The Good and the Bad

Briefly, I have good news and bad news.

Good news:

The Middle Kingdom (Chung Kuo Book 3) in hardcover is now available for pre-order on at a 30% discount. Yay! (Thanks Goonda.)

Bad news:

As several commenters have pointed out, all Kindle versions of both Chung Kuo books have been removed from the Amazon U.S. store. I don’t have an explanation. The optimist in me is hoping that this might be a sign of an impending deal with an American publisher, who would have the U.K. versions removed in favor of their own to be eventually available, but this is pure speculation – I haven’t heard anything at all from anyone to this effect. The last I heard about the search for American publisher was back in April.

If you still need Chung Kuo books on your Kindle, hope is not lost.

That’s all for now. More news as it comes in.

Of Dynasties and Dragons

A tale of Chinese intrigue and conspiracy… sounds like Chung Kuo, right? This time, it’s non-fiction. Thanks for sending this along, David.



Of Dynasties And Dragons

If in these blogs I sometimes seem to be emphatically anti-Chinese, I don’t mean to be. Things I
dislike, or which don’t interest me, I tend to ignore. Things that do, I tend to obsess about. China, as
my girls will vouch, is my number one obsession. And, right now, because China is going through an
astonishing period of social and political change, there is much about that process that deserves not
merely our attention but our direct and unequivocal criticism.

And even then, it’s not normally China I am criticising, but the corruption, misuse of power, outright
fraud, injustice and ignoring of basic human rights – all that stuff that’s associated with the exercise
of power – that I want to dwell upon .

Okay. Put simply and directly. I’m bashing the CPC and the Politburo again. And what better way
of beginning that process than by looking at what’s been happening recently, and – specifically –
what’s been happening in Chongqing.

Okay. Some background here.

Chongqing is a massive city in Sichuan province, one of five national central Cities in China, with a
population in excess of twenty eight million. The Head of the CPC (the Communist Party of China)
in Chongqing since November 2007 was Bo Xilai, champion of the “new Left” – of Neo Maoism – in

Let me pause there. I’ll give you more background in a moment, but let me just say this. I wish I’d
come up with this as a plot line for Chung Kuo. It’s all too good – fictionally – to be true. But true it
is… apparently. But before we come to the juicy details, a bit more background.

Bo Xilai, born in 1949, was the son if Bo Yibo, one of the “Eight Elders” of the Chinese Communist
Party and a dragon if ever there was one. A Long Marcher, a friend and contemporary of Mao
Tse Tung, and a hard-liner, his son pretty much inherited his place in the CPC hierarchy, taking
on his father’s role, and when he came to power in Chongqing he promoted egalitarianism and
campaigned to revive Cultural Revolution era values, insisting upon “red culture”. What this
seemed to entail was the singing of old revolutionary anthems, “red songs” like “Unity Is Power”
and “Revolutionaries Are Forever Young”, praising the CPC; something that quite a few of his
officials, raised in the new, more liberal, essentially capitalist world of China, took objection to (if not
to his face).

That said, all was going well for Bo Xilai. His campaign against organised crime, and his strong
stand against corruption, along with his increased spending on welfare, went hand in hand with
maintaining a strong economic basis for Chongqing’s massive expansion. By the turn of 2012, Bo Xilai
– architect of the ‘Chongqing model’ – was being talked of as a strong candidate for a seat on the
nine-man politburo when it underwent its once-a-decade change in November this year. Popular,
successful and, most important of all, a member of one of those few families – dynasties, let’s call
them, because that’s what they are – that “made” modern China what it is, he seemed to have the
perfect CV for the job.

So what could possibly have gone wrong?

Those bloody songs, that’s what. Saying which, let’s introduce Wang LiJun, Head of the PSB (Public
Security Bureau) – effectively the chief of police – for Chongqing, and one of Bo Xilai’s right-hand
men. A man who, according to his colleagues, couldn’t abide singing the old “red songs”.

