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China’s Show Trial of the Century

To commemorate its founding 25 years ago, PS is republishing a selection of commentaries written since 1994. In the following commentary, Ma Jian reflected on the trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of the purged Chinese leader Bo Xilai, and what it revealed about China’s legal system under the Communist Party of China.

LONDON – The trial, conviction, and suspended death sentence of Gu Kailai, the wife of purged Chinese leader Bo Xilai, has called into question not only China’s legal system, but the very unity of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) leadership.

Let us begin with the many questions raised at the trial. For starters, Gu claimed that she killed the British businessman Neil Heywood only to protect her son. But, given Gu’s power as Bo’s wife, she could have had someone like Heywood jailed or expelled from China at the snap of her fingers. No need for cyanide.

Still, she not only admitted her guilt, but seemed to embrace it as a sort of historical necessity. “In order to uphold the sanctity of the law,” she told the court, “I am willing to accept and calmly face whatever judgment I am given, and I also expect a fair and just judgment.” Not since Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s has a defendant so effusively praised a judge who seemed bound to condemn her at a trial where no witnesses or evidence against her were presented).

25 years of the World's Opinion Page

Project Syndicate celebrates its 25th anniversary with PS 25, a collection of our hardest-hitting commentaries so far.

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Project Syndicate celebrates its 25th anniversary with PS 25, a collection of our hardest-hitting commentaries so far.

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