It has been a week since the close of the National People's Congress, China's annual parliamentary session. And before I leave it completely behind me, I want to take a look at all the chatter about Bo Xilai. Chinese state media compared him to a celebrity with a fan base, and reporters — along with everyone else — went wild wherever he turned up.
Bo Xilai is the Communist Party head of Chongqing, a (giant) city in central China. He's arguably a person of only domestic interest — but has made it into the pages of international papers, here and here (and elsewhere).
He was the talk of Beijing because of his crackdown on the mafia in his city, leading to 3,000 arrests, and covered by spectacular pictures in the newspapers of police finding caches of guns.
Late last year, our team went down to Chongqing, too, to see what all the fuss was about. In particular, I was interested in learning about mafia activities in the countryside. A lot of its financial activities can take place far from the city center. And that is how we met Yi Dade, the fisherman who was too rich for his own good.
Here's the story we put out at the time:
With all this coverage on Bo Xilai, it was worth reaching out to Mr. Yi again to see if his situation had changed since our report. After all, he had high hopes and had forked over $14,650 US dollars to put in a full-page color ad in the newspaper thanking those "on the front lines" of combating the mafia — i.e., Bo Xilai. And he had gone public with his dispute and consequently, further endangered himself by attracting so much attention and possibly greater wrath from the gangs.
Well, several months on, Mr. Yi remains frustrated. Nothing has moved. The court has not issued a final decision following his appeal for stronger sentences against those who killed his son (one of them continues to walk free), and the longer the court takes, the more fearful he is about his own safety.
The leadership in Chongqing might be moving in on the criminals, but it's clear in Mr. Yi's case the mafia crackdown has done little in actually improving his circumstance. And instead of treating Bo Xilai like a rockstar, we might do well to pay more attention on what actual improvements have taken place for the people of Chongqing.