On Aug. 9, Gu Kailai, the wife of deposed Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, stood trial for murder in a courtroom in the central Chinese city of Hefei. The 53-year-old Gu had been accused of poisoning Neil Heywood, a British businessman, in the trial of a century for China, and one inextricably linked to its biggest political scandal in decades. But after an anti-climactic, seven-hour trial, closed to all foreign media and observers with the exception of two British diplomats, Gu was pronounced guilty. On Aug. 20, the court sentenced Gu to death with 2-year reprieve; according to George Washington University law professor Donald Clarke, this means that "if she commits no new intentional crimes while in prison, that sentence will be commuted after two years to life imprisonment."
The role of Chinese media, as Chinese officials have repeatedly said, is to be the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, and not as checks on the government's power or purveyors of truth. But the case itself begged speculation. No witnesses testified publicly, and though the court improbably suggested that Gu had killed Heywood to protect her Harvard- and Oxford-educated son Bo Guagua -- no one has convincingly established the basic motive for the murder.
No wonder the Chinese social media is alight with rumor and innuendo about Gu's case. Because if the mentally unstable wife of a high-ranking Chinese official poisoned a British businessman to protect her son, isn't anything possible? Here are the five most interesting theories floating around:
The Gu on TV was a body double
The most pervasive rumor states that a woman who looks like Gu replaced her during the trial. Maybe Gu is free; maybe she's dead. One posting, noted by the Wall Street Journal, shows a photo of the handsome, angular Gu next to an image of the much heavier, fleshy-faced woman who stood in court. "Huge News," the post proclaims. "Gu Kailai's Body Double is the roughly 46-year-old Zhao Tianyun from Langfang [a city in central China's Hebei province]. For the fairness and justice of society, the human flesh search engine has found the fake Gu Kailai." Censors have since blocked the phrase ‘body double,' and ‘Zhao Tianyun.' Interestingly, the Financial Times cited "two security experts familiar with facial recognition software," who said that "the person shown in state television footage of the courtroom was not Ms. Gu."