Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Friday, August 10, 2012

Unofficial report of proceedings in the Gu Kailai trial

An unofficial report of proceedings in the Gu Kailai trial has surfaced. I can't vouch for its authenticity, but have done a quick and dirty, and not entirely literal, translation anyway. Comments, corrections, and suggestions welcome.

My source for the Chinese text is the Boxun web site (there are other sources as well that have the same text). Here's the URL:

Here's my translation. As people send me suggestions, I'll indicate deletions by a strikethrough and additions by underlining. If it starts getting really messy, I'll indicate the change in some other way.


Zhao Xiangcha: A Record of my Observation of the Murder Trial of

BoGu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun


            August 9, 2012, at the Hefei Intermediate People’s Court. In Courtroom No. 1, the trial of BoGu Kailai (hereinafter “Gu”) and Zhang Xiaojun for the murder of British citizen Neil Heywood was held. I was present in the audience.

            The trial began on time at 8:30 in the morning and ended at about 3 p.m. The trial was complete, the facts clear, and the defendants admitted everything without reservation. The verdict will be announced at a later date.

            Here is a summary of the entire process of the case on the basis of the evidence and arguments of both sides that I heard while attending the trial.

            Because it wasn’t permitted to bring any recording equipment into the courtroom, even a small pencil I had with me was confiscated. I can only rely on memory and inference to sum up the case, and this account includes subjective inferences I’ve made from the details of various pieces of testimony. If there are mistakes, omissions, or additions, don’t blame me.

(I am behind and to the left of Zhang Xiaojun, in the shirt with black and green stripes.)


            1. Background to the case and motive for the murder

            The victim was Neil Heywood, a British businessman. His father was a British lord and an alumnus of Harrow School. In about 2003, he met Bo Guagua in England and helped him in various activities in England. He became quite close to Guagua, hoping to use Guagua’s family relations to promote his commercial interests in China.

            Around 2005, through the introduction of BoGu Kailai, Heywood met Xu Ming, the Chairman of the Dalian Shide Group (Xu was detained on March 15 of this year for economic problems) and a Mr. Zhang, a 3rd-generation princeling who was a senior officer at a state-owned enterprise. Their joint project involved a real estate project in France and a big construction project in Jiangbei District in Chongqing. Had the project proceeded according to plan, Heywood would have garnered a 140 million-pound share of the profits. But because the Chinese construction project suffered from too much political interference, it never got off the ground.

            Heywood thereupon sent an email to Bo Guagua demanding 10% of his expected profit, i.e., 14 million pounds. Bo Guagua conceded that his family should bear partial responsibility, but there was a great deal of disagreement over the specific amount. After a number of communications back and forth that produced no result, Heywood turned to threats, and held Bo Guagua in soft detention (软禁) at his [referent unclear] home in England, using this to pressure Gu Kailai.

            Bo Guagua then telephoned his mother to report his having been detained and kidnapped. Gu was afraid of her son being kidnapped and killed [or] suffering bodily harm. First, she reported the case to the Chongqing police, and the then police chief, Wang Lijun, took the case. But because the case took place in England, and there was not any solid proof, it was impossible to take coercive measures. This then gave her the motive for getting rid of Heywood in order to protect her son.

            2. The plotting stage of the murder

            Gu first plotted with Wang Lijun. She wanted to frame him as a drug dealer. At this time Heywood was in Beijing. They would lure him to Chongqing, then use the excuse of his resisting arrest as a drug dealer to shoot him to death on the spot, thus getting rid of him.

            Wang Lijun at first took part in the plot, but later on, perhaps fearing the risk, did not want to continue his participation. Gu then decided to do the job herself. On the pretext that she wanted to do an experiment, she got hold of some “Three Steps, Down” [presumably meaning the poison victim falls down dead after taking only three steps following ingestion] dog poison through some Chongqing mafia people. The seven people who supplied poison to Gu were subsequently arrested on suspicion of drug dealing.

            At this point I will introduce the other defendant in this case, Zhang Xiaojun. Zhang is a retired PLA soldier and was born on Oct. 22, 1979. He was once the personal servant of General Gu Jingsheng, Gu Kailai’s father. From the beginning of 2005 (Gu Jingsheng died in 2004), he had worked for the family of Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai. He was principally in charge of communicating with Bo Guagua and ensuring his personal security.

