China’s biggest political scandal in decades reaches a conclusion this weekend.
A verdict is due in the trial of Bo Xilai, one of China’s rising political stars. He’s accused of corruption and covering up the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood.
Bo’s wife has already been found guilty of poisoning Heywood, with whom she had a business dispute. Bo remains a popular figure.
But, as the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas reports from the city of Chongqing, Bo is almost certain to receive a long jail sentence, and his political rivals are determined to use the scandal to end his career.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
China's biggest political scandal in decades reaches a conclusion this weekend. A verdict is due in the trial of Bo Xilai, one of China's rising political stars. He's accused of corruption and covering up the murder of the British businessman, Neil Heywood. Bo's wife has already been found guilty of poisoning Heywood. Now, Bo remains a popular figure. But as the BCC's Damian Grammaticas reports from the city of Chongqing, he's almost certain to receive a long jail sentence.
DAMIAN GRAMMATICAS: To understand why Bo Xilai, one of China's most successful politicians, has been brought down, you have to come here, to the giant city of Chongqing in southwestern China. I'm right in the heart of the new pedestrianized(ph) shopping area in the center of town, ringed by these giant, glass skyscrapers that have just gone up, stretching up into the sky. All around me, there's brand-new designer boutiques, there's Chanel, there's Tiffany jewelry, and Chinese strolling the area, all taking pictures of the site on their brand-new smartphones.
This was Bo Xilai's personal fiefdom. As Communist Party boss, he turned this into one of the fastest-growing economic regions of China. It made him popular. And despite his downfall, he's still admired here.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Through Translator) Some officials just care about keeping their bosses happy, but Bo Xilai worked for the people. Who doesn't support him in Chongqing?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through Translator) He was good at his job. We need more officials like him. He made this city safer. I hope he comes back.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
GRAMMATICAS: Chongqing and its region are home to 13 million people, and fighting their way through the crowds are the Bang Bang Men, the famous porters of Chongqing. From wooden poles slung over their shoulders, they carry heavy loads. Here, they like Bo Xilai because he was addressing their needs. Although he came from one of China's most powerful political families, he was a populist. He was building cheap housing for the poor, cleaning up crime and corruption, making the streets safer.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through Translator) He must've done something wrong to have been arrested, but he was a talented politician. He was cleaning up crime.
GRAMMATICAS: So Bo Xilai was genuinely popular in a way that other Communist Party politicians in China rarely are. He's flamboyant and confident, building his own power base outside the party, and that may be why others in the leadership viewed him as a threat.
DALI YANG: Mr. Bo actually had charisma, had revolutionary lineage and also had a particular program that had national appeal, which is actually a very potent combination in the Chinese system.
GRAMMATICAS: Dali Yang is professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He says the way Bo Xilai sought to win public support made him more like a Western politician than a Chinese one, and that made him dangerous in a system that emphasizes conformity.
YANG: Most Chinese leaders are very glad, in fact, take their time but also hide their views. Not Mr. Bo. He had a strong policy platform while pushing the local economy forward very rapidly. So in that sense, actually, I'm pretty sure that his fall is welcomed at least to some members of the elite, but at the same time is also a deep loss for people who supported him.
GRAMMATICAS: Certainly, Bo Xilai supporters in Chongqing feel he's been brought down not because of any corruption on his own part but because of politics, to eliminate him as a political force.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Through Translator) Who isn't corrupt? I ask you. Which government official is not corrupt? All officials are corrupt. Bo is no different.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Through Translator) What happened to Secretary Bo is clearly not fair. It was a political power struggle that brought him down. Secretary Bo is good.
GRAMMATICAS: Bo's downfall has revealed his many failings. His family benefited from corruption. His wife murdered the British businessman Neil Heywood and Bo tried to cover it up. He's likely to receive a long jail sentence this weekend. But whatever his sins, his supporters still admire Bo Xilai, and that's because China's other leaders are widely believed to be even more corrupt than Bo but less able to connect with ordinary people. There's little affection for them.
HOBSON: The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Chongqing, China. And up next, we will head to Atlanta for a feel-good story, if there ever was one. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.