Law Professor He Weifang on Why Wang Lijun’s Trial Scared Him

Today, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua announced that Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief, has been found guilty by a court in Chengdu of four criminal charges, including defection, abuse of power, taking bribes, and bending the law for personal gain. The court sentenced Mr. Wang to fifteen years in prison.

Though his trial, like that of Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai, has been reported on in usual detail by Xinhua, many Chinese readers remain unconvinced that the story of the murder of Englishman Neil Heywood has been sufficiently or truthfully explained.

Among the skeptics is He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, who is an outspoken advocate of legal and political reform. He recently described the Wang trial as having left him ”feeling very afraid.” He explains his worries in this blog post excerpted and translated for ChinaFile by Amy Qin.

First, Gu Kailai is a lawyer. Her knowledge of the law far exceeds that of an ordinary person. Yet, when she thinks her son’s safety is threatened, she still dares to kill, and personally kill with her own hands. And afterwards, she still dares to confess to the head of the public security bureau, looking for help to cover up the murder. Just where does her courage and confidence come from?

Second, a police chief in a municipality who knows the power of law enforcement in the whole country, upon learning about a homicide, still dares to send a subordinate to oversee the cremation, and then takes the initiative to call the murderer and say “becoming smoke and ashes, gone to the west.” The law has become an object, which people who are supposed to be in the position to enforce the law now trample on for their own private relations and purposes. How could this kind of person have become an enforcer of the law? Even if he once was a proponent of the law, then how did he become a person who tramples on the law?

Third, when Wang Lijun felt that his relations with Gu Kailai were growing distant, he sought to take matters into his own hands out of a sense of crisis. He went to the municipal Party Secretary, who was also the husband of the criminal, to tell him the details of the case. This previously upright, honest, evil-abhorring Party Secretary did not immediately call upon the law enforcement system to arrest the criminal suspect, but instead gave Wang Lijun a slap on the face. Even at this critical moment, this high-level official who for his whole life has been touting ideas such as “serve the people” and “holding power for the people” did not even behave as would an ordinary person. How has he muddled along within officialdom for his whole life?

As it turns out, those esteemed “senior officials” and “leaders” who have been managing our society are bastards who do not take the law seriously.
Fourth, it’s very strange—the reporter who wrote the Xinhua account, in writing about the episode during which Wang Lijun was slapped in the face, referred only to “the person then responsible for the municipal committee of Chongqing.” Could it be that there is a problem with “the person then responsible for the municipal committee of Chongqing”? Could it be that directly saying the name of this person is problematic?

Fifth, after Wang Lijun told this municipal Party Secretary the details of his wife’s crime, Wang’s close colleagues were put under investigation and Wang himself was transferred to another post. How can a Party Secretary have this much power? Isn’t it supposed to be collective leadership? When the Party Secretary broke the law, what were the other people doing? Why didn’t the mechanisms set up to check and restrict power work to control one person who was bending the law for his own profit and willfully misusing his power? How could such a high-level official play at such a low-level murder game? Why didn’t someone stop it immediately, instead of waiting for it to be exposed once the dog-eat-dog fighting began?

I remain bewildered despite much thought, and am thus very afraid. As it turns out, the mechanisms that have been in place for years to limit power at the top still can’t control high-level officials who commit crimes. As it turns out, those esteemed “senior officials” and “leaders” who have been managing our society are bastards who do not take the law seriously.

From now on, when we see those senior officials and leaders sitting upright and still on the television, what kind of attitude should we take toward them? Should it be one of suspicion, one of loathing, or one of deep respect as before? When they proclaim brilliant and glittering sayings and viewpoints, should we mock them, should we be disgusted with them, or should we trust them without hesitation?

Looking back at the last two hundred years of China’s recent history, looking back at the last one hundred years of China’s modern history, looking back at the last sixty years of nation-building … what should we feel when we look back at China in the 21st century—should it be tears, or should it be anger?