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Liz Carter and David Wertime

With Bo Xilai’s Ouster Official, Chinese Netizens Ask What (Really) Happened

Bo Xilai: "I am a short-sighted person." Via Weibo

The purge is on. Bo Xilai, a former Chinese power-broker whose family’s rise was torpedoed by a weakness for bribery, backstabbing, and killing people, is now out—or as the Chinese might say, “ao te” (奥特)–of China’s Communist Party.

On China’s Weibo platforms, the country’s major online gathering places for speech and debate, the Bo-related comments have come rolling in. On Sina Weibo, a search for recent tweets mentioning “Bo Xilai” returned nearly 7 million results. Prominent users across the platforms have demanded (but likely won’t get)  more information, searching available sources for clues. Liu Jian, (@刘坚), Editor in Chief of the Economic Observer, wrote: “From Dalian to Liaoning, from Liaoning to the Ministry of Commerce, from the Ministry of Commerce to Chongqing, Bo Xilai brought disease wherever he went. What does this approximately 20-year career track show? [If] Bo Xilai was poor at managing people, [does that not mean] that every level of government was also imprudent in managing Bo? Does this type of phenomenon not require reflection? Shouldn’t we seek out who’s responsible?” {{1}}[[1]]从大连到辽宁,从辽宁到商务部,从商务部再到重庆,薄熙来”带病”一路走来。十几二十年间,这样一条仕途轨迹说明了什么?薄用人失察,各级组织用薄没有失察吗?这样一种现象,要不要反思?该不该追究谁的责任?[[1]]

Meanwhile, the acting editor of the Open Times @吴铭 recalled an incident that now seems to have foreshadowed the brash Bo’s fall: “According to information from Hong Kong’s Wenhui News, on the morning of January 10, Bo Xilai met with 18 reporters in Chongqing. A reporter from China Central Television asked, ‘If your role were to change at the 18th Party Congress, how would you ensure that Chongqing continues to reform in the direction that you’ve set?’ Bo Xilai quickly answered, ‘I am a short-sighted person, I generally don’t plan for anything six months away.’ Everybody laughed. {{2}}[[2]]香港《文汇报》消息,1月10日上午,薄熙来在重庆会见18家媒体记者。中央电视台记者问:“如果‘十八大’您的位置发生变化,您如何保证重庆的改革能朝着既定的方向发展?”薄熙来迅速回应:“我是一个目光短浅的人,一般半年以后要发生什么,我不做打算。”——全场笑声一片。[[2]]

Speaking of foreshadowing, enterprising reporter Shi Feike (@石扉客) scoured the recent Bo-related press release by Xinhua, China’s officially-sanctioned news service, to look for clues about the case and its future. His post was originally shared on Tencent Weibo, but netizens soon made sure to share it on Sina as well.

Shi’s argument is a bit of inside baseball, but it provides a fantastic glimpse of just how much, well, tea leaf reading is required in Chinese politics. Tea Leaf Nation translates:

1. For a major case at the ministry level, as throughout the cases of [fallen Politburo members] Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu from the last 20 years, there have been three or four organizational processes: Suspension; a halt to one’s duties on the political and central commissions; being sent to judicial organs for processing; trial. Most of the internal discipline and control measures occur in the first two of the aforesaid phases, with arrest and criminal punishment measures occurring in the last two. The Bo case has naturally not been an exception. 

2. The Bo case is currently in step three of the aforementioned four processes. The Xinhua release is 1,339 characters, which exceeds the August 1997 release on Chen Xitong at only a few hundred characters as well as exceeding the July 2007 release on Chen Liangyu [which was] at 1,032 characters.

3.  It’s not just that the number of characters exceeds the other two releases; there is a qualitative difference in the level of severity. In addition to the usual [declarations] about problems with one’s work methods and organization running counter to Party discipline, the release discloses two things about Bo’s suspected crime: One is the crime, the other is the clues. 

4. Let’s start with the suspected crime. The release already confirms the three crimes of abuse of power, bending the law to selfish ends, and accepting bribes, the first two of which have already appeared in the trials of Wang Lijun and Gu Kailai, the third of which needs to be distinguished and examined. Look closely at this phrase in the third paragraph of the release: “Taking advantage of his power in order to benefit others, receiving enormous bribes from others directly and through family members; taking advantage of [Bo's] power, Bo Gu Kailai used the influence of Bo Xilai’s position to benefit others, and this family member accepted enormous [amounts of] property from others.”

5. This is an incomprehensible sentence; looking at the punctuation … it says that there are two matters, but the words “taking advantage of power” and “benefiting others” appear twice in a row, and the logic is tangled. My view is that the first phrase refers naturally to Bo [Xilai]‘s taking bribes, this is beyond doubt. The second phrase has a comma, making things even more confusing, but if I try to [turn the meaning of this phrase into a normal sentence] what I get is: “Bo Xilai took advantage of his power, his wife Gu Kailai took advantage of the influence of Bo Xilai’s position, and the husband and wife together sought to benefit others, then Bo Guagua [Bo's son, who lives in the United States] accepted enormous amounts of property on the outside.”

6. Translating this again, this release–which has been vetted over and over again–is trying to emphasize two levels of meaning: The first is that Bo [Xilai] took bribes himself, the second is that Bo [Xilai] and his wife [Gu Kailai] conspired together for their son’s benefit. How did they conspire? What were they conspiring to get? (Note the difference between the terms “enormous amounts of property” and “enormous bribes.”) There is foreshadowing buried in this release, it remains to be seen [what it is] in the next [Xinhua release] within another year.

7. And now for the crimes. “The investigation also uncovered clues that suggests his involvement in other crimes.” I believe that this sentence in the release holds yet more subtle foreshadowing. What could be a more serious crime for a ministry-level government official to commit than accepting bribery, abuse of one’s powers, and bending the law for selfish ends, and is inconvenient for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China to investigate directly? I think that murder, rape, leaking national secrets, treason, and subversion are all possible. There are many precedents for this.

8. The aforementioned crimes sound unimaginable, so ridiculous as to be unbelievable. In fact, since February 7 of this year, Chongqing has been a veritable forest of equally unbelievable rumors. Each of the three releases [from Xinhua] are full of vivid details that are all true.

9. This release is undoubtedly the blueprint for further charges and trials. According to the verdicts already outlined in this blueprint, Bo will be sentenced to far more than the 10 years or more I predicted, probably receiving life in prison or a suspended death sentence. Of course, I still do not believe that he will be sentenced to death, as this would break the unwritten rules of the past 30 years that once you enter the bureau, you cannot be killed, and once in the committee, you cannot be convicted of a crime.

10. One possibility is that this: Bo will receive a suspended sentence, which Gu has already received, and the second season will begin; Bo Guagua will begin the process of [getting] legal assistance (China and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty). In this case, there’s really nothing you can do. Who said government wasn’t cruel? Sometimes even money can’t save you.

11. In the aforementioned fourth stage in item one, as for the time gap between the third and fourth, for Chen Xitong it was one year and for Chen Liangyu it was nine months. According to the precedent of the cases of these two Chens, the final stage of the Bo case should wrap up around the time of the Two Meetings. If it’s on the faster side of things, it might be before the 2013 New Year, and everyone will be able to see [Xinhua’s] [next] release. …

12. From Chen Xitong to Chen Liangyu to Bo Xilai, the pace gets faster and faster. The crimes pile up as well, and the details become more abundant. The explanations become more imaginative. Who says China hasn’t made any progress in the past twenty years? At the very least, officials have made great strides.

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Liz Carter and David Wertime