Former Chongqing Party Chief Bo Xilai, photographed here in 2010, likely faces a lengthy prison sentence after being indicted today. (Jason Lee/Reuters)
The penny has dropped for Bo Xilai. The one-time Chongqing Party Secretary, held in limbo since March 2012, was indicted today for bribery, corruption, and abuse of power stemming from his previous stint as the top official in Dalian. Bo's long-awaited trial will mark the culmination of China's most serious political scandal in a generation, one that began with the poisoning death of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing in November 2011.
To tease out some of the implications of the Bo Xilai issue, I spoke to Jacques DeLisle, a law professor and Director at the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The following is a transcript of our remarks, edited for length and clarity.
Now that Bo Xilai has been indicted, when will his trial be held?
There's been a lot of speculation about that already, and of course nobody knows for sure. But I suspect the trial won't be too far into the future because the government has sat on this issue for so long. It's hard to imagine what the motivation would be for indicting him and then letting the indictment sit for a long time.
Another reason that the trial will likely happen sooner rather than later is the arrival of two major events on the Chinese political calendar. The first is the traditional summer retreat of the Communist Party elite to Beidaihe, a beach resort near Beijing, where the country's top leaders go to set the agenda for the coming year. The second is the coming third plenum of the National People's Congress early this fall, an event where policies will be set. This time, the third plenum will be particularly important because it comes after the installation of a new president [Xi Jinping], something that happens in China only once every 10 years.
So is there any chance that Bo will be acquitted?
(Laughs) You'd have to get really, really big odds to cover that bet. If he were acquitted it'd be shocking -- totally out of the ordinary. But what's interesting to me is what they're charging him with.
Why is that?
Well, the main focus of the Bo Xilai controversy was what he did in his last post as the Party Secretary of Chongqing, including the unpardonable sin of campaigning publicly for a spot in the Standing Committee of the Politburo [China's highes decision-making body]. China has a fairly secretive and managed successor process, but Bo tried to subvert this by invoking his own personal standing and his ability to cultivate grass-roots support. That was a huge infraction on his part.
If you look more broadly at what the public saw in Bo, you see someone who ran a brutal dictatorship in Chongqing. There was some genuine support for his anti-crime crackdown, of course, but its brutality, and disregard of legal restrictions and procedures, were problematic. Bo tried to shake down local business interests in the city, and angered China's "rule of law" types by going after a defense lawyer named Li Zhuang, who was defending someone caught up in one of Bo's "anti-mafia" cases.
But the indictment, insofar as we know, just has to do with the crimes of embezzlement and abuse of power that focused on his earlier tenure as the Party Secretary of Dalian, in northeastern China, and has nothing to do with what he did in Chongqing.
Why would Beijing handle it this way? Why not go after him for his Chongqing crimes, and, if his Dalian crimes merited arrest, why didn't they arrest him years ago?
Almost every official at Bo's level in China has skeletons in the closet, so if they had gone after him when he was running Dalian -- his crimes there were not uncommon for Chinese leaders -- then you'd give the impression that members of the elite would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution.
So had the Wang Lijun incident [the Police Chief who fled to the U.S. Embassy in February 2012] not occurred in Chongqing, would Bo have even run into trouble?
The Wang Lijun case made it easy to go after Bo; there's something terribly embarrassing when your top aide tries to defect to the United States and then hands over a bunch of information in the process. And there were other revelations that hurt him, such as tapping the phones of [former President] Hu Jintao when he was visiting Chongqing.
But in general, Bo was playing a high-stakes, high-risk game. He was going outside the usual channels in a bid for higher office by cultivating a populist power base, and that's just a big no-no in Chinese politics. He also stood for a particular model of governance that was at odds with the broadly reformist bloc that runs the country. Bo's vision of Chongqing was in having the state play a big role and to avoid any big market reforms, and he was a good deal more contemptuous and dismissive of "rule of law" values than even the mainstream elite -- which is saying something. His populist, almost neo-Maoist approach was in tension with the reformist, market-oriented model favored by the likes of [former Guangdong Party Chief and current Vice Premier] Wang Yang.
Bo Xilai attracted genuine grassroots support as Chongqing's boss. Will they come out to rally during his trial?
A few years ago this would have been totally unthinkable in China, but with the rise in protests recently people do seem to feel more free to take to the streets. That said, most of the protesters seem more concerned with local economic or environmental issues than anything broadly political.
So will we see a lot of people out in the streets for Bo Xilai? I doubt it. It'd be a risky thing to do, I think, going out and expressing support for someone accused of doing some pretty terrible things. But what's interesting in this: the trial is being held not in Chongqing or Dalian but in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province, which is an area with which Bo has no ties. This might suggest some concern to avoid some embarrassing, if not actually threatening, protests.
What will Bo's sentence be?
I'd guess it'll be somewhere been many years and a suspended death sentence, the latter of which in China usually means life in prison. The odds of him being executed is practically nil -- it just doesn't happen to top leaders in China, not to [Mao Zedong's last wife and Gang of Four member] Jiang Qing, nor people nearer to Bo like his wife Gu Kailai, who was convicted in the murder of Neil Heywood. Chen Liangyu, the Shanghai Party Chief convicted for corruption in 2008, is probably the closest comparison, and he didn't even get a suspended death sentence.
What lesson does Bo's case teach existing Chinese officials?
