'Cosmetic Surgery on the Body Politic'

A commentary by Bao Tong
Bo Xilai looks on during the closing day of his trial in the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, east China's Shandong province, Aug. 26, 2013.

It makes as much sense in terms of justice to put Bo Xilai on trial without mentioning his lawless revolutionary songs and anti-crime campaigns as it would to put Hitler on trial without mentioning his crimes against humanity during World War II. But the state, represented by the public prosecutor, had long since taken the decision not to prosecute him [on these grounds].

This decision is elegant proof that the highest echelons of leadership have no opinion one way or the other on the "sing red, strike black" campaigns; that Bo's trial isn't the product of an internal power struggle in the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party. It is inconceivable that Bo Xilai had no friendship or support from [former president] Jiang [Zemin], [former president] Hu [Jintao] or [president] Xi [Jinping], nor indeed from within the Politburo or at ministerial, provincial, municipal, city or county levels. The revolutionary song and anti-crime campaigns were the diadem in his career; public opinion may have been shocked, but the leadership meted out the highest praise. The newspaper articles from those years are still around, and people remember. I can't make out any evidence of an internal power struggle.

The fatal twist happened very suddenly. Somehow Bo Xilai, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party Central Committee, slapped the chief of the Chongqing police force [Wang Lijun] in the face, propelling him into a foreign consulate, where he revealed that the Politburo member's wife had murdered a British national with poison. Whereupon, in an earth-shattering farce worthy of the Boxer Rebellion [of 1897-1901], the Politburo member scrambled a contingent of armed police to lay siege to the consulate. The scandal could no longer be covered up, and all that remained was for the former political star to become a prisoner.

So it was that a slap delivered by the male lead sent this drama with all its Chinese characteristics—money, sex, intrigue and murder—spilling out for all the world to see. Were it not for this legendary twist of fate, Politburo member Bo might have risen to a seat [on the Politburo standing committee]. Who knows, he might today have been in charge of the the mighty tasks of fighting corruption and building the legal system from inside [the Zhongnanhai leadership compound].

But their hand was forced; the lid wouldn't stay on, and there was nothing for it but to put him on trial. So we know that the aim of the trial was never to uphold justice and the dignity of the law; on the contrary, it could only ever be a glorified piece of cosmetic surgery on the body politic, albeit one that relied on the law for support.

Failure was not an option. The face of socialism must be shown before the people of China and the rest of the world, so they would learn that Chinese officials are mostly clean, regardless of the fact that they are embedded in a corrupt system, and that the Chinese justice system is open and fair, regardless of the fact that the Party is above the law.

To sum up, it was all about supporting the one-party dictatorship and glorifying the China model.

Everything about it was the result of artifice, and harder to pull off than passing a camel through the eye of a needle. It took a year and a half to plan, four-and-a-half days to build the set, and the next stage will be the selective sentencing. There is no sense of suspense—when the time comes, the judge will read out the just and fair decision of our leadership for all to hear. Tightly managed, clearly directed and well acted: how could the audience have any regrets?

The success or failure of this trial will be decided in the annals of history, by the gossip of ordinary people, and savored by everyone. But I don't know whether the Bo cosmetic surgery will cure the disease; whether it will turn peril into safety, or bring a cadaver back to life. All I know is that where there is good governance, there is no self-deception.

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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