Evan Osnos on the verdict we’ve all been waiting for– Bo, guilty:
The Chinese Communist Party has just done something it hates to do: hang its dirty laundry out in public. With a level of force and lurid color that surprised just about everyone who pays attention to these things, on Friday the Party ended the greatest guessing game in Chinese politics by unveiling the charges against the once-golden politician Bo Xilai.
According to the announcement of the charges, Bo “abused his power, made severe mistakes, and bore major responsibility” for the attempted defection of a powerful police chief and the murder of a British businessman (a crime for which his wife was convicted). In other words, the state is saying that he had a hand in killing or covering up the killing of a foreigner, and that he failed to prevent a bearer of secrets from attempting to flee.
There’s more: “He took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family. His position was also abused by his wife, Bogu Kailai, to seek profits for others, and his family thereby accepted a huge amount of money and property from others.” In today’s China, what is a “huge amount”? Well, Bloomberg figured that Bo’s in-laws had more than a hundred million dollars in assets. And those are the ones we know about. “Bo had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women.” Plural? The émigré journalist Jiang Weiping has estimated that Bo had somewhere around a hundred mistresses.
One of the biggest surprises in these charges is that the Party didn’t confine its attention to the dramatic events of this spring and declare victory. On the contrary, they harkened back to virtually his full political career, accusing of him impropriety as early as his posts in Manchuria, where he was first stationed in 1984. That’s a quarter century of opportunities, and for years, Bo was said to have been involved in corruption. But nobody ever thought he would be prosecuted for it, not any more than they think that the other members of the Politburo who are routinely subject to rumors about corruption will ever see a day in court.
And therein lies the powder keg at the center of the Bo Xilai case. In seeking to purge him with a finality that can restore short-term political balance, the Party may have raised a more dangerous spectre: the full-scale accounting of a life in government. The results could reveal a culture of self-dealing and personal enrichment that exceeds even the Chinese public’s considerable tolerance of official abuse. It may start a conversation that will be hard to end.