The history of the Communist Party in China offers almost as many examples of political comebacks as it does high-profile purges like the one that befell Bo.
Bo’s own father was purged and imprisoned, only to reemerge as a powerful party elder in the 1980s and ’90s. And China’s current president, Xi Jinping, who is thought to be playing a key role in deciding Bo’s fate, watched his father fall from grace and return to set the stage for his son’s rise to the pinnacle of China’s political hierarchy.
Bo was ousted as party chief in the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing last year after his police chief implicated Bo’s wife in the death of a British businessman, triggering the party’s biggest crisis in decades.
Whether he or any other deposed party leader could pull off a comeback in the modern era remains unclear. Many analysts still consider it unlikely that he could regain a high position in the party, but it is thought possible he could at least preserve his political legacy and thus some connection to party power.
His performance thus far — at a trial many had thought would serve as his political eulogy — is helping those odds.
“The trial is Bo’s last chance, and he’s making full use of it to project an indomitable and unyielding personality and to defend his image,” said Li Weidong, former editor of China Reform magazine. “Even though he will go to prison without a doubt, he wants to depart as the standard-bearer of his cause.”
As the trial stretched into a third day Saturday, Bo admitted in court that he had made mistakes that shamed his country and said he reacted poorly when his police chief told him his wife had committed murder. But he denied he was guilty of any crimes.
Bo’s goal at trial
Bo became a rising party star in part because of his shrewdly cultivated appeal to popular sentiment. Even as he made use of the party’s traditional route to power through backroom deals and patronage, he launched leftist, Maoist-style campaigns that garnered him a large and loyal grass-roots following.
His spirited responses and showmanlike tactics at his trial this past week appear to have the same goal.
Many of those the party targets for punishment cooperate quietly in their scripted trials. But Bo appears to have leveraged his remaining support among powerful party allies to strike a deal that has allowed his trial to be publicized, almost in real time, through online posts on China’s social media.