What was presumably going to be one of the trials of the century in China – the murder trial of Gu Xilai and Zhang Xiaojun - opened and closed on the same day and that is how the party scripted it.
The trial took place in remote Hefei, far from Beijing or Chongqingm, formerly the power center of Gu's husband Bo Xilai. Both Gu and Bo are children of influential Communist Party figures.
The official Chinese agency Xinhua carried a dry report on the trial, treating it as a standard criminal case. The prosecution charged, and Gu did not contest the charges, that she had poisoned Neil Heywood, a British citizen over businesses differences between Heywood and Gu and her son Guagua, last seen at Harvard. According to the report, the trial was open and attended by 140 people, including relatives and friends of the defendants and of Heywood and two British representatives. The media was also present (foreign media was barred).
Mention was made that the defendant feared for the life of her son and her mental condition was not stable. The Washington Post, citing one spectator at the court, wrote that the defendant had to thank the judge, the prosecutors and her lawyers at the end of the trial. She regretted committing a crime that "brought negative consequences to the party and the country."
This is a major anti-climax, but it can be understood as the Communist Party's reluctance to wash its dirty linen in public. There has also been speculation that the inconclusive ending (sentencing has been deferred to a later date) reflects indecision at the top over how to handle Bo Xilai.
Prior to his removal from office, Bo was the proponent of a neo-Maoist revival in China, claiming that the gaps between the rich and the poor had grown dangerously wide. Due to both his position and his pedigree as a "princeling", Bo still commands support in higher circles and while the jockeying for position in China's once-in-a-decade political transition continues, this impacts on the question of how to handle Bo - and by inference, Gu as well.