- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
In early 2012, as the life of the charismatic Chinese politician Bo Xilai began to unravel in public, a joke made the rounds on the Chinese Internet: Three men meet in prison, and the conversation turns to what crimes they committed. The first one says, "I complained about Bo Xilai, so I was arrested." The second says, "I supported Bo Xilai, so after he fell, I was arrested." The third one says, "I am Bo Xilai!"
Bo was a controversial figure, eliciting strong reactions from those who knew him — or were the targets or beneficiaries of his many political campaigns. When he fell in March 2012, he took many people with him: government officials, high-ranking military officers, and leftists who supported Bo’s brand of Mao-infused politicking.
Bo’s trial began on Aug. 22, and will probably last one or two days. According to China’s underutilized constitution, Bo should be tried fairly and impartially — a result that’s extremely unlikely.
Still, certain segments of Chinese society are pleading publicly for the courts to treat Bo leniently. His defenders include petitioners, the name given to Chinese who travel — often great distances — to appeal to higher authorities for the resolution of the (sometimes imagined) injustices they’ve incurred.
One human rights advocacy website, June 4th Tianwang, recently posted a photo of 82-year Wang Xiuying standing next to a picture of Bo Xilai, with the words "Fairness and Openness" written upside down. "We think everyone deserves a fair and open trial," Wang’s daughter Wang Fengxian told FP in a phone interview on Aug. 21. "Regardless if he’s evil or good, if even [Bo] can’t get a fair trial, than what about the rest of us?"
Li Xuehui, a 53-year-old petitioner, says he’s been sending dozens of people to the provincial capital of Jinan to observe the trial. "Some managed to arrive, but they were caught and immediately sent back," he said in a phone interview with FP. Others managed to make it to the heavily guarded courtroom; on Aug. 21, the Telegraph reported that "around ten protesters held up signs outside the courthouse calling for a fair trial," though it’s unclear if they were all petitioners. "We don’t have good or bad feelings for Bo Xilai, but we’re taking this opportunity to try and make more people pay attention to his case," Li said.
In the photo above, Xiuying smiles grimly and holds a sign that reads, "Fairness starts from him!" Li has a slightly different take. "Fairness is safety," he said.