But the gamble did not pay off, analysts said, and it provoked a stronger sentence than many had anticipated. He was found guilty on all three counts, and in addition to his imprisonment, all his personal assets are to be confiscated.
“He launched a big show of defiance for the sake of his own legacy,” said Willy Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But obviously that infuriated [Chinese President] Xi Jinping. That’s why he was punished — for his defiance, not for his corruption.”
Bo entered the courtroom Sunday looking proud and confident, turning his head to smile at family members. But as the judge read the verdict and sentence, Bo’s expression seemed pained, according to a video shown on Chinese television. He was led away in handcuffs by two tall policemen, apparently selected to tower over the 6-foot-1 politician.
Bo has 10 days to lodge an appeal, but experts say his chances of success appear negligible. The Communist Party controls China’s legal system and would have decided on the verdict in a case such as this well before it reached court, they say.
Bo’s father, Bo Yibo, was purged and imprisoned during the topsy-turvy days of Mao Zedong’s rule in China, only to be rehabilitated and promoted to the position of vice premier later in life. But political fortunes no longer rise and fall on a single leader’s whim, and Bo Xilai is sure to face a more difficult path.
Bo had cast himself as a champion of Mao’s legacy while running the megacity of Chongqing, encouraging the singing of “red songs” lauding the Communist Party’s achievements, waging a campaign against organized crime and building affordable housing for the poor.
But his autocratic reign unraveled after the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011 and the attempted defection to the United States of Bo’s police chief, Wang Lijun, the next year. His wife was convicted of Heywood’s murder, and Wang was jailed for trying to cover it up.
Nevertheless, Bo is thought to retain significant support among grass-roots party cadres, and his politics — known as the Chongqing Model — have not been officially criticized.
Like Bo, Xi realizes that the memory of Communist China’s founding father remains powerful, and he has cast himself as the true successor to Mao’s “man of the people” image.
Xi also understands that the yawning gap between rich and poor is undermining the party’s standing, and he is waging his own campaign against official corruption and lavish displays of wealth. Critics say he also is becoming as autocratic as Bo.