By Patricia Sun, BASC Research Assistant
On February 6, 2012, Wang Lijun, vice-mayor and head of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) of Chongqing, and a hero in Chonging gang trials, traveled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu to seek political asylum and offload Bo Xilai’s misconducts in Chongqing, but “left of his own volition” a day later. Since the explosive event, Chongqing became the center of focus. Soon after, on March 15, the CPC Central Committee made the announcement of dismissing Bo Xilai from his post as Chongqing party chief and related municipal positions. Then, on April 10, Bo Xilai was suspended from the party’s Central Committee and its Politburo pending investigation for “serious disciplinary violations.” Meanwhile, Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai was formally investigated as a suspect of the murder of English businessman Neil Heywood, who had economic connections with the Bo family. The series of events hint on direct confrontations between neo-Maoists/leftists and rightists as well as a heated campaign to protect the legal system. On April 13, the People’s Daily published a commentary on its front page with title “自觉遵守党纪国法” (“Voluntarily Obey the Principles of the Party and Laws of the State”), emphasizing that “no matter what position one holds, Party members shall never place themselves over Party discipline and the law.” On April 18, the Xinhua Agency published an article named “Criminal Case Shall Not be Interpreted as Political Struggle,” signaling the CCP’s determination “to safeguard the socialist rule of law, to investigate and handle every discipline violation and never tolerate corruption.” The responses of official media used Bo Xilai’s case as an exercise of the principle of “ruling the state by law” and as a public anti-corruption campaign. Such special use of the law has its origins in Bo Xilai’s conduct during the Chongqing gang trials and the highly suspicious lawsuits that followed, including Li Zhuang’s case.
In the Chongqing gang trials (重庆打黑除恶专项行动), the municipal government of Chongqing turned the trials into a mass movement by encouraging and rewarding citizens for exposing the crimes. To maximize the effectiveness of the campaign, the municipal government provided special envelopes for reporting letters to every household and allowed ordinary citizens to meet face to face with high-level officials of the PSB to disclose the crimes. Hundreds of special investigation groups that included police, lawyers and prosecutors were organized. These groups worked like an intelligence agency, in secrecy and with extreme efficiency. Arrested suspects were thrown into jail almost immediately and under secret codes rather than real names . As a result of using secret codes, neither family members nor lawyers could find the suspects who were arrested because of their association with gangsters. Even though the Chongqing gang trials proved remarkably effective in cracking down on the web of gangsters and corrupt officials such as former head of the Bureau of Justice Wen Qiang, the mass trials nevertheless gain the infamous name of violating judicial procedures. Secret detention, mass investigation and rewards for exposure of crimes closely resemble similar practices during the Cultural Revolution. From this perspective, the Chongqing gang trials were not simple campaigns against organized crime and corruption led and dominated by judiciary agencies and the police, they were in practice a mass movement that significantly affected the lives of all citizens in Chongqing.
The trials’ violation of judicial procedures became even apparent in the follow-up trials, as the case of Li Zhuang shows. Li Zhuang, defense lawyer for Gong Gangmo (a major gangster), was arrested and accused of “coaching his client to make false claims of torture.” Dramatic changes happened in the second instance as Li completely admitted his crimes even though he fiercely appealed them in the first instance. As a result, Li was sentenced to 18 months in prison and barred for life from practicing law. In fact, Li made an unsuccessful attempt to tell the media the story behind his sudden change of attitude in an interview before the second instance, during which he showed a letter of confession and hid his secret meaning in the letter, which says he was forced to admit the crimes in exchange for probation and would appeal once he got released. Li Zhuang’s case provoked a heated debate; while people were perplexed for his sudden change of attitudes, many accused Chongqing government’s intervention of judicial system and asked for just judicial procedure. Although the Chongqing government intended to use Li Zhuang’s case to improve their infamous name for violating judicial procedure, the result of Li Zhuang’s case ultimately confirmed the government officials’ intervention and abuse of power.
Throughout the entire Chongqing gang trials and follow-up lawsuits, violation of justice and over-use of administrative power became so prevalence that even though the action cracked down on a web of crimes, it triggered the development of a new one. Since the web of gangsters and officials could only exist because of the ineffectiveness of the legal system, cracking down at the expense of justice only resolved superficial problems associated with specific people but not the roots of gangsters’ issues. Moreover, by turning the trials into a mass movement, the action brought up the potential dangers of chaos and deviation from the path of economic development, as seen in the “唱红” (sing red songs) movement. In the 唱红 movement, the municipal government organized Chongqing’s residents to sing songs that were popular in the revolutionary era and that praised the leadership of CCP, so-called red songs. This movement has parallels in the Cultural Revolution, when people sang songs and perform operas (样板戏) to praise the CCP and Mao Zedong.
Bo Xilai’s dismissal is important in a sense that before him, officials of his level such as Chen Liangyu and Chen Xitiong were dismissed or accused mainly because of economic corruption, rather than abuse of power and violation of state’s laws and the Party’s principles. Apart from the political struggle behind the scene, CPC brought down Bo to signal its primary concern with economic development and to prevent growth of municipal power. Moreover, as seen in Premier Wen Jiabao’s comments on Bo Xilai’s downfall, Bo’s actions make a strong analogy with practices in Culture Revolution, in which the entire legal system was in effect paralyzed. By criticizing his actions, the central government has hinted at its intention for future political reform towards rightist side and built an image of itself as the defender of “rule by law.”