Bo called his wife crazy and her evidence laughable,alleging that she had been forced to testify against him. In a final twist, he said the real cause of his downfall was a secret love affair that turned sour between his wife and police chief Wang, who had been his closest adviser.
During his time running Chongqing, Bo had advocated “red culture,” promoting Mao’s quotes and encouraging the singing of “red songs” celebrating the Communist Party’s achievements. He actively pursued foreign investment into the city but tried to narrow the gap between rich and poor with social policies including a program of public housing.
Those policies won him popular support, particularly among the poor, but he was brought down by the ruthless nature of his regime and his overt ambition for a greater role on the national stage, experts say.
Neither supporters or opponents of Bo seemed entirely happy with the trial and verdict, underlining what a delicate balancing act it has been for the Communist Party to try one of its most senior and charismatic leaders.
The relatively heavy sentence did little to satisfy Fang Hong, who was sent to a labor camp for a year in April 2011 for posting a joke online satirizing Bo and his police chief Wang. “Bo Xilai didn’t receive a real trial,” he said. “He was protected by the party. His real crime, which is the restoration of Maoism, went unpunished . . . This means that the ‘Chongqing model’ could be restored at any time or in any place in China.”
One supporter from Dalian, where Bo had served as mayor before moving to Chongqing, said the city had never been the same since he left in 2000, and added that he did not believe Bo was guilty. “He was sentenced not because he is corrupt but because he lost in the political struggle,” said the 32-year-old, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution. “It’s meaningless for ordinary people, because the number of corrupt officials doesn’t decrease at all.”
“I no longer trust the party,” he said. “His trial was just a performance, but no matter how nice the performance looks, our life is still hard.”
Bo’s downfall both exposed and widened rifts at the top of China’s faction-ridden Communist Party.
His prosecution and trial is thought to have involved months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between his former backers and his opponents within the party and has been one of the foremost challenges for President Xi Jinping since he took over as general secretary of the party in December.
Bo’s robust defence of his record made some experts wonder whether the 64-year-old was laying the groundwork for possible rehabilitation and a political comeback.
That theory appeared to be bolstered last week when a letter supposedly written by Bo began circulating on the Internet, in which he vowed to wait patiently in jail until he was vindicated.
It suggested Bo hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bo Yibo, who was purged and imprisoned under Mao, only to be rehabilitated and reemerge as a powerful party elder in the 1980s and ’90s.
“Dad has been imprisoned many times in life, and I will set him as my example!” the letter read.
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said two people with close ties to the family had confirmed the letter was genuine, but The Washington Post was unable to verify its authenticity.
Brookings’ Cheng Li said Bo appeared to be gambling on political “uncertainties” or upheavals in the future that might see his reputation restored.
“But even if there is political uncertainty, his chances of becoming a credible political player again are zero,” he said. “The trial revealed his arrogance, how he is out of touch, his family’s misdeeds. It transformed him from a charismatic leader to an ordinary person.”
Zhang Jie contributed to this report.