Why Bo Stole the Show

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – As show trials go, the drama featuring Bo Xilai, the once-swaggering, media-savvy former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief of Chongqing, veered anomalously into improvisation. Before the proceedings began, the conventional wisdom was that Bo’s trial had been carefully scripted and rehearsed to portray a forlorn and penitent sinner confessing his crimes and apologizing to the Party.

But the historic five-day trial dispelled any notion that Bo would go quietly to his cell in Beijing’s infamous Qincheng Prison, where China’s fallen top leaders are incarcerated. He challenged the prosecution vigorously, defending himself with a feistiness that surprised nearly all who read the transcripts released by the court in real time on the trial’s first day.

Bo dismissed one of his accusers as having “sold his soul.” He characterized testimony given by his wife, Gu Kailai, now serving a suspended death sentence for murdering the British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011, as “comical” and “fictional,” and he called her “crazy.”

Throughout the trial, Bo flatly denied most of the corruption charges, often professed ignorance of the facts, and claimed to be unable to recall any details of the matters in question. He even retracted his confession to the CCP’s anti-graft agency, blaming mental stress for his admission that he accepted bribes from a man he called “soulless” in court. In his closing statement, he dropped a bombshell: he claimed that Wang Lijun, his former police chief and henchman (and a “vile character”), was secretly in love with his wife.