There are certain family traditions that are hard to buck. In Bo Xilai’s case the dubious custom is a jail sentence at Qincheng. Both his father Bo Yibo and father-in-law Gu Jingsheng did time at the infamous prison during the Cultural Revolution.
But at least Bo won’t run into his estranged wife Gu Kailai behind bars. She was jailed recently at another facility for high-profile detainees in Hebei.
Built in 1958 with Soviet guidance, Qincheng has housed four main types of resident over the years, the Global Times reports. The first inmates were senior Guomindang members (defeated in China’s civil war) and a few of the remaining Japanese prisoners-of-war held by the Communist government. Once the Cultural Revolution began, the focus turned more fracticidal with prisoners detained on “counter-revolutionary” charges. During the late 1970s the political pendulum continued to swing back-and-forth, first netting supporters of the disgraced Lin Biao and then members of the Gang of Four, most notably Mao’s wife Jiang Qing.
Since then Qincheng has taken on more of a role as a compulsory retirement home for the most senior officials caught for corruption. A quick roll call of some of the more recent arrivals includes well-known faces like Chen Liangyu (former Party Secretary of Shanghai), the ex-Railways Minister Liu Zhijun (see WiC202) and even Wang Lijun, Bo’s former fixer and police chief (see WiC129 for a pre-arrest profile of Wang).
Wang gave evidence against his boss, which suggests a friendly match on the prison’s ping-pong table isn’t likely.
Qincheng is said to be a lot more hospitable than the average Chinese jail. The media coverage mentions large cells with carpets and individual bathrooms. But most of the commentary is reserved for the higher standard of prison cuisine, confirmed by an earlier interview with He Diankui, a former director of services at Qincheng.
Acknowledging that the food is appropriate for “ministerial treatment”, He outlined a menu including milk for breakfast and two dishes and a soup for dinner. Inmates also got an apple after every meal, He recalls.
Prisoners can also choose what they wear. Former Shanghai boss Chen is said to keep things formal, donning suit and tie most days. But he hasn’t been able to get things entirely his own way. According to the Global Times, his warders drew the line when he asked for red wine and walnuts to be added to his prison diet.
The public seems unsurprised that the elite enjoys better treatment than China’s average criminals.
All the same, in light of the unpredictability of Chinese political life, perhaps its bureaucrats can be forgiven for a little forward thinking in their design of elite penitentiaries.
Feng Jiping, who oversaw construction at Qincheng, learned this the hard way. Formerly head of Beijing’s Public Security Bureau, he was later imprisoned in his own creation. “If I had known I would serve time there, I would have made it nicer,’ Feng confided to Shenzhen Economic Daily last year.
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