The Mysterious Saga of China's Bo Xilai
The former political rising star has been linked to a death and disappearance.
April 19, 2012 — -- intro: A powerful, charismatic politician and his calculating wife. Their wayward playboy son. Money laundering. A coverup gone wrong. A cop on the run. And a dead British businessman in a hotel room. Murdered.
The dramatic fall of once-golden Chinese leader Bo Xilai reads like a Hollywood pitch for a political thriller, an epic one at that. The biggest scandal to hit the Chinese government is unfolding in such an operatic manner it is almost ripe for an HBO-"Boardwalk Empire"-type series.
No matter how much the government censors have been working overtime to curb the discussion online, "How about Bo Xilai?" is the hottest topic of conversation right now in China.
Bo rattled the Communist party elders with his flamboyant politicking and was expected to run into resistance on his way to a seat on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the nine most powerful members of the Chinese government.
Nobody, however, would have predicted that Bo's political career would end in this fashion.
quicklist: 1url: title: The Rise of Bo Xilai
1986: Bo Xilai, the son of Mao-era revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo, marries his second wife, Gu Kailai, a prominent Beijing lawyer.
1987: Their son, Bo Guagua, is born.
1992: Bo Xilai becomes the mayor of the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian and during the next 12 years is credited with leading its transformation into a modern metropolis.
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Middle to late 1990s: A British expat teaching English in Dalian named Neil Heywood befriends the Bos and begins tutoring and mentoring their son, Guagua. Heywood becomes a trusted member of the Bo family's entourage and becomes a fixer for them.
1999 -2000: Bo Guagua is sent to England for boarding school. According to some accounts, Gu Kailai accompanies him to U.K. Heywood claims he helped Guagua gain a place at Harrow, his old school, becoming the first Chinese citizen accepted into the elite boarding school.
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2002: Under the patronage of then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his father, Bo Yibo, Bo Xilai is promoted to governor of Liaoning province, where the city of Dalian is located. During this time, Bo becomes acquainted with Wang Lijun, a municipal-level police chief who is already developing a reputation for being tough on organized crime.
In the interim, Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, stops practicing law. According to reports, she begins spending considerable time overseas, including in Britain, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Exiled Chinese journalist Jiang Weiping, who was jailed for investigating the Bo family, claims that Gu acquired a Hong Kong ID card and a Singapore green card, which is forbidden for government spouses.
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2004: Bo Xilai is sent to Beijing and becomes China's commerce minister. The charismatic Bo becomes a media darling and is dubbed a "political star" in both the local and foreign media.
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2006: Bo Guagua begins to read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University and develops a reputation as a well-connected bon vivant and party thrower. He even invites actor Jackie Chan to speak to his fellow students.
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January 2007: Bo Xilai's father, Bo Yibo, his most fervent advocate, dies.
October 2007: Bo Xilai joins the Politburo but is transferred from Beijing and given the position of party boss of the western megacity of Chongqing, population 28.8 million. Bo is reportedly unhappy with the new post but becomes determined to use Chongqing as a staging ground for his return to Beijing, gunning to a seat on the Standing Committee in 2012.
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quicklist: 7url: title: Bo Xilai in Red Campaign
June 2008: Determined to "clean up" Chongqing, Bo brings Wang Lijun to Chongqing to become the new police chief.
July 24, 2008: Bo begins "Red Culture" revival in Chongqing, bringing back Mao-era slogans, songs and campaigns reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
July 10, 2009: Bo and Wang begin their sweeping "Smash the Black" (Da Hei) anti-organized crime campaign. By November, more than 900 arrest warrants are issued and 327 individuals are prosecuted. Bo rounds up not only the city's gang leader, but also businessmen and political rivals. The campaign is deemed a success and receives national and international coverage. Bo's star rises to "rock star" status. His 2012 return to Beijing is all but assured.
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quicklist: 8url: title: Bo in Media Scrum
2010: Time magazine names Bo Xilai as one of the "World's 100 Most Influential People." Meanwhile his son, Bo Guagua, attends Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Bo Guagua is also seen driving around Beijing in a red Ferrari and reportedly takes the daughter of former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman on a date.