Wang LiJun was Bo Xilai’s contemporary, and he had served for near on thirty years in public
security. In his later years he was noted for his campaigns to crack down on corruption, particularly
in Liaoning Province, where he served as chief of police under Bo Xilai. And when Bo took up
his promotion in Chongjing, Wang LiJun went along with him as his “enforcer”. From July 2009
their “strike-hard” campaign in Chongjing on the “black societies” made him China’s most feared
man, with over 1500 suspects arrested in the largest ever crackdown of its kind, and a further 4,500
taken into custody in the two years that followed, not to mention thirteen executions. Indeed, so
popular was Wang they made a TV series based on his exploits, Iron-Blooded Police Spirits. On the
downside, Wang LiJun had a six million yuan bounty placed on his head by his enemies.

And then, on the second of February 2010, Wang LiJun and Bo Xilai fell out. Various excuses were
given, but the central issue seems to have been corruption. Wang had been threatened with
prosecution for his involvement in the Tieling corruption case which had been going on for some
while, and, to win leniency for himself, he apparently offered some damning information on Bo Xilai
and his wife

But Wang’s actions took an even more dramatic twist on February 8th when he visited the US
Consulate in Chengdu, where he reportedly sought political asylum. In the 36 hours he was
there, Wang well and truly blew the whistle on his bosses and on corruption in the higher CPC
elite generally. This attempt to defect was unprecedented, not only causing major international
embarrassment for China, but raw naked fear among that elite, who didn’t know just what
incriminating evidence Wang had on any of them.

Unfortunately for Wang, the US refused asylum and Wang was arrested and thrown into jail, where
he now faces the possible death penalty.

All might have been fine for Bo Xilai, only other, darker accusations lay in wait. On 14 November last
year, a British businessman, Neil Heywood, had been found dead in his hotel room in Chongjing.
The cause of death, according to the police of chief, Wang LiJun, was an over-indulgence in alcohol.
Heywood was forty one and a “colourful’ man by all accounts. He worked for a company – Hakluyt –
linked closely to MI6 and had been a close associate of Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai for more than
a decade. Heywood’s role in things is somewhat vague, but the best guess is that he was some kind
of ‘comprador’ or intermediary: a man who had all the contacts and could get you access to China’s

A friend of Heywood’s, talking to The Sunday Times before Heywood’s death, claimed that anyone
who wanted to do business in Chongqing – which was effectively Bo Xilai’s fiefdom – would have
had to retain Gu Kailai’s law firm and pay its substantial fees if they wanted to get permits and
contracts, which was utterly necessary as most of this business had to do with deals with the central
government and local government worth billions of dollars.

Heywood’s fluent mandarin, his public school background and his Chinese wife, gained him access to
this world of high level corruption; and to what is now being slowly revealed as the dark underbelly
of China’s financial boom. But back to our tale.

What Wang had discovered, it seems, was that Heywood was much closer to Bo Xilai and his family
than it had first appeared. Bo’s party-loving son, Guagua, was a close friend of Heywood’s, and it was
likely that Heywood had assisted in getting Guagua places at Harrow, Oxford and Harvard. Reading
through the file, Wang LiJun must have heard alarm bells ringing. This was – as the Chinese say – ‘Da
mafan’ – Big Trouble.

A post mortem might have proved problematic, so the body was quickly and quietly cremated –
ostensibly at the request of his relatives (who later denied this). ‘Excessive alcohol’ was the declared
verdict, only there was one problem with that. Everyone who knew Heywood knew that he was not
a big drinker. All of this stank of ‘damage control’, but as soon as the Western press – as they did –
got a sniff of the story, things were much harder to keep bottled up. Wang (who had secretly taken
his own precautions by slicing off part of Heywood’s arm, to keep as DNA evidence in case it was
needed) warned his boss that big trouble was in the offing and that he might not be able to contain
things. It was a moment for keeping a unified front, only Bo Xilai was distracted. His major ambition
– to be appointed to the nine man politburo in November 2012 – drove him on. As I’ve said, feeling
threatened by his right hand man, he demoted Wang LiJun.

