China’s Goodfellas: The provincial boss and his police chief loved playing Robin Hood. But shaking down a rich man for some $700 million was a step too far.
April 1, 2013
Copyright The Wall Street Journal
- Updated March 31, 2013, 7:20 p.m. ET
ByÂ HOWARD W. FRENCH
Color-drenched historical dramas involving endless struggles for power are a mainstay of Chinese television. Why should it be otherwise in a country with 5,000 years of history that has seen dynasties rise and fall in mind-numbing succession? Yet in the past year, a real-life political drama has presented a compelling alternative.
In a bold push for power, a provincial politician namedÂ Bo XilaiÂ tried to use his family’s revolutionary pedigree, his charisma and his good looks to leapfrog onto the highest rung on China’s Communist Party ladder, the Politburo Standing Committee. He came close but was ultimately undone by a combination of missteps and bad luck. “A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel,” by the Chinese journalist Pin Ho and the writer and literary translator Wenguang Huang, is the most revealing work on the Bo episode to date. What emerges is an immensely complicated tale of behind-the-scenes power struggles as full of scandal, ambition and betrayal as anything that ancient history has to offer.
The Politburo Standing Committee was reshuffled last year as part of China’s once-a-decade leadership succession. In the lead-up, Mr. Bo had achieved a remarkably high profile for himself as governor of Chongqing, a center-west province, roughly the size of Austria, of 32 million people. Most everything he did there was exceptional for a high-level Chinese politician and thus unusually risky: He espoused his own brand of ideological politics, mixing statist populism with elements of nostalgic Maoism. He tirelessly drew attention to himself, building something approaching a local personality cult in his crackdown against organized crime. And he all but openly campaigned for the big promotion he craved, buttering up the likes of China’s former president and power broker Jiang Zemin and his successor and main factional rival, the outgoing party leader Hu Jintao.
The proximate cause of Mr. Bo’s downfall was a staple of historical dramas: the villainous wife. As the authors detail, the governor’s position swiftly and spectacularly unraveled after his spouse, the almost equally attractive, pedigreed and ambitious Gu Kailai, was connected to the murder by cyanide poisoning of one Neil Heywood, a British national. The revelation emerged after Mr. Bo’s theatrical and thuggishly overzealous handpicked police chief, Wang Lijun, sought asylum at the U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu, spilling the beans on the Heywood murder.
A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel
By Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang
(PublicAffairs, 334 pages, $27.99)
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Beyond Al Qaeda: As Western Countries Rush into Africa’s Troubled Sahel Region, Are We Once Again Forgetting History?
Published January 22, 2013
Copyright Foreign Policy For sheer sexiness, few news monikers can compete with the al Qaeda label. This, in a word, is how one of the world’s most remote and traditionally obscure regions, Africa’s arid and largely empty Sahel, has suddenly come to be treated as a zone of great strategic importance in the wake of the recent offensive by a hodgepodge of armed groups, including one called al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that has threatened the survival of the Malian state and sent violent ripples throughout the neighboring area. France has responded with alacrity and seeming confusion to the Mali crisis, sending in an intervention force that at first seemed destined to be very small and then immediately ramping …
Continue Reading Beyond Al Qaeda: As Western Countries Rush into Africa’s Troubled Sahel Region, Are We Once Again Forgetting History?
The Case Against Paul Kagame
Published January 12, 2013
Copyright Newsweek-The Daily Beast When Rwandan-backed rebels recently took Goma, the biggest city in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Paul Kagame had every reason to think the world would give him a pass. That, after all, has been the pattern for years. Does the celebrated Rwandan president really deserve an indictment? (Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures) Frequently lauded by people such as Bono, Tony Blair, and Pastor Rick, the Rwandan president enjoys some extraordinary backing in the Westâ€”support that is particularly remarkable given his alleged hand in ongoing regional conflicts believed to have killed more than 5 million people since the mid-â€™90s. On the aid and awards circuit, Kagame is known as the man who led Rwanda …
Upwardly Mobile: Inside Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions
Published January 12, 2013
Copyright Caravan AFTER EMERGING FROMÂ the Tsim Sha Tsui metro station, I made my way down a busy street through a steady July drizzle, walking past jewellery shops, clothing stores and large billboards that advertised the Hong Kong dream in all its incarnations: shiny new things,Â dernier criÂ gadgetry, and above all diamonds, marketed with the promise of eternal love. I had only travelled two stops in the deep chill of Hong Kongâ€™s immaculate metro from Central, the cityâ€™s main business district and financial centre, which was all suits and banks, and even higher-end shopping, populated by enough white faces that one could imagine Britainâ€™s purchase on Hong Kong had never quite come to an end. By comparison, Tsim Sha Tsui was a …
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