Chinese Shadows

by Ian Buruma Ian Buruma is Professor of Democracy and Human Rights at Bard College, and the author of Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents 07.05.2012


"These are interesting times in China. A senior Communist Party official, Bo Xilai, is brought down – accused of offenses that include wire-tapping other party bosses, including President Hu Jintao – while his wife is investigated for her alleged role in the possible murder of a British businessman.


"Despite exhaustive press coverage of these events, it is remarkable how little we actually know. The British businessman’s body was allegedly cremated before any autopsy was conducted. None of the lurid tales about Bo’s wife have been proven. And the reasons for her husband’s political disgrace remain murky, to say the least."


"........Bo bore all the hallmarks of a gangster boss: corrupt, ruthless towards his enemies, contemptuous of the law, and yet moralistic in his self-presentation. But the same could be said of most Party bosses in China. They all have more money than can be explained by their official pay. Most have children studying at expensive British or American universities. All behave as though they are above the laws that constrain normal citizens."


"The appearance of a wicked wife in Chinese public scandals is a common phenomenon. When Mao Zedong purged his most senior Party boss, Liu Shaoqi, during the Cultural Revolution, Liu’s wife was paraded through the streets wearing ping-pong balls around her neck as a symbol of wicked decadence and extravagance. After Mao himself died, his wife Jiang Qing was arrested and presented as a Chinese Lady Macbeth. It is possible that the murder accusations against Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, are part of such political theater.

In fact, Bo’s fall from grace involves not only his wife, but his entire family. This, too, is a Chinese tradition."

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