Gu Kailai, China’s ‘Jackie Kennedy’
By Peter Shadbolt
Funny, personable, attractive and charismatic are just some of the words used to describe Gu Kailai. The wife of Bo Xilai — a one-time rising star of the Chinese Communist Party — she now stands accused of the murder of a British businessman.
Gu is accused of poisoning Briton Neil Heywood and potentially faces the death penalty if found guilty of murder at her trial, which begins this week.
Gu and family aide Zhang Xiaojun were arrested in early April. The same day, Xinhua announced that Bo had been stripped of his seats on the Communist Party’s Central Committee and Politburo, the nation’s ruling organs, for an unspecified “serious breach of regulations.”
Gu confessed to murder and “economic crimes,” according to the South China Morning Post on Tuesday, which cited an anonymous source with the prosecution team. She was “gracious” and “relaxed” while the prosecutors questioned her, the paper said.
“Gu told investigators everything she could remember and, as for those accusations about which she couldn’t remember clearly, she asked the investigators to go ahead and write up anything they’d like to,” the source told the paper.
Ambitious and outgoing, Gu typified the international outlook of the second generation of China’s political elite. She has even been described by some as the “Jackie Kennedy of China.”
Gu and her husband were both descendents of China’s revolutionary heros — Gu from Major-General Gu Jingsheng, a prominent revolutionary military figure, and Bo from Bo Yibo, considered one of the “eight immortals” of the revolution that created modern China.
These associations may have fostered the connections essential to getting ahead in the new China of the past three decades. But in the 1960s, Gu and her husband were targets during the political upheaval of the Cultural Revolution. Bo spent almost five years in re-education camps as a youth, and published reports say Gu was forced to work in a textile factory and a butcher’s shop as a 10-year-old.
These hardships only served to galvanize the phenomenal ambition of the couple, analysts say.
Fluent in English, Gu is a lawyer who took a leading role in a legal battle in the United States involving several Chinese firms, eventually winning the lawsuit for the Chinese companies. She later wrote a book about the legal fight called “Winning a Lawsuit in the United States.”
Whether she has been able to apply her own legal acumen in a case where she could be fighting the death penalty is unknown. The state-controlled court and the police have kept tight control on information surrounding the case.
Analysts have said that her defense rests on the fear that Heywood, who was allegedly poisoned to death in a hotel room in November, was in a position to harm her son.
The high-profile murder led to a trail of events that effectively ended Bo’s political career. His top police chief Wang Lijun fled to a U.S. consulate in February, alleging that Bo had covered up Heywood’s murder.
Bo was later stripped of his post as Chongqing’s party chief and his membership in the Politburo and Central Committee. Gu was charged with murder.
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua said Gu had “economic interests” with Heywood over which there had been a conflict that had “intensified.”
Instead, state reports have focused on personal issues that Gu may have had with Heywood, who was reportedly her close associate.
Just days after his death, she reportedly strode into a meeting of police officials wearing the uniform of a major-general – the same rank as her father – and gave a rambling speech in which she claimed to be on a mission to protect Bo Xilai’s chief of police, according to a story first reported by Reuters in May.
An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times in April suggested that the government is trying hard to paint the removal of Bo and his wife as an “independent incident” and a criminal case rather than as a political purge.