the incident, and that Beijing took the matter 'very seriously'.

March 15

Bo is removed from his post as Chongqing party chief and replaced by Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang. Wang is officially sacked as vice-mayor.

March 19

A leaked audio recording on the internet suggests Bo had been angered by an investigation into his family members by Wang. Rumours surface on social media sites of a coup in Beijing by Bo and his supporters and there is speculation that Bo could be linked to the death of Heywood.

March 25

Britain asks China to investigate the death of Heywood. British media report that Wang sought a meeting with British officials hours before he fled to the US consulate. It is alleged Wang told US diplomats that Heywood had been poisoned and that Bo's wife was involved.

March 30

Authorities detain six people for circulating rumours of a military coup by Bo supporters.

March 31

Beijing police say they have detained 1,065 suspects and deleted more than 208,000 'harmful' online messages as part of a nationwide crackdown on internet-related crimes. The two biggest social media websites ban users from commenting on microblog posts.

April 1

A report in The Wall Street Journal suggests that Gu, who handles the Bo family business, had asked Heywood to divorce his Chinese wife and swear loyalty to the Bos, and that she had become angry when Heywood refused.

April 10

Beijing announces that Bo has been stripped of his Communist Party posts as a member of the Central Committee and Politburo. Gu and Zhang Xiaojun, one of Bo family's staff, are 'strongly suspected' of killing Heywood over a dispute about 'economic interests'.