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Wang Lijun: Fall of the Iron Man

Wang fashioned himself a hero by cracking down on organised crime and inspiring "Iron-Blooded Police Spirits" TV show.
Last modified: 24 Sep 2012 18:58
In this video image taken from CCTV, Wang speaks during his trial at the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court [AP]

Wang Lijun was a Chinese success story.

Born into a less-than-privileged life in Mongolia, he moved across provincial lines, changed his name and turned his fortunes around to become a very powerful man. He then joined the army, became a cop – and eventually hooked his wagon to a rising political star.  

Yet the stories about Wang’s eccentricities are many and he reportedly liked it that way.

When he rose to prominence in Chongqing as its police chief – the largest municipality not just in China, but in the world - Wang fashioned himself a hero by notoriously cracking down on organised crime. There was even a TV show called "Iron-Blooded Police Spirits" based on his exploits. He was an example set up for all – the "pride" of China’s police force.

Wang always maintained that history would remember him no matter what. And that indeed it will. Though maybe not as he might have liked. It is because of him that China’s largest political scandal in decades unravelled, toppling a party leader, and rocking the government at its core.

That rising star he had hitched himself to was Bo Xilai, a man just as colourful who was on his way to joining the top ranks of the ruling communist party – despite not being unanimously liked within the leadership.  

Wang and Bo worked together and defended each other but then the two allies had a falling out.  

The former was reportedly being investigated for abuse of power just as a British businessman was murdered in his municipality. It turns out the suspect in that murder was Bo’s wife. In exchange for leniency in the investigation on him, Wang supposedly offered to bring Bo (and his wife) down for corruption and embezzlement. Wang said he began to fear for his safety after Bo got wind of the alleged arrangement.  

That is when Wang did the unthinkable as far Chinese authorities are concerned; he took his problems to the US consulate and requested asylum. But it was not granted.  

Instead, he was accused of treason and taken into custody by Chinese authorities. That was in February.

Wang’s actions and successive revelations opened the lid on the tightly-guarded inner world of the ruling elite. That was the last thing party officials wanted exposed, what with a generational leadership transition in the offing. There were already grumblings of social unrest amongst the masses over a widening wealth gap, and the ruling party needed to be seen as stable and united – but thanks to Wang, it became apparent that that was not the case at all.

By March, Bo was fired from his position as regional party chief and his political career was effectively over.

Last week, Wang was brought to court and charged with a variety of crimes including defecting, taking bribes, abusing power and "bending the law" to suit "selfish purposes".

He did not even contest the charges, was found guilty on all counts and was sentenced to 15 years in prison - a much more lenient sentence than originally expected. Wang had shown contrition, prosecutors said – and deserved understanding. He had also, apparently, "cooperated" in further investigations. The perception is that he turned over more information on Bo so that charges might possibly be brought against him too.  

"One of the complaints [in China] is that there is abuse of power ... that people in high places escape the law," Hong Kong-based political analyst Andrew Leung said.

"So the Chinese leadership is extremely eager to showcase this case - that no matter how high up you are – you are still subject to the rule of law.

In a way, the ruling party was forced into taking public action in response to Wang’s – and Bo’s - very public fall from grace.  
Once again, Wang – albeit unwittingly this time - succeeded in setting himself up as an example for all.

The irony is – Wang’s original Mongolian name, Unen Baatar, means "true hero". Wang is likely to find a way to tell himself that is exactly what he still is.