Bert Cattivera has a theory about the death of Neil Heywood and the persecution of Gu Kailai by the Chinese government.As a man who has never been to Asia, I am wholly unqualified to write an article on Chinese gender politics. I drank some Chinese beer recently. Does that count? As they say in China (as far as I know!), “Yes, that counts!”
This shockingly pale Chinese lager is not nearly as thin as the reasons given by the authorities for the persecution of Gu Kailai, who is under investigation for a murder that seems like it never even occurred.
Sources, including a New York Times article, explain that when 41-year-old British businessman Neil Heywood died in a Chongqing hotel room last year, there was nary a suspicion of foul play. China’s state-run Xinhua news agency initially said Heywood died of alcohol poisoning. Heywood’s family maintains that Heywood was a teetotaller, and they were informed that he died of a heart attack, just as his father had. There was no evidence of a crime, and no autopsy was performed.
In the past few years, Gu’s husband, Bo Xilai, has caused a political stir in recent years by acting as an anti-corruption czar, zealously exposing officials on the take. It appeared that Bo was poised for a leadership position in Beijing, perhaps even serving on the standing committee of the Politburo as the next generation of leaders gain power.
Instead, Bo was suspended from the Central Committee and the Politburo of the Communist Party on Tuesday for “disciplinary violations.”
Until March, Bo was the party chief in Chongqing. Bo installed his ally, Wang Lijun, as police chief. In February, Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, requesting asylum. He spent 30 hours there, passing on key intelligence information to the Americans, yet was not granted asylum. He has been in Chinese custody ever since.
The bizarre Wang incident gives the appearance that Wang had a clear sense, perhaps from his contacts in the law enforcement community, that the shit was about to hit the fan for him and his boss. Bo and Wang had done their job of rooting out corruption a little too well, making powerful enemies in the process. Sure enough, March 15, both Bo and his wife had also been detained. The three have not been seen since.
After a month of unexplained detention, the Communist Party announced that Gu Kailai was under investigation for the “intentional homicide” of Heywood. Chinese authorities now claim that Heywood was poisoned by Gu due to a business deal gone awry.
Heywood’s family continue to maintain that he died of a heart attack. “I don’t know where this comes from, this stuff about his being poisoned and so on,” says Heywood’s mother, Ann Margaret Heywood. “This is not about Neil; this is about Chinese politics.”
♦◊♦What can we infer about gender politics in China, based on the current scandal? Targeting family members as part of a political retaliation suggests that, as elsewhere in the world, family is valued heavily in China.
A friend living in China informs me that Chinese women face different issues from their U.S. counterparts. For example, divorce, while legal, remains deeply problematic for women, as family law is stacked against them. Women tend to avoid engaging in loud arguments due to political repression. Yet, lurking below the surface of a seemingly cohesive society, there is great disenchantment along religious, ethnic and gender lines.
Suffice it to say, it will be difficult for women’s rights to take hold in a country where the authoritarian government does not value human life or even acknowledge “human rights” on a conceptual level.
Bo and Wang violated the Mafia principle of omerta, and it seems China’s Mafia-style government will stop at nothing in its retaliation, and now their wealth is being called into question.
Although Bo has not been formally accused of corruption, a report in People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, hints that corruption charges may be impending.
The article states that corrupt officials have been stashing money overseas through their wives, children and associates.
Bo is the son of a revolutionary hero and has benefited accordingly, using his connections to obtain positions of power.
Critics say Gu, who is also directly related to a hero of the revolution, has amassed a personal fortune derived from her husband’s position.
At this stage, it seems to me that this is China saying, “Fuck you. We know it is obvious that we are retaliating against an innocent woman for the noble deeds of her husband, and we don’t care.”