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quicklist: 9url: title: The Fall of Bo Xilai
text: Bo Xilai's success in Chongqing makes him a highly visible figure in China. His leftist governing principles become known as the "Chongqing model" of economic development favoring populist ideas like the redistribution of wealth.
Factions of the Chinese central government in Beijing reportedly begin viewing Chongqing with great concern. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are not counted as fans.
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quicklist: 10url: title: Neil Heywood and Gu Kailai
2010-2011: Neil Heywood, now living in a villa in Beijing with his wife and two kids, becomes estranged with Bo Xilai's family. Reports now indicate that Gu Kailai allegedly asked Heywood to help launder a considerable amount of Bo's family wealth out of the country. When Heywood allegedly demanded a larger cut, Gu refused and Heywood reportedly threatened to expose her, according to reports. He later mentions to a friend he is considering leaving China.
November 2011: Heywood is summoned to Chongqing. It's unclear whether he ever met Bo Xilai because the busy politician's schedule was characteristically packed.
Nov. 15: Heywood's body is discovered in a Chongqing hotel room. The cause of death given to the British diplomatic mission is "excessive alcohol consumption" even though Heywood was not known to drink. His family in the U.K. is told that he died of a heart attack. Heywood's family requests a cremation and 36 hours later, Heywood's body is cremated without a proper autopsy. Police Chief Wang Lijun reportedly begins to personally investigate the Heywood death.
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quicklist: 11url: title: Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai
January 2012: Wang Lijun reportedly confronts Bo Xilai with evidence of his wife Gu Kailai's possible involvement in Heywood's death. Bo is reportedly furious at Wang but initially agrees to back a probe into his wife.
Feb. 2, 2012: Wang Lijun is demoted and stripped of his police post.
Feb. 6, 2012: Wang enters the U.S. consulate in the neighboring city of Chengdu, seeking asylum, after being followed out of Chongqing by a 70-car convoy. The Chongqing public security cars surround the U.S. consulate overnight. The U.S. does not grant Wang asylum, but arranges for authorities from Beijing to pick him up. Wang walks out of the consulate on his own. The Chongqing government says he is suffering from being "overworked" and was sent to "vacation-style therapy." Wang has not been seen or heard of since.
Feb. 15, 2012: The British government makes a formal request for Chinese authorities to investigate the death of Neil Heywood.
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quicklist: 12url: title: National People's Congress
March 3, 2012: China's National People's Congress convenes in Beijing. Bo Xilai is in attendance and takes his seat with the Politburo.
March 8, 2012: Bo Xilai fails to show up for the Congress meetings, igniting speculation that he has been sacked. Senior Chinese leadership apparently had met the night before and decided his fate.
March 9, 2012: Bo Xilai defiantly returns to the meetings and holds a news conference. He defends his record in Chongqing and lashes out at critics for "pouring filth" on him and his family.
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March 14, 2012: Bo Xilai makes his last public appearance at the National People's Congress.
In a rare move, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao makes a very public and thinly veiled swipe at Bo during his annual televised news conference.
Wen addresses the Wang Lijun incident, directly saying the results will be released to public.
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quicklist: 14url: title: The Ides of March for Bo Xilai
March 15, 2012: Bo is removed as Chongqing's boss but remains on the Politburo.
March 20, 2012: A leaked audio recording circulates of an official recounting the Bo Xilai-Wang Lijun confrontation earlier in the year. Another rumor begins to spread that Heywood's death is tied to Bo Xilai. Bo Guagua fails to show up to his classes at Harvard. He is still expected to graduate in May.
April 10, 2012. At 11 p.m., China announces that Bo Xilai has been dumped from the Politburo and is under investigation for "being involved in serious discipline violations."
The Wang Lijun incident prompts a reexamination into Heywood's death, which is now considered a homicide. Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, a family aide, are now in custody and being investigated in Heywood's murder.
April 12, 2012: Bo Guagua is seen escorted out of his Cambridge, Mass., apartment by private security guards.
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