Chongqing Revisited

Trying to escape Bo Xilai's shadow: How victims still bear scars

In the third part of our four-part series Revisiting Chongqing, victims of Bo's crackdown recall a time that still affects them

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2012, 3:08pm

Despite being tortured for 37 days in a Chongqing motel room, businessman Chen Guixue remained defiant.

"This is illegal. The government has policy and law," he told the police who were tormenting him during former Chongqing Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai's crackdown on organised crime.

Chen said the police replied that Bo was the policy and that his police chief, Wang Lijun, was the law.

"Don't you realise that our secretary, Bo, will become the president in the future, and that our police chief Wang will become minister Wang," they said. "But you may not live to see that, you zombie. You're going to die if you don't confess."

Chen, now 58, incontinent and suffering from a host of health problems attributed to the abuse he suffered in detention, was arrested on December 23, 2010. The next day, he said, there were many times when he thought he was about to die.

More than 20 police forced him into the motel room without showing any legal documentation. They cut off his clothes, leaving only his underpants and a T-shirt, and poured cold water on him, from head to foot. They turned the air conditioner to its coldest setting, stood in a circle around him and began beating him. At one stage, two police officers held him against a wall as others kicked his legs to force him to do the splits - tearing his groin muscle. Other forms of torture he endured were being hung by his wrists, having the soles of his feet beaten and being subjected to electric shocks.

The police said there was nothing he could do to protect family members who had also been arrested. "I could sleep with your wife in front of you and you couldn't do anything about it," one officer told him.

Speaking in Chongqing earlier this month, Chen said he was then shackled to a metal chair and the police beat his manacles, leaving bruises that are still visible two years later. He was forced to confess to paying former Chongqing mayor Wang Hongju 2 million yuan in bribes.

Interviews with other victims of Bo's crackdown show that the use of torture to extract confessions was an unsavoury feature of his Chongqing model of social and economic policies which his administration pursued for more than four years. It was notable for its emphasis on infrastructure upgrades, affordable housing and rapid growth, but also for its anti-triad campaign and the encouragement of mass singalongs of revolutionary-era songs.

The man who replaced Bo as the southwestern municipality's party chief following his sacking in March, Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang , said at the party's national congress last month that the Chongqing model never existed. Sun Zhengcai , a rising political star who took over from Zhang right after the congress as the new party chief, vowed that the new government would protect the interests of private business and create a suitable environment in Chongqing in which businessmen, many of whom fell victim to Bo and Wang's anti-triad campaign, could thrive.

Beijing Institute of Technology law professor Xu Xin , who used to work at Chongqing's Southwest University of Political Science and Law, said it was important to look at the whole political management system that made such a system possible.

"It's a model that lets those with power do things arbitrarily," Xu said.

The unbridled power of local officials cows those they target.

One woman, a lower-level city official who was sentenced to 18 months' jail in 2009 during the anti-triad campaign, said she had dared to file an appeal only last month, following Bo's downfall in March. "If Bo and Wang [Lijun] were still ruling the city, I would not have filed the appeal," she said. "It would have been useless anyway."

She suffers from headaches whenever she thinks about her time in detention and has asked a court to order her reinstatement and monetary compensation.

But many former detainees, including Chen, say they just feel fortunate to be alive and want no more at the moment. Chen said he would wait until the political outlook became more certain before filing an appeal.

"Let me wait for the decision on Bo first," he said. "I've been waiting for two years, and I don't mind waiting a bit longer."

The Bo scandal surfaced when Wang Lijun attempted to seek asylum at the US consulate in Chengdu , Sichuan , in February. Since then it has seen Bo's wife, Gu Kailai , jailed for the murder of a British businessman, and has metastasized into a full-blown political crisis, with Beijing still trying to figure out how to resolve it.

Sources say that more than 2,000 Chongqing police officers who were sidelined by Wang Lijun have appealed for their cases to be re-examined, with about half reinstated or their cases under review. A senior police source in Chongqing said if the authorities publicly announced they were reviewing cases dating back to Bo's time in charge of the municipality, tens of thousands of people would file appeals.

"It is very important to seek truth from facts, and that includes telling the public everything Bo did in Chongqing without any hesitation," said Lei Yi , a historian with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Covering up the facts for political reasons could create a hidden danger."

Li Zhuang , a former lawyer who was jailed for fabricating evidence in his defence of an alleged triad boss in 2010, said victims had a responsibility to stand up and reveal the ugly, dark side of Chongqing under Bo.

"I will become a criminal in history if I do not tell the story," Li said. "It's important to rule the country by law because that could regulate people and power."

Li's case attracted a great deal of attention from China's legal community because it highlighted concerns among many lawyers that the Chongqing government was trampling on legal procedure in its zealous crackdown on criminal gangs. Li Zhuang spend 18 months behind bars and is pursuing an appeal against his conviction.

Mainland officials insist that the Bo scandal - the biggest political scandal in decades - was a rare aberration, but the problem may be more widespread.

He Bing , from the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, said it highlighted the problem that after decades of opening up, the mainland was still governed by the rule of men, rather than the rule of law.

"Chongqing is not the only place that has fallen under the rule of men," He said. "Many local heads would be more than happy to destroy the rule of law, so that they can do whatever they want."

In late 2007, when Bo succeeded Wang Yang in Chongqing, most political analysts believed his new posting would become a springboard for a triumphant return to Beijing, and possibly membership of the party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee. He tried hard to stay in the national limelight, using methods reminiscent of political campaigns in the time of Mao Zedong that later evolved into what became known as the Chongqing model.

Chen Youxi , a prominent lawyer, said that what happened in Chongqing offered a profound lesson for the rest of the country.

"It's important to prompt nationwide soul-searching about what really happened in Chongqing," he said.

"The soil of the Cultural Revolution can still be found in China and the Chongqing tragedy could also happen in other places. The way it fixes the problems in Chongqing can be seen as an indication of the government's view of the country's legal system."