By Mike Bastin

While we should all welcome the recent news of the re-investigation into the death of Mr. Neil Heywood, the British businessman who died under suspicious circumstances in November last year, it is also an opportune time to gain some understanding of the intense rivalry within at the top of China’s usually secretive political system.

The arrest of Bo’s wife in connection with Mr Heywood’s death appears very dramatic and sudden, but let’s remember that the death took place last November and some sort of ‘investigation’ took place then, concluding that death due to excessive alcohol consumption was the cause.

This announcement of a re-investigation also takes place amid intense speculation about the future of Bo, one ofChina’s most colourful and charismatic politicians, asChinaprepares for a changeover in its Party leadership.

It will become more and more clear that Mr. Heywood’s death is being used by forces opposed to Bo’s increasing political influence (Bo was tipped to become promoted to China’s Politburo, the group of 9 politicians who form the highest organ of the Government). Bo’s recent suspension from his Party position was also announced almost within the same press release as the detention of his wife. Interestingly Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, has been referred to as Bo Gu on official Party press releases, which is not at all common. Married Chinese women rarely take their husband’s family name, keeping their own family name, and Gu is also from a prominent family with connections high-up in the Party and has pursued her own professional career as a lawyer. The attribution ‘Bo Gu’, therefore, can only represent a clear attempt at associating Bo with whatever criminal activities his wife has committed, allegedly.

This re-investigation does not represent some sort of ‘opening up’ of the political system, and society in general, inChina, nor has it been influenced at all by the British government’s request for re-examination of the case. Instead, it reflects the intense, and increasingly internecine, battles between rival factions that riddle the Chinese Communist Party at all levels.

The Chinese media reporting of this incident suggests further that China remains a very closed, controlled society. Chinese TV and newspaper broadcasts present little detail and no further analysis other than spouting, verbatim the latest official Party press release. The British broadsheets, in stark contrast, continue to run away with rumour and intrigue.

It seems inevitable that Bo himself will now be investigated and imprisoned on corruption charges and that his career and influence is over. This has little to do with Bo’s alleged corrupt practices though and much more to do with the threat he is seen to pose to those at the top of the Party. This provides us with a rare glimpse into the unstable nature of the Party’s operation, despite an apparently cohesive outward presentation.

China’s new leadership ‘team’ which should be in place later this year, need to move very quickly to demonstrate that they genuinely favour ‘open’ and ‘accountable’ government.

However, at a time when China’s economy is experiencing a slowdown for the first time in more than 10 years, such Party infighting and instability will add further to the pressure for major and irreversible reform inChina’s political and economic system. Watch this space for further dramatic announcements.

Mike Bastin is PhD student at School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. The internecine would continue and become war-like; intentionally. So, should one ask as a reminder: how many terms FDR served then, and why?

  2. The characteristic of the daemon is parasitical: jumping sprightly as in color tinged with flattery onto whatsoever comes up, it makes those within and without confused, sickly and downwards. For they that eat bread alone knowing not that, their food is poisoned already, and that, the darkness covers the abyss. Evening came, morning followed. Therefore, the demonic could only be driven out by fasting.

    Lo, the demoniac ambassadorial goes on belly round, evasive as before like serpent, flauntingly as condemned as unknowing that it looks like but a worm, for it’s one of the tillers of the ground. “Whence comest thou?” “From going to and fro in the earth and from walking up and down in it.”

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