This is in no way to downplay the efforts of all the reporters who covered the story, but to remind us of what happened to a reporter guilty of attempting
to expose Bo's corruption many years before. The reporter was Jiang Wenping, former bureau chief for northeast China for the Hong Kong paper Wenhui Bao, who, starting as far back as 1998, wrote a series of exposés of sex and corruption scandals in the Northeast, involving several
characters who were to become globally notorious a full fifteen years later. One was headlined The Citizens of Dalian Cry to Heaven under the Autocratic Rule of Bo Xilai; another, Deputy Mayor of Shenyang Gambles Away 40 Million Yuan in Macau. Others detailed the familiar stories of collections of mistresses, concealment of
crime and corruption and so on. (I am indebted for these details to the reports on China's media written by He Qinglian for these details)
He published his articles under a pseudonym in various Hong Kong papers, but he himself was a Chinese citizen, and when, in 1999, the paper was told to
move its bureau from Shenyang to Dalian, he had to resign. He was arrested in December 2000 and tried on January 25, 2002, on charges of "illegally
providing state secrets abroad," "incitement to subvert state power," and "illegally possessing state secrets." He was sentenced to eight years in prison
with a further five years' deprivation of political rights.
It would be comforting to think that, now everything that Mr. Jiang wrote about Bo Xilai has been vindicated by the official accusations against him, he
might get an apology. Unfortunately, the precedents are not promising: Ma Xiangdong, the deputy mayor of Shenyang who had lost 40 million RMB in the
casinos of Macau, was subsequently arrested. He was executed in 2001 for his gambling habit. (Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, of course, who confessed to the murder
of Neil Heywood last year, was given a suspended death sentence.) Being right about Ma Xiangdong -- and all the others -- did not help Mr Jiang: he stayed in
prison until 2006. He later emigrated to Canada where I understand that he is -- finally -- writing a biography of Bo Xilai.
Isabel's absolutely right to raise the fact that it is Chinese reporters and, I would add, news assistants in foreign news bureaus, who are far more
"messed with" by authorities. We foreign reporters all owe them a debt of gratitude for their courage and, often, tremendous generosity with their sources,
information and willingness to teach us about what might actually be going on when the tea leaves look a bit muddled to our outsiders' eyes.
Last October, I left China after eight years working as a freelance reporter based in Beijing. Back in New York, I don't miss the simmering worry my wife,
also a reporter, and I endured just to do our jobs. When each December rolled around, we wondered if we'd get our journalist visas renewed or have to pack
up and leave. Had we been careful not to compromise a Chinese source requesting anonymity who might get into serious trouble if discovered speaking with
foreign reporters? We lived with it, got used to it even, but always thought twice when talking about stories in our own apartment (was it bugged?) or when
out reporting, not wanting to end up scaring our young daughter with a call to say we weren't sure when we'd be home. In the end, we skated through our
life as reporters in China relatively unscathed in comparison with the real woes experienced by colleagues, friends and neighbors, some of whom actually
were detained numerous times, physically harassed by police or plainclothes public security, or eventually expelled or denied working visas. All of this
did little to engender warm feelings about living in China, a country in which we otherwise loved life.