            3. The preparatory stage of the murder

            On Nov. 10, 2011 (I don’t recall the exact date), Zhang Xiaojun, at the direction of Gu Kailai, went to Beijing and invited Heywood to go to Chongqing. They put Heywood up at a villa at the Shannan Resort Hotel. At this time, Zhang Xiaojun did not know of Gu Kailai’s plan to kill Heywood by poison. On the afternoon of the 13th, Gu Kailai discussed her plan to kill Heywood by poison with Wang Lijun. The specific details of their discussion are not clear. That evening, Heywood and Gu had dinner together. After dinner, Gu Kailai instructed her driver, Wang Hao, to buy a bottle of Royal Fireworks Salute whiskey. She had prepared a small bottle of water with the poison dissolved in it (according to varying testimony, there were from one to four bottles) and gave it to Wang Xiaojun. She told him that it was cyanide. In his heart, Zhang Xiaojun did not want to cooperate in the murder, but participated because of his relations with Gu’s family. At about 11 p.m. that evening, Gu and her driver Wang Hao (who did not know about the plot), as well as another personal servant of the Bo family (whose name I don’t remember), got into a car, with Wang Xiaojun in another car, and all went to Heywood’s villa.

            4. The specific process of the murder

            Gu Kailai entered Heywood’s room by herself while the other three waited outside. She drank together with him – about 350 ml. of 80-proof (40% alcohol) whiskey. Heywood’s alcohol tolerance was low, and he got drunk and vomited (a great deal of vomit was found on the scene). He was woozy and lost the ability to resist. At this point Zhang Xiaojun came onto the scene of the crime and gave the poison to Gu Kailai. He also dragged Heywood from the bathroom to the bed. When Heywood wanted water after vomiting, Gu Kailai took the opportunity to give him the poison. She also dumped at the scene some drugs she had prepared beforehand in order to create the impression that Heywood was a drug dealer. When the two discovered the Heywood had no blood pressure (they could not be sure he was dead), they left the scene. Gu switched on the “Do Not Disturbed” indicator and told the hotel staff that Heywood was drunk and was not to be disturbed. At 11:38 p.m. that evening, the four left the scene.

            5. Various problems in the case and the initial investigation

            On Nov. 14th, one day after the murder, Gu Kailai told Wang Lijun everything about her crime. Wang recorded it. When Wang Lijun was no longer able to protect [Gu Kailai], he finally turned over this evidence to the relevant departments. (He is really insidious.)

            Two days after the murder, on Nov. 15th, the hotel staff, on finding that Heywood had not left his room for two days, [felt that] something strange was up, and discovered that he was dead. They called the police. Under the direction of Wang Lijun, the Chongqing police undertook an inspection of the crime scene and gathered evidence. They took a blood sample from the victim and did a CT scan of the corpse. Wang Lijun and several other senior police officers, in order to conceal Gu’s crime, personally carried the blood sample and other important evidence with them for a day, in violation of law and in a departure from judicial procedure. (This laid the groundwork for later doubts about the case, as recounted below.) Because of his involvement in the case, in order to escape criminal responsibility (or for some other reason), Wang Lijun later went to the American consulate.

            The defense lawyer raised several important doubtful points about the case. Although there was no evidence, everyone can use their imagination fully and may reach an unexpected conclusion.

