Melinda Liu: China’s Trials of the Century

Roundup: Media's Take

Melinda Liu is Bejiing bureau chief for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, a veteran foreign correspondent, and recipient of a number of awards, including the 2006 Shorenstein Journalism Award, acknowledging her reporting on Asia.

A petite, short-haired woman prone to mood swings, the defendant was charged with murder. Although her charismatic husband was nowhere nearby, the case reflected on the powerful leader whose communist rhetoric had won him a loyal following—but whose flaws had caused a key aide to turn against him.

Ah, you say, this must be Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai. Gu went on trial on Thursday, along with one of her husband’s employees, Zhang Xiaojun. The court adjourned Thursday afternoon after only a few hours to await verdict and sentencing, state-run media said, and Gu had raised no objections to the accusation that she murdered British businessman Neil Heywood, a family friend.

Yet the opening description fits another infamous female accused, whose court appearance was also touted as China’s "trial of the century." That defendant was Jiang Qing, widow of Great Helmsman Mao Zedong. Jiang went on trial in the winter of 1980 along with three cohorts. They were known as the "Gang of Four."And while their case involved murder too, it was also many other things. Jiang and the gang were found guilty of subversion, counter-revolutionary activity, treason, persecuting 727,420 people, and causing the deaths of 34,274.

Comparing these two "trials of the century" says something about what has changed in China—and about what has not changed...

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