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How the mayor of the world’s fastest growing city in China fell even faster

By Naomi Rovnick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

It is looking inevitable that Bo Xilai will be found guilty of the multiple crimes he was accused of today. There is no separation between the party and the courts in China.

Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence in August for the alleged murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. A Chinese forensic scientist has since disputed Gu’s account of how she poisoned Heywood, saying it did not make sense.

Today, Bo was also expelled from the Communist Party. That is deeply unsurprising. From the moment he was ousted from his Chongqing role it was incredibly likely he would lose party membership—a highly valued sign of social status in China.

Bo, an outspoken firebrand, was once tipped as the future leader of the Communist Party. He was removed from his in Chongqing, a city in Western China, in March. His father was a close colleague of Mao Zedong.He was a popular city chief. He espoused a deep red brand of communism that echoed Mao’s socialism, while also presiding over spectacular economic growth brought on by a property development frenzy.

“Chongqing, the world’s fastest growing city,” proclaimed the Telegraph in 2009.

During his reign in Chongqing, Bo led multiple anti corruption campaigns and imprisoned gang bosses. He sought the spotlight.  And he was popular because, on some level, many older Chinese yearn for the Mao era.  Bo spoke to them (paywall). Though the Cultural Revolution years were a time of extreme hardship, Chinese people perceive that there was less corruption then, and less of a wealth gap. So in Chongqing, even while the city was growing at breakneck speed and property developers and the government officials they did business with became wealthier than most, Bo’s regular anti-corruption campaigns reassured the masses that those at the top of society got there fairly. Bo, Chongqing citizens felt, would send anyone who had not to jail.

Yet according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency, Bo will face charges related to corruption, abuse of power, bribe-taking, and improper relations with women. Who knows how much of this is true? Chinese justice is opaque at best.

As China prepares to usher in a new leadership, Bo’s fall from grace sends a strong message to incoming leaders: namely, do not become too popular or too visible. As the Chinese say: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered”.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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