  • The source of the poison is not clear, and there is no proof that the poison was cyanide.
  • The most important doubtful point is related to the first: During the first autopsy, the typical symptoms of cyanide poisoning (dilated pupils, bulging eyeballs, bloody mucous membranes) were not found. There were only secondary symptoms such as swelling in the lungs and brain. During the initial blood test, no cyanide was found. Four months after his death, a second test revealed cyanide in an amount that was the lower limit of a poisonous amount. During this time, the blood sample was beyond of the normal judicial process and was being unlawfully carried by Wang Lijun and several other senior police officials. As for the reason, everyone can fully imagine.
  • Heywood’s family had a history of cardiovascular disease. Excessive drinking could have caused his death from cardiovascular disease. And the autopsy showed none of the typical symptoms of poisoning. (The body having already been cremated, it was impossible to test for cardiovascular disease.) There was another important detail: The two defendants testified that when they left the room, Heywood had his head resting on the headboard. When his corpse was discovered, he was lying flat on the bed, and the bed showed signs of having been rolled on. This shows that Heywood might not have been dead [when they left the room]. If this is so, it shows that the poison was insufficient to kill Heywood, and that Gu’s act therefore might be deemed attempted murder. But there was no evidence, and so the court did not accept these points.
  • There were indications that someone entered the balcony of Heywood’s room between the night of the 13th and the time when the body was discovered on the 15th, but there was insufficient evidence that anyone had entered.
  • Gu was mentally ill and was not completely competent to act.[1]
    • According to relevant assessments, Gu Kailai suffered from manic depression and moderate schizophrenia. It was determined that she had the ability to make judgments, her self-control was relatively weak, and she was completely capable of bearing criminal responsibility. The attorney argued that she was not completely competent to act, but had no evidence.

            Attitude of the accused

            BoGu Kailai was relatively calm all the way through, but was unable to hide her intense anxiety. I could clearly see her hands trembling. She said nothing in her own defense, leaving it all to her attorney(s). Her voice was soft and she spoke standard Mandarin.

            She fully admitted her acts in the case without reservation; she offered no objections. She made only three clear points when she spoke: (1) She felt that the prosecution’s account of her motive was not full enough. (2) She sought to reduce Zhang Xiaojun’s culpability, and asked that he be given a lighter sentence. (3) She felt that it was improper for Wang Lijun to appear as a witness in this case and that his testimony was concocted. In her confession and recorded [statement], she repeatedly emphasized Wang Lijun’s insidiousness. As for the reason, everyone should judge for themselves.

            Zhang Xiaojun had no objection to the prosecution’s evidence or charges.

            In the final statements of the accused, they both admitted guilt and showed relatively sincere repentance.

            My personal impressions

            Everyone has long known my character; you can take my impressions for what they’re worth.

            I feel that the entire courtroom adjudication process was fairly objective and just. There was a slight feeling that things had been rehearsed beforehand. But that didn’t affect the ultimate defining of the case. The facts really were clear and the evidence really was copious. The prosecutor didn’t bully people and the defence lawyers did everything they could. The testimony of the called witnesses (传唤证人的证词)[2] was very just and unbiased. To convict these two is absolutely just.

            In the final statements of the accused, they both admitted guilt and showed relatively sincere repentance. I felt this genuinely came from the heart; there was no trace of acting or of their having been under compulsion.

            Some minor details I remember from the hearing

            In the letters between Gu Kailai and Bo Guagua, she called him “little rabbit” and called herself “big rabbit”.

            I was fortunate enough to sit near Shen Zhigeng. Mr. Shen Zhigeng handled the defence in the Xiamen Yuanhua case several years ago, and this time the Bo family originally wanted him to be the defense attorney. But the lawyers had already been appointed by the judicial organs, and Mr. Shen could only attend as an observer. Shortly after the trial began, the lawyer had just begun to speak, and Shen sighed, “This case has been ruined by the lawyer.”

(Mr. Shen is the one in the middle in a purple shirt.)


            The whole courtroom was quite quiet. During the long stage of introducing evidence, some of the audience slept and was audibly snoring.

            I’m told that outside the courtroom, there were a few of the masses who came from the Northeast to support the Bo family and shouted slogans such as “Long live Chairman Mao!”. Later they were arrested by the police officers assigned to maintain security.


[1] DC: A legal term of art basically meaning “capable of acting such that the law requires the actor to bear the consequences”.

[2] DC: I’m not sure why he says “the called witnesses”; as far as is known, the only witness that actually showed up was someone from the police lab. The other witness testimony came in through written statements.

Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Unofficial report of proceedings in the Gu Kailai trial:


It was indeed a very effective play. Pity nobody applauded at the end !

Posted by: Snoopy | Sep 29, 2012 2:47:39 PM

Post a comment