I don't think it teaches them anything they don't already know. That is to say -- if you engage in corrupt or abusive behavior in these high positions (Party secretary, provincial governor, etc.) you might end up with your political enemies wanting to take your down. Lots of people of course get away with a lot of stuff -- but even for people like Bo in the upper tier of elite, there is that risk of getting caught.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society.
If the ruined ruins of Palmyra could speak, they would marvel at our shock. After all, they have been sacked before. In their mute and shattered eloquence, they spoke for centuries not only about the cultures that built them but also about the cultures that destroyed them—about the fragility of civilization itself, even when it is incarnated in stone. No designation of sanctity, by God or by UNESCO, suffices to protect the past. The past is helpless. Instead these ruins, all ruins, have had the effect of lifting the past out of history and into time. They carry the spectator away from facts and toward reveries.
In the 18th century, after the publication in London of The Ruins of Palmyra, a pioneering volume of etchings by Robert Wood, who had traveled to the Syrian desert with the rather colorful James Dawkins, a fellow antiquarian and politician, the desolation of Palmyra became a recurring symbol for ephemerality and the vanity of all human endeavors. “It is the natural and common fate of cities,” Wood dryly remarked in one of the essays in his book, “to have their memory longer preserved than their ruins.” Wood’s beautiful and meticulous prints served as inspirations for paintings, and it was in response to one of those paintings that Diderot wrote some famous pages in his great Salons of 1767: “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures. ... Wherever I cast my glance, the objects surrounding me announce death and compel my resignation to what awaits me. What is my ephemeral existence in comparison with that of a rock being worn down, of a valley being formed, of a forest that’s dying, of these deteriorating masses suspended above my head? I see the marble of tombs crumble into powder and I don’t want to die!”
It’s not just Trump: With Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina on the rise, Republicans are loving outsiders and shunning politicians.
For the first time in a long time, Donald Trump isn’t the most interesting story in the 2016 presidential race. That's partly because his dominance in the Republican polls, while still surprising, is no longer novel and increasingly well explored and explained, but it’s also partly because what’s going on with the rest of the GOP field is far more interesting.
Heather Armstrong’s Dooce once drew millions of readers. Her blog’s semi-retirement speaks to the challenges of earning money as an individual blogger today.
The success story of Dooce.com was once blogger lore, told and re-told in playgroups and Meetups—anywhere hyper-verbal people with Wordpress accounts gathered. “It happened for that Dooce lady,” they would say. “It could happen for your blog, too.”
Dooce has its origin in the late 1990s, when a young lapsed Mormon named Heather Armstrong taught herself HTML code and moved to Los Angeles. She got a job in web design and began blogging about her life on her personal site, Dooce.com.
The site’s name evolved out of her friends’ AOL Instant-Messenger slang for dude, or its more incredulous cousin, "doooood!” About a year later, Armstrong was fired for writing about her co-workers on the site—an experience that, for a good portion of the ‘aughts, came known as “getting dooced.” She eloped with her now ex-husband, Jon, moved to Salt Lake City, and eventually started blogging full time again.
Why haven’t more challengers entered the race to defeat the Iraq War hawk, Patriot Act supporter, and close friend of big finance?
As Hillary Clinton loses ground to Bernie Sanders in Iowa, where her lead shrinks by the day, it’s worth noticing that she has never made particular sense as the Democratic Party’s nominee. She may be more electable than her social-democratic rival from Vermont, but plenty of Democrats are better positioned to represent the center-left coalition. Why have they let the former secretary of state keep them out of the race? If Clinton makes it to the general election, I understand why most Democrats will support her. She shares their views on issues as varied as preserving Obamacare, abortion rights, extending legal status to undocumented workers, strengthening labor unions, and imposing a carbon tax to slow climate change.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
Demonizing processed food may be dooming many to obesity and disease. Could embracing the drive-thru make us all healthier?
Late last year, in a small health-food eatery called Cafe Sprouts in Oberlin, Ohio, I had what may well have been the most wholesome beverage of my life. The friendly server patiently guided me to an apple-blueberry-kale-carrot smoothie-juice combination, which she spent the next several minutes preparing, mostly by shepherding farm-fresh produce into machinery. The result was tasty, but at 300 calories (by my rough calculation) in a 16-ounce cup, it was more than my diet could regularly absorb without consequences, nor was I about to make a habit of $9 shakes, healthy or not.
Inspired by the experience nonetheless, I tried again two months later at L.A.’s Real Food Daily, a popular vegan restaurant near Hollywood. I was initially wary of a low-calorie juice made almost entirely from green vegetables, but the server assured me it was a popular treat. I like to brag that I can eat anything, and I scarf down all sorts of raw vegetables like candy, but I could stomach only about a third of this oddly foamy, bitter concoction. It smelled like lawn clippings and tasted like liquid celery. It goes for $7.95, and I waited 10 minutes for it.
When Kenneth Jarecke photographed an Iraqi man burned alive, he thought it would change the way Americans saw the Gulf War. But the media wouldn’t run the picture.
The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.
On February 28, 1991, Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of the charred man, parked amid the carbonized bodies of his fellow soldiers, and photographed him. At one point, before he died this dramatic mid-retreat death, the soldier had had a name. He’d fought in Saddam Hussein’s army and had a rank and an assignment and a unit. He might have been devoted to the dictator who sent him to occupy Kuwait and fight the Americans. Or he might have been an unlucky young man with no prospects, recruited off the streets of Baghdad.