Written by Dingping Guo.

It is widely believed in China that bad things often lead to good, just as, for example, natural disasters turned out to be great opportunities for urban reconstruction and national unity following earthquakes and floods. It seems that history repeated itself since the Bo Xilai trial began in late August.

Undoubtedly, the Bo Xilai case has been the most sensational and dramatic political scandal in China for decades, not only because Mr. Bo had been a political superstar and powerful princeling based on his revolutionary family background and extraordinary performance, but also because he has been embroiled in a series of extremely complicated cases including bribery, embezzlement, murder and defection. Considering the high level of Bo’s political position and serious nature of his case, many people predicted that the Chinese Communist leadership would be plunged into unprecedented crisis and even doomed.

Although the Bo Xilai scandal cast a long shadow over China’s political agenda, the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was held as scheduled and the leadership transition completed successfully with Xi Jinping emerging as the new supreme leader who will rule China for the next decade. While Xi consolidated his power base and formulated his reform strategy focusing on the Chinese dream, Chinese leaders skillfully dealt with the Bo Xilai scandal case by case, culminating in the recent trials. Like similar cases in the history of the CCP, Chinese leaders tried to take advantage of the Bo Xilai trial to rebuild the party and strengthen its legitimacy.

To some extent, the CCP and its leaders succeeded in turning the Bo Xilai scandal into a great opportunity for reform and opening. From the first day, the Bo Xilai trial has been hailed as “great success” and “historic progress” in China’s mass media and websites for the following reasons:

The most important is the transparency in the process of the whole trial. Since the Bo Xilai case has its international dimension because his wife was involved in the murder of a British businessman Neil Heywood and his police chief Wang Lijun fled to American Consulate in Chengdu for political asylum, the international community especially the UK and US have paid much attention to this case and called for an open and fair trial. The Jinan Intermediate People’s Court set up an account on Sina Weibo and issued almost real-time posts during the Bo Xilai trial. The court’s Weibo posts might have been edited by the authorities before release, it is clear that the posts contained detailed accounts of the lively exchanges between the judge, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer, witness and Bo Xilai himself, full of many dramatic episodes and fascinating points.

The second is the protection of the defendant’s basic rights. Although there may be “unjust pressure” on Bo’s pre-trial confessions about his bribery and embezzlement, Bo Xilai made full use of his rights to put up a vigorous and spectacular defense. His defense was so strong and eloquent that many Chinese netizens believed in his innocence and expressed their support. Even Bo Xilai himself magnanimously praised his treatment by the people of Shandong province where the trial was held, expressed his satisfaction with the trial in which all sides have had opportunities to express their views and opinions, and reiterated his confidence in China’s legal system. In stark contrast with the former Chinese president Liu Shaoqi who was removed from his position without any trial and abused to death during the Cultural Revolution, Bo Xilai was lucky to be tried and treated much more fairly.

The third is the potential positive influence on the legal reforms and fight against corruption in China. The Bo Xilai trial is totally different from Bo’s Chongqing torture spree in which the rights of the accused were violated by police, prosecutors, judges, and government officials, and will set a good example for the future legal reforms. As Bo said he was more confident in China’s system of justice, many Chinese people feel more optimistic about the rule of law in China. At the same time, the fight against corruption has gained new momentum along with the downfall of Bo Xilai and the inauguration of the new leaders after the 18th National Congress of the CCP. While Chinese president Xi Jinping has vowed to eradicate corruption in China, the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection under the leadership of Wang Qishan has investigated into many high-profile corruption cases against high-ranking officials. The latest case is Jiang Jiemin who had been head of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), and has been removed from office and placed under investigation.

Of course, all this progress and successes are limited and they are achieved only because the Bo Xilai case is extremely special and Chinese leaders are facing great domestic and foreign pressures. No one can guarantee that the next case will be tried and treated openly and fairly in the same way as Bo’s case. If Chinese leaders are determined to turn bad things into good, further bold reforms and institution-building are indispensable. As a rule, the bad things lead to good only after the lessons have been drawn from them and new institutions built for preventing the recurrence of them. In the long history of China, human tragedies repeated themselves hundred of thousand times due to the low level of institutionalization and rule of man. In this sense, only after the rule of law is established in China can the bad things lead to good.

Dingping Guo is professor of political science in School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University, concurrently serving as Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Nottingham.


  1. I think maybe now I understand why Taiwanese say go buy a lottery ticket after stepping in dog shit. Some good will happen from something bad kind of mentality. Great article, enjoyed reading it immensely. Such a twisted tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Im gonna fall off my seat if they let him go !!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *