Hefei, China. To a Chinese public used to politicians behaving badly, corruption scandals come as little surprise. But the allegations against the wife of ex-leader Bo Xilai have still caused some shock.
“How could she be so gutsy as to kill a foreigner?” exclaimed one elderly woman in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei where Gu Kailai will on Thursday face trial for the murder of a British businessman.
“You can’t kill someone over an economic dispute . . . it’s too much.”
The case of Bo, the ambitious and charismatic Chinese politician brought down by accusations his wife murdered a British businessman, has sent shockwaves through the ruling Communist party and made headlines around the world.
In Hefei though, it is having to compete with news of the Olympic Games and a recent heat wave, and half of those interviewed by Agence France-Presse had not heard of the couple at the center of China’s biggest political scandal in decades.
Of those who had, there was a mixture of healthy scepticism about the fairness of China’s courts — which have a conviction rate of 98 percent— and the sense that the relatively public nature of the trial would make it fair.
“If they say she’s guilty, then she’s guilty,” said one man, who asked not to be named. “As ordinary people, we have no way to know if this will be fair.”
Gu, a celebrated lawyer whose husband ran the megacity of Chongqing until he was sacked earlier this year, is accused of murdering a British businessman with whom the high-flying couple had business dealings.
The accusations first emerged earlier this year, sparking the biggest political scandal to hit China in decades as the country gears up for a generational handover of power that begins this autumn.
“Decades ago they would have resolved it among themselves,” said a man surnamed Nu, 32, selling phone accessories on a busy street, of China’s authorities.
“Now that they have brought it out into the open for ordinary people to see, they should make it a fair trial.”
The hearing recalls one of the most high-profile trials in Chinese history, that of Mao Zedong’s widow Jiang Qing, more than three decades ago.
Jiang and three others in the so-called “Gang of Four” were found guilty of excesses in the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution after the 1980 trial. Jiang was given a death sentence that was later commuted to life in prison.
The trial of Gu will, unusually for China, be attended by British diplomats. It is not known whether any media will be allowed to attend — the Hefei court told AFP by telephone that “all seats are full.”
China’s state-run media have carried little coverage of the case against Gu, daughter of a revolutionary general, although some have touted it as evidence that no one is above the law.
Many residents supported holding the trial in Hefei, the capital of eastern Anhui province, to escape the power couple’s sphere of influence.
But one young woman surnamed Guo said she expected Gu to get off lightly. “Officials protect one another,” she told AFP. “They will do a backroom deal.”
Any popular backlash would not have much bearing, said a 30-year-old businessman surnamed Chen, noting that many ordinary Chinese increasingly resented officials’ families that acted like they were above the law.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “The government doesn’t listen to us.”