Which explains why, on the eighth of February, Wang LiJun hastened to the US embassy, fearing that
Bo Xilai was going to make him the scapegoat. It was an act which made the Politburo sit up and pay
attention. Especially that part of it that had witnessed Bo Xilai’s Leftist posturing with dismay. It was,
they recognised, the perfect opportunity to curtail the man and prevent him from getting closer to
the reins of power.

In April this year, Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai, was arrested and charged with the murder of Neil
Heywood, after admitting to the crime. It was subsequently revealed that police chief Wang LiJun,
anticipating future trouble, had actually taken a slice of Heywood’s flesh to use as DNA evidence
before they cremated the body. DNA evidence which, it is believed, would confirm that Heywood
was poisoned. To add to Gu Kailai’s troubles, a Chinese official then confessed to supplying her with
potassium cyanide – a pinch of which would prove deadly.

Gu Kailai, alternately described as the Jackie Kennedy of China and “an unforgiving empress”, was, it
was claimed, making illicit money transfers, and there’s some evidence to suggest that she tried to
smuggle £200,000 into Britain. Heywood, it seems, knew of these transfers, and – for some reason –
threatened to reveal these. The murder, it’s alleged, was a simple attempt to shut Heywood up for

All of this, thus far, could be seen as the tragedy of an individual (or four), were it not for the fact
that Bo Xilai was such a champion of the Leftist, anti-liberal factor in the CCP, and a likely candidate
for one of China’s most powerful roles. It is this single element that elevates what happened from
local scandal to global politics. What we are actually talking about is, as I’ve called it before, a “War
in Heaven”, one which will dramatically affect China’s relationship with the West for the next decade
– deciding whether China continues to liberalise in small ways, or whether there will be the same old
practice of crack-downs and suppression and high-level denial. Ironically, the fall of one individual

could well mean the liberation of more than a billion individuals. But we’ll see.

Of course, none of this will be filling the airwaves. In November, when this is all due to happen,
there’s another attraction happening – the election of a new president of the United States. Mitt
Romney or the seated incumbent? I just can’t call it right now. Obama ought to win, but that’s not
always how it works. The American people might simply want a change, and I reckon if Mitt decides
to make China and China’s threat to America’s economy an issue, then we might all be in for a pretty
bleak protectionist future. You think we’ve got recession now? Just wait and see how bad things can

Hell, there’s much more to this story than I’ve outlined above. All manner of strange twists and
turns. But corruption and political ambition – the former endemic in China right now – are threaded
deeply into this strange little tale. Oh, and an overwhelming arrogance.

So I’ll be returning to this matter. Trying to tease out the various threads and make sense of what
this reveals of modern China and its future. But watch this space. I have a gut instinct that there’s
more – much more – to be revealed. I mean, I’ve said nothing until now of Bo Xilai tapping premier
Hu Jintao’s phones… nothing about a certain air crash… about happenings in Dailan, and the arrest
of A Chinese blogger…

Tsai Chien!

David Wingrove

Monday 15th July 2012

Letter to Brian

An open letter to Brian Aldiss, by David Wingrove (containing a mention of a new novel!). More from David to come tomorrow…


Dear Brian,

It’s been a strange couple of weeks, keeping our back door to the garden closed, in fear of an
escaped murderer who broke out of Pentonville. There’s been a lot of helicopter activity and they
haven’t yet found the escapee… mind, on one occasion he got out, he stayed out for four years!

Sue’s been busy putting the finishing touches to the first draft of her latest Coronation Street script
– perhaps the best she’s done yet of the six. The first one she did is airing Sunday week – the ninth
of July – the same day as my sister Rose will be having her 60th birthday party up in Leicester. And
I should imagine we’ll be there. We’ve already seen a DVD of the first, which Sue, I and the girls
watched with the aid of a bottle of celebratory bubbly.

