Bo Xilai: China’s Stringer Bell?

For a few weeks after the fall of Bo Xilai, the story focused on his wife’s role in the murder of Neil Heywood, a British bag man some have described as a character out of a Graham Greene novel (Evan Osnos reports that he drove a Jaguar with the license plate 007).

Recently, however, the story has morphed from Octopussy to The Wire.  Reports have emerged that while Bo was in charge of Chongqing–the wild-west city in China’s interior of which he was the Communist Party Chairman– gangsters, businessmen, and government officials were enmeshed in double-dealing games of cat and mouse that would make Omar Little’s head spin.  Bo was at the center of it all, playing the role of a previously unimaginable hybrid of Stringer Bell and Bunny Colvin.

Stringer Bell and Bo Xilai. Can you tell who is who?

Chongqing, it seems, is China’s Baltimore. Historian Roderick MacFarquhar inadvertently made the connection when he told the Times “this society has bred mistrust and violence.  Leaders know you have to watch your back because you never know who will put a knife in it.”

Stringer Bell and Bo Xilai knew this to be true, but could not outfox the true masters of the game.  For both men the ride was high and the crash was swift.

The Times article goes on to describe how Bo surveiled criminals and government officials with technology that would make McNulty green with envy (no Irish related pun intended):

“On the phone, we dared not mention Bo Xilai or Wang Lijun,” said Li Jun, a fugitive property developer who now lives in hiding abroad. Instead, he and fellow businessmen took to scribbling notes, removing their cellphone batteries and stocking up on unregistered SIM cards to thwart surveillance. . .”

In order to dodge Bo, lawyers, criminals, and visitors to the city with sensitive information would be given “a full stack of unregistered mobile phone SIM cards.”

Bo would probably not have run into too much trouble if his zeal had merely been directed at those below him.  But he made the mistake of tapping a phone used to contact China’s supreme leader Hu Jintao.  This logical extension of the general attitude of doing business in Chongqing was a step too far, not unlike Colvin’s mistake of setting up the Hamsterdam “free zone” in Season 3.

Before stretching this analogy even thinner, I’ll just put it up to a vote.  Let fans of The Wire decide:

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2 responses to “Bo Xilai: China’s Stringer Bell?

  1. Hi Mr. Levy, I just read your book and wanted to tell you that it was terrific! It was a story well told, and that’s sadly rare in nonfiction these days. I have a friend who lives in Shanghai who has a blog you might like: http://www.kentkedl.com. Thanks again for your terrific book!

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