On Friday, after months of furious speculation in the Western press and on Chinese social media, Xinhua, China's official news agency, finally announced that former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai had been expelled from the Communist Party, opening him up for prosecution and potentially a lengthy prison sentence.
Most of the official accusations against Bo are unsurprising. "Bo abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident," the report reads, in a reference to his former police chief who fled to the U.S. Consulate in February, "and the intentional homicide case of Bogu Kailai" -- a reference to his wife, convicted in August of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. He "seriously violated Party disciplines" as mayor and party secretary of Dalian, commerce minister, and Chongqing party chief, and "took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family," according to Xinhua.
In the middle of the list of charges is the following accusation: "Bo had or maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women." As with the other accusations, Xinhua doesn't elaborate, and Bo's alleged unfaithfulness to his wife hardly seems relevant. So what if he was getting some on the side?
But the Communist Party has long held an ambivalent view toward the sex life of its mandarins, dating back the mixed-up mores of its founder, Mao Zedong. Before emphasizing the importance of marriage and the family, Mao flirted with publicly advocating sex "as casual as drinking a glass of water" -- a philosophy he later took up in his private life.
Nowadays, as long as party officials remain loyal and keep their bedroom behavior private, sex is a personal matter. But once they fall, the curtain surrounding their private lives falls with them.
The significance of the charges against Bo thus lies not in their accuracy, but in the Communist Party's decision to use salaciousness to discredit him. As June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, told Bloomberg News, it fits a pattern "wherein the party decided that no one should be portrayed as having elements of both good and evil within them -- they were either wholly devoted to the party and the people or wholly evil and against them." The following is a list of six officials, high and low, who have been exposed:
1. Chen Liangyu
The previous Politburo member sacked, former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu, who fell in 2006, was accused of the same dissolution as Bo. In an August 2007 article in Chinese state media entitled "Since Ancient Times, Corrupt Officials Have Been Very Lusty, Also a Characteristic of Today's "Corrupt and Lusty" (Officials)," the author cites the results of an investigation into Chen's background. Not only did he cause a "endanger the safety of the social security fund," but he was "morally corrupt, using the power of his position to philander with females, trading power for sex." Details of Chen's rumored mistresses remained scant, but he's not alone: A report in 2007 by China's top prosecutor's office, cited by ABC News, "disclosed that 14 out of 16 senior leaders punished in major graft cases since 2002 were involved in ‘trading power for sex' -- the official code for having one or more mistresses."