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The Ultimate Chinese Opera

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Cross-posted from Al Jazeera

Gu Kaili, wife of politican Bo Xilai, was found guilty of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood [Reuters]

The whole spectacular drama adds a new dimension to what we know as Beijing opera. How do you solve a massive political scandal at the highest spheres of the Chinese Communist Party while at the same time saving the Party?

Some lead characters had to be fed to the masses, while others had to be propped up as heroes/servers of the people until 2022. And all this while the Party still had not set the date -- sometime next October -- for its 10-yearly lavish leadership liturgy, when the next generation of Chinese leaders is enthroned as the guiding lights of the next superpower.

And it's hardly the last act. Imagine the whole plot choreographed in parallel sequences by Francis Ford Coppola -- Godfather-style.    

Take this long courtroom drama sequence at the Hefei Intermediate People's Court in rural Anhui province. The apparent star is Gu Kailai, the Black Spider of the Red Chambers, wife of princeling Bo Xilai -- the adored Party head in Chongqin and Politburo member who styled himself as the reincarnation of Mao Zedong and was later disgraced. 

It took a mere eight hours for the prosecution to show that Gu did murder British businessman Neil Heywood on November 15, 2011. Heywood, who was always impeccably dressed, a fluent Mandarin speaker, and who drove a Jaguar with a 007 number plate, had been doing dodgy business with Bo and Gu for a long time. He helped her buy hot property in Hong Kong. Yet Gu may have decided to dial M for murder when Heywood demanded a higher cut for a long-running money laundering operation that may have stretched to $350m.

Later, in the requisite gory titbit, a court official would disclose that Gu herself poured cyanide down Heywood's throat after he had become drunk and vomited in a hotel room in Chongqing.

Meet the (invisible) fallen hero

Then take a sweeping panoramic shot over Beidaihe -- a resort near Beijing which Mao called his "red citadel" -- where a secret conclave is busy scripting the ascension of the first generation of party members formed after the death of the Great Helmsman. Expect a lot of tough guys letting off steam -- with multiple factions positioned for as much of a power grab as possible; yet at the end, they must sell the idea of a smooth transition.

As to what really happened, it's up to a screenwriter's fancy. Building up on the drama, the simultaneous "trial of the century" and the secret conclave -- the reconstruction of the perfect murder and the construction of a political/economic future -- were maddeningly mysterious and inaccessible to mere mortals.

Trying to craft a narrative to make sense, flashbacks would show Heywood's body found in the hotel room; the murky story of Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun showing up at the US Consulate 170 miles away in Chengdu and telling startled US officials about the murder; the British Embassy urging local authorities to reopen the case; Wang "disappeared" by Chinese security; Bo Xilai fired and then suspended from the Party; Gu under investigation; and the scene set for the "trial of the century."

Our movie would also show that essentially the trial boiled down to a deal. Gu -- a former lawyer -- "confessed" in a carefully scripted admission and won't be executed for lack of crucial evidence, while the Party, to its relief, was released from suspended animation. Yes, because in this apparent whodunit the whole plot was never about the Black Spider -- but about the (invisible) male lead/fallen hero Bo Xilai.

Here is the "approved" official account, distributed by Xinhua. It's all that the world, who would have loved to be inside that court, will be allowed to know. The name "Bo Xilai" is so explosive that it does not appear even once.   

This means any discussion of concentric levels of Party-sanctioned (or tolerated) corruption was simply erased. That also suggests that Bo -- although disgraced -- won't be criminally prosecuted. He knows too much and still has support among powerful Party circles; if he opened his mouth he could bring the whole house down.  

Shakespeare does Chongqin  

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Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His regular column, "The Roving Eye," is widely read. He is an analyst for the online news channel Real News, the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and (more...)
 

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