HEFEI, China – One of Chinas most politically charged murder trials starteds here today. But talk to the student at the cafe, the taxi driver, the software salesman and the flower seller – none of them has any idea that a courtroom in this grimy industrial city soon will be the center of Chinas political universe.
As everywhere in the country, the talk in Hefei is more about Chinas medal success at the Olympics than the drama surrounding Gu Kailai, who is accused of murdering a British businessman, when her husband Bo Xilai ruled the roost as the Communist Party boss of Chongqing metropolis.
The lack of awareness points in part to the governments relative success with censorship and limiting media exposure of the case, which has embarrassed the Communist Party ahead of its carefully managed once-a-decade reshuffle of power this year.
Bo was a contender for a top job until his downfall earlier this year.
I rarely pay attention to such news because politics has very little to do with my own life, said Gong Genwu, a 23-year-old computer software salesman who was strolling back to work after lunch outside a shopping mall across from the Hefei Intermediate Peoples Court.
As the party boss of Chongqing, Bo was prominent, powerful and popular. Lawyer Gu – even though she didnt have an official role in the party – wielded enormous influence thanks to her husband.
Their life fell apart when an aide to Bo fled briefly to an American consulate in February, apparently with evidence of the Bo familys involvement in the death of Neil Heywood, a British businessman who had dealings with Gu. That resulted in Bos removal from key posts and an April announcement that Gu and a household aide were chief suspects in the Britons murder.
In London, Heywoods mother accused the press of spreading lies about her son. Youve all behaved so appallingly, Ann Heywood said outside her home.
British media have suggested Neil Heywood was involved in money laundering, worked for British intelligence or that he was Gus lover.
Ann Heywood claimed to know more about the case than was in the public domain, but she wasnt specific and said the truth would come out eventually.
In any case, trials like this are generally behind closed doors.
Some British diplomats are expected to attend, but international media will be kept away.
The government has curtailed reports on the case to brief announcements by the main propaganda outlets, Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television.
In China, ordinary people generally shun public discussion of political issues, knowing that they can be a minefield in which the boundaries of fair speech are unclear under the authoritarian governments strict controls.