Friday February 21, 2020


April 11, 2012

At 11 pm Beijing time on Tuesday, April 10, China’s state-run media outlet announced that Bo Xilai, a well-known politician in China, had been suspended from membership in the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee Political Bureau and the CPC’s Central Committee. Bo, who was relieved of his post as Party chief of Chongqing last month (see the USCPF news brief, “Bo Xilai Steps Down as Chongqing Party Chief“), has now been stripped of his membership in two of China’s highest governing bodies. Further, the CPC Central Committee confirmed that Bo is under investigation for “serious discipline violations.” In a surprising twist, the media concurrently announced that Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai, and one of Bo’s aides, Zhang Xiaojun, have been arrested on suspicion of the murder of a British national, Neil Heywood.

The high drama surrounding Bo Xilai began with Wang Lijun, his right-hand man and former chief of police, spending a mysterious 30 hours at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. Since then, Chinese citizens and foreign China watchers alike have been trying to make sense of the increasingly bizarre events. Online rumors inundated China’s microblogs, resulting in a temporary shut-down of prominent micoblogging platform’s “comments” function in an attempt to halt the spread of the rumors. Much of the speculation, including wild stories about a secret coup that had taken place within the Party, seemed far-fetched, but one of the rumors, about Bo’s involvement in Neil Heywood’s death, has now been at least partially legitimized by the state media’s recent announcements.

Neil Heywood, a British citizen residing in China, was known to have connections to Bo Xilai’s family. The announcement on Tuesday by China’s media noted that Heywood was particularly close to Bo Xilai’s wife and son. According to the state media’s official report, Heywood and Bo’s wife Gu Kailai supposedly had a falling out over “a financial dispute.” Heywood was found dead in Chongqing in November 2011, in what was initially ruled an accidental death due to excessive drinking. However, in the wake of Bo Xilai’s dismissal from the post of Chongqing Party chief, online rumors began to circulate. The rumors claimed that Bo Xilai or his wife had been involved in a plot to poison Heywood, and that Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. consulate because he feared retribution after confronting Bo about Heywood’s murder.

The revelations by the Central Committee seemed to confirm these rumors, as Bo’s wife and aide are now under investigation for Heywood’s murder. There has been speculation that the online rumors and intense public scrutiny of the case helped force the Central Committee’s hand, leading them to release specific information in an attempt to satisfy the curious public.

China’s government and media outlets cite Bo’s fate and the investigation into his wife as proof of the rule of law in China. The investigation is being hailed as an example that even high-up Party officials cannot break the law with impunity. A commentary in the English-language newspaper China Daily (which also appeared in slightly edited forms on the English websites of Xinhua and People’s Daily) used Bo as an example that “No citizen stands above the law. Under no circumstances do Party members stand above the law. No one can interfere with the enforcement of justice.”

However, even while putting a positive spin on the ongoing investigation, the same article admits that “What Bo has done has seriously violated Party discipline, brought loss to the Party and the country, and tarnished the image of the Party and the country.” The Party is seriously concerned about potential damage to its image, which explains the on-going censorship of microblog posts and online searches related to the Bo Xilai case. Prominent articles lambasting the spread of “unfounded rumors” on Chinese media websites appeared soon after the announcement about Bo’s fate, revealing the government’s ongoing concern over social media commentary on the case

The government is especially concerned about public opinion on the Bo Xilai scandal because the events provide rare evidence of the political in-fighting between factions in the upper levels of the Communist Party. The CPC values unity above all, especially with a leadership transition planned for the fall of 2012. The scandal surrounding Bo Xilai has revealed tensions within the Party which the government in anxious to resolve. Bo Xilai, who is seen as a leader of the “princeling” faction representing those descended from Communist Party elites, was also a powerful symbol of the “new left” movement, which sought to return to an era of socialism and to uphold the glorification of both Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. Once Bo was dismissed as Party chief of Chongqing, many analysts believed Bo’s fate would ultimately rest on the results of political battles between Bo’s faction and political leaders with more reformist tendencies. With Bo now officially dismissed from his important Party positions, his political fate seems sealed. However, it remains to be seen what long-term effects Bo’s ouster will have on the balance of power between factions at the top of the CPC.


For more information on Bo Xilai’s suspension from Party posts and the arrest of Gu Kailai, please see the following news sources:

China Daily – “Bo suspended from key Party post

New York Times – “Death of a Briton Is Thrust to Center of China Scandal

Reuters – “China braces for next act in leadership drama

Tea Leaf Nation – “Netizens React to the Fall of the House of Bo

Xinhua – “Police reinvestigate death of Neil Heywood according to law

Xinhua – “CPC Central Committee to investigate into Bo Xilai’s serious violations


For Chinese commentary on Bo Xilai’s suspension and the arrest of Gu Kailai, please see the following news sources:

People’s Daily (人民网) – “人民日报评论员:坚决拥护党中央的正确决定

People’s Daily (人民网) – “宽容谣言不是民主素养(人民论坛)

Xinhua (新华网) – “授权发布:中共中央决定对薄熙来同志严重违纪问题立案调查

Xinhua (新华网) – “授权发布:公安机关对尼尔·伍德死亡案依法进行复查

Edited and compiled by Shannon Reed.