Oh, and I disgraced myself somewhat last night – after an evening out with my good friend Ritchie
– when I drunkenly fell asleep on the tube and woke up at Blackhorse Road, too late to get a tube
back further than Seven Sisters – meaning I had to get a bus to the Angel and then another to here. I
finally got home at one in the morning, feeling totally exhausted.

I’ve also started on a new novel – science fiction but with an erotic twist. I’m over 8000 words in
and aim to get 3 to 4 thousand words done a day over the next few weeks. It’s half sketched out in
synopsis, but no one’s going to see it until it’s written – and then rewritten. But I’m having a lot of
fun working on it. Much as, I believe, you enjoyed working on the wonderful Horatio Stubbs books.

My youngest, Francesca, was up your way on Wednesday, looking at the Oxford colleges to see
which of them she wants to apply to. She’s come back dead set on becoming an anthropologist
– with a minor in archaeology. She’s bright enough to get in, and it’d be great if she did. It’d be
another excuse to come up to Oxford. I was telling her last night about house-sitting for you and
Margaret back in 1980 or was it 81? It was the house in Morton Road, anyway, with Will and Sue
Boyd a few doors up. What a wonderful summer that was, the longest – six weeks – I’ve spent in
Oxford. And I recall reading all your old Thomas Hardy editions, including several I didn’t know –
until then – existed, like THE WELL-BELOVED. What a strange and marvellous book that is.

Right now I am finally reading LAST AND FIRST MEN, and smiling ruefully at how wrong Stapledon
got the hundred years or so after the date he wrote it in (1930) and yet how prescient it was of him
to have America and China as the two conflicting empires in his work of fiction. You know what I
think of that scenario. Of how I think the sun is setting on the American empire even as it’s rising in
the East.

And talking of China, how apt it now seems for the first woman to step on the moon to be, in all
likelihood, Chinese. And, I’m sure, on Mars too. As I’ve said in other blogs, it feels like we in the West
are losing our inheritance, and once lost – especially to the authoritarian Chinese – it’s going to be
very hard to get back.

Enclosed, with thanks for your kind thought in sending me a copy, is an un-creased edition of the
Chinese-language TRILLION YEAR SPREE. I got five copies in all – three from the publisher, one from
you and one from Curtis Brown, so… And I am so proud of this edition. A new generation of Chinese
SF fans will be able to read it now, and hopefully that’ll open a lot of doors. That is, they’ll want to
read all of that marvellous stuff we mention and critique.

In view of the fact that I’ve let this slide for a couple of weeks, I should perhaps add that we
eventually decided on throwing a party for Sue’s first episode – on the Saturday before it was
transmitted. A lot of people made it, even though we were very late in the day in telling them about
the celebration. Fifty or sixty turned up and we had a wonderful time until the early hours of the
morning – we were still ejecting people at half four!

The next day, totally hung over, I went up to Leicester (with Sue) to celebrate my sister’s 60 th, which
was really pleasant. What was so lovely was that her kids (four of whom were adopted) organised
and threw the party for her – a party which was her first in her whole life. It was a shame her
husband Bob couldn’t have been there. He died a few years ago now, but he would have loved the

I’m still plugging away on my erotic SF novel, and hope to have something ready for my agents by
next weekend. Sue, meanwhile, is keeping busy. She’s been giving her first hour long episode – in
effect two back-to-back episodes – and starts on that today. She’s got four days to write it, but then
that’s what she’s good at.

Since I began this letter, Georgia (22) and Francesca (17) have flown out to California, to stay with
Georgia’s girlfriend, Georgette and her family, on Mulholland Drive in LA. I miss them both, but it’s
great that they’re getting this experience. Francesca is back after 10 days, Georgia is staying on for a
further two months before she resumes University in September.

Okay. More news in a week or two. Write and let me know how you are. And I’m delighted that
walking cane is now coming in handy. Did you know, I spent almost two hours choosing that one.
Working my way through their back-room stock until I found it – “There, that one…”

Take care, keep writing and, as ever