Funny, personable, attractive and charismatic are just some of the words used to describe Gu Kailai.
The wife of Bo Xilai — a one-time rising star of the Chinese Communist Party — once had it all: a powerful husband, a dynamic career and vast wealth.
But it all unraveled last November when Gu and her household aide Zhang Xiaojun poisoned British businessman Neil Heywood in a Chongqing hotel room last November.
During her one-day trial in August, Gu issued a statement saying she didn’t deny the accusations levied against her, but “accepted all the facts written in the indictment” — including poisoning Heywood at a time when she thought her son’s life was in danger, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
“During those days last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning my son was in jeopardy,” Gu, 53, said shortly before the trial concluded. “The tragedy, which was created by me, was not only extended to Neil, but also to several families.”
She eventually received a suspended death sentence, with Zhang given nine years in jail.
Gu’s world started crumbling in early April when she and Zhang were arrested. The same day, Xinhua announced that Bo had been stripped of his seats on the Communist Party’s Central Committee and Politburo, the nation’s ruling organs, for an unspecified “serious breach of regulations.”
Ambitious and outgoing, Gu typified the international outlook of the second generation of China’s political elite. She has even been described by some as the “Jackie Kennedy of China.”
Gu and her husband were both descendents of China’s revolutionary heros — Gu from Major-General Gu Jingsheng, a prominent revolutionary military figure, and Bo from Bo Yibo, considered one of the “eight immortals” of the revolution that created modern China.
These associations may have fostered the connections essential to getting ahead in the new China of the past three decades. But in the 1960s, Gu and her husband were targets during the political upheaval of the Cultural Revolution. Bo spent almost five years in re-education camps as a youth, and published reports say Gu was forced to work in a textile factory and a butcher’s shop as a 10 year old.
These hardships only served to galvanize the phenomenal ambition of the couple, analysts say.
Fluent in English, Gu is a lawyer who took a leading role in a legal battle in the United States involving several Chinese firms, eventually winning the lawsuit for the Chinese companies. She later wrote a book about the legal fight called “Winning a Lawsuit in the United States.”
Heywood’s murder led to a trail of events that effectively ended Bo’s political career. His top police chief Wang Lijun fled to a U.S. consulate in February, alleging that Bo had covered up the crime.
Bo was later stripped of his post as Chongqing’s party chief and his membership in the Politburo and Central Committee. Gu was charged with murder.
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua said Gu had “economic interests” with Heywood over which there had been a conflict that had “intensified.”
Instead, state reports have focused on personal issues that Gu may have had with Heywood, who was reportedly her close associate.
Just days after his death, she reportedly strode into a meeting of police officials wearing the uniform of a major-general — the same rank as her father — and gave a rambling speech in which she claimed to be on a mission to protect Bo Xilai