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Daring to speak out about Bo Xilai thriller

By Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN
April 27, 2012 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Wang Kang has doubts about whether Bo Xilai (left) was involved in Neil Heywood's murder.
Wang Kang has doubts about whether Bo Xilai (left) was involved in Neil Heywood's murder.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bo Xilai stripped of his top Communist Party posts for unspecified "serious violations of discipline"
  • His wife, Gu Kalai, detained in connection with the death of a British businessman
  • The scandal has stunned China's hierarchy, but little substantiated facts have come out
  • Wang Kang says he has taken a risk by revealing what he knows about the Bo family

Editor's note: "Jaime's China" is a weekly column about Chinese society and politics. Jaime FlorCruz has lived and worked in China since 1971. He studied Chinese history at Peking University (1977-81) and was TIME Magazine's Beijing correspondent and bureau chief (1982-2000).

(CNN) -- Once the ultimate power couple in China, Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai have now vanished.

Bo has been stripped of his top Communist Party posts for unspecified "serious violations of discipline," while Gu has been detained in connection with the death of Neil Heywood, a British businessman.

The scandal has rocked the Chinese leadership to the core. But weeks after the shocking news of the couple's fall from grace broke, little substantiated information has come out. It has mostly been rumor and speculation.

Some people at the center of the story have been silenced. Others have been locked up.

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But one insider who has dared to speak is Wang Kang, a self-described "independent thinker," who seems to move in and outside Communist Party circles.

Born and bred in Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis of more than 30 million where Bo served as party chief for four years, Wang, 64, knows what makes the city tick.

In recent weeks, while China's official media have remained tight-lipped on the Bo scandal, Wang has talked with numerous overseas media, revealing tales of scandal, blackmail, murder and arrests.

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"I know I'm taking a little risk by agreeing to take your interview," Wang told CNN in an exclusive interview. "But what I'm saying is basically in line with the central government. Several foreign media told me they couldn't find one single interviewee in the vast city of Chongqing. They dare not sound off their opinion. This is sad."

Wang acknowledged he is not personally familiar with Bo. He met him only once many years ago, before Bo moved to Chongqing.

But he boasts a network of "guanxi" (connections) -- academics, writers, journalists, businessmen and officials -- some of whom claim to have knowledge of the Bo scandal.

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"I'm stronger at analyzing," he said. "As for the truth, many other people know much more about it than I do."

Still, Wang talked expansively about the unfolding political scandal.

He said Bo portrayed himself as a modern-day Mao Zedong. "Bo borrowed Mao's ideology as the core of his own governing," he said. "But going back to Mao's path was definitely not an option. It was a dead-end."

Bo's campaign of smashing gangs and reviving Communist, Mao-era songs -- "smash black, sing red," as he called it -- caused a lot of damage in Chongqing, according to Wang.

"Extortion of confessions through torture was commonplace," he added. "Too many unjust and mistaken cases were made in the process."

Why did Bo seem to enjoy public support?

"He gained some support from a certain crowd, which is pathetic," Wang opined.

"Deng Xiaoping didn't conduct a thorough reform to erase Mao's impact, and the opening up [of China's economy] has led to a huge rich-poor gap and enormous corruption in the Communist Party.

"It's natural that some people would want to go back to the egalitarian Mao era because Deng brought back capitalism which some people didn't welcome.

"Bo gained support in Chongqing in part because Beijing never effectively reformed its political system," he claimed.

What about Bo's ties to Neil Heywood? Was he a British spy?

"Personally I don't think Heywood was a spy," he said without elaborating.

The China-based businessman reportedly moved in the orbit of a company known as Hakluyt and Co., a British strategic information consultancy formed by former officers of the UK's spy agency MI6. Hakluyt recently released a statement saying: "Neil had a long history of advising western companies on China and we were among those who sought his advice. We are greatly saddened by his death."

Meanwhile, Wang expressed doubts Bo was involved in Heywood's murder. "If it's like what was reported, that Bo was shocked on learning of Heywood's murder, he may not have been involved previously but may have tried to hide or minimize its impact," Wang said.

As for Bo's wife, Wang noted official Chinese reports allege Gu may have been complicit in Heywood's death.

"As for her motive, I think it's either struggling over financial interests or disagreements related to their personal affair," he said.

"It somehow became impossible for Gu to end this relationship with Heywood. My guess is both factors exist. They were involved both financially and romantically."

Was Bo involved in corruption and bribery?

Wang could not say for sure. "I don't know whether he's interested in money, but my understanding of politicians of his kind is they are not impressed much by money, maybe by women -- think about Hitler or Mao -- but by power," he said.

"Money is a significant factor nowadays, for sure, but I don't know about Bo's attitude on this."

Wang then proffered lessons that could be learned from the Bo saga.

China, he said, needs political reform. "Bo is not so extreme, he is still reasonable," he said.

"If some Maoists like those online bloggers of 'Utopia' came to power, it'll be a disaster. This is what we can learn from the Bo Xilai case: start political reform immediately and return power to people."

Another lesson, he said, comes from censorship. "The lack of free flow of information and expression channels are blinding people," he explained.

"'Rumors stop at the wise mind', an old Chinese saying says. In modern days they stop when there are open channels, media freedom and transparency."

As the hour-long interview came to a conclusion, Wang declined to speculate on the outcome of the Bo scandal. He said only the main characters in this saga can possibly know more -- the deceased Heywood, Gu and Bo himself.

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