Bo Xilai: Trial or Theater?

A commentary by Bao Tong
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Chinese police surround a protester (C) outside the Intermediate People's Court where Bo Xilai will go on trial in Jinan, Shandong Province, Aug. 21, 2013.
Chinese police surround a protester (C) outside the Intermediate People's Court where Bo Xilai will go on trial in Jinan, Shandong Province, Aug. 21, 2013.

August 22 will be an important day: Maybe. The eyes of the world are on the Bo Xilai case, but it would be better to focus on the process of this "trial," rather than on any "judgment" which results from it.

Because this trial is taking place in the People's Republic of China, where the judicial system has a bad reputation. Under our state system, with its Chinese characteristics, fair-minded lawyers and upstanding judges are marginalized.

Even the [former] president of the Supreme People's Court, Dong Biwu (1886-1975) suffered injustice and was pushed aside after 1957, because he argued that the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party shouldn't be allowed to interfere in judicial decisions.

The rule of law has lost battle after battle, while authoritarian power has won, time and again. The legal system has become the slave of power, merely there for decoration.

Mao Zedong, a first-generation core member of the Communist Party, espoused lawlessness and complacency, while second-generation leader Deng Xiaoping made himself world famous by opposing the separation of powers.

If a case involves a political figure, or political factors, or will have political consequences in China, then a courtroom becomes a theater, and trials merely plays.

Everything revolves around the Party's public image, or its inner workings. There is no longer any such thing as legal or illegal.

However, no-one else is allowed to disparage the court. Courts at every level only exist as compliant tools of the Party.

In the space of about three years, [former premier] Hu Yaobang directed the overturning of millions of miscarriages of justice. These figures show us just how rotten China's judicial system has become.

When [former premier] Zhao Ziyang was in power, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and Party committees at every level swore off involvement in individual cases. It's a shame that these policies died with the person [who instituted them]. Since then, there has been an unending stream of new miscarriages of justice.

The Party central leadership has brought members of the Politburo to trial in the 80s and 90s of the last century, and in the early years of this century.

The trial of the "Gang of Four" created, in a unique experience, four devils and a savior, while the trial of the "Lin Biao Counterrevolutionary Clique" established as cast-iron truths the bizarre myths that Lin Biao was "a traitor who planned to betray his country" and "was planning to assassinate Mao Zedong."

The trial of former Beijing Party secretary Chen Xitong, meanwhile, revolved entirely around a specific aim, and succeeded in suppressing the right of the defendent to argue in his own defense.

Former Shanghai Party secretary Chen Liangyu was subjected to a highly selective trial, in which the minor charges against him were emphasized, while the major ones were ignored.

All of this kept the leaders and the criminals happy, but the real victims lost out, as did the lawyer who represented them, Mr. Zheng Enchong.

All of these past events have become a matter of casual gossip. Now there is a new leader, yet another Politburo member, who will be climbing into the dock very soon.

Those on the outside can only wait and see whether the China dream will be able to revive the dead spirit of the law: perhaps it will, and perhaps it won't.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.





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