The Bo Xilai trial has finally concluded, and it looks like we’re drawing to the final chapter of perhaps the most important political event in China since Tiananmen Square.
The trial itself, while heavily choreographed, has been revealing. One big thing to note is that while Bo was facing trial for graft, abuse of power, and fraud, much of the courtroom’s surprises revolved around the illicit romantic life of the former Chongqing party boss, his wife, and the city’s police chief.
The most recent revelation was that Wang Lijun, the police chief who was once one of Bo’s closest associates, was, according to Bo, secretly in love with Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai. “His emotions were entangled. He couldn’t extricate himself,” Bo told the court.
It was Wang who set Bo’s fall from grace in motion when he fled to the American consulate in Chengdu in February 2012, bringing details of British businessman Neil Heywood’s apparent murder and subsequent cover-up with him. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was later found guilty of that murder. Gu has since testified against Bo, though he has dismissed her as “insane.”
Bo, speaking in court, portrays Wang’s flight differently. Wang “invaded my family, he invaded my basic emotions,” Bo said. He went on to explain that he had discovered Wang telling his wife that he had deep feelings for her. “This is the real reason he defected.”
It’s unclear if Wang and Gu were lovers, though Bo does describe them as being like “paint and glue,” a Chinese idiom that implies a relationship.
When the Neil Heywood scandal first broke, of course, the widespread rumour was that Heywood had been Gu’s lover — British tabloids even found the pair’s alleged “love-nest” in the U.K. This possibility didn’t get much attention in the trial. Heywood’s murder was ultimately attributed to an attempt to blackmail the couple and a threat against their son, Bo Guagua — even the younger Bo himself got caught up in rumours about taking a daughter of John Huntsman out on a date.
Bo was probably not a poor cuckold, of course. When he was booted out of the Chinese Communist Party, the official report stated that he had stated he “had or maintained improper sexual relations with multiple women.” There were even (faintly ridiculous) reports that he had a fling with the Chinese star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang Ziyi. During the trial, Bo admitted that he and his wife had fallen out because of an affair he had in the 1990s, prompting her to move to the United Kingdom to be near her son.
Perhaps it’s wrong to be surprised by the alleged affairs — sex scandals seem to be a recurring theme in 21st century Chinese politics, and Sinocism’s Bill Bishop has told Business Insider that mistresses are fairly socially acceptable for China’s political elite. But it’s still noteworthy that one way or another the vast political potential of Bo Xilai’s Maoist populism were ultimately derailed by personal problems. Even if Bo’s fall from grace was, as many have suspected, politically motivated by a Beijing elite that feared his personal popularity, his entangled love life appears to have given them the leverage they needed to take him out of action.
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