China’s Show Trial of the Century

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 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 1930’s has a defendant so effusively praised a judge who seemed bound to condemn her at a trial where no witness or evidence against her was presented.

The bitter irony of Gu’s high-speed trial is that she was a true believer in China’s legal system. Indeed, following a victory in an American court, Gu, a lawyer, wrote a book in which she claimed that China provides “the fairest method of trial.” She continued, “Chinese lawyers would not quibble over the meaning of each little word. Once they are sure that you murdered someone, you will be arrested, judged, and executed by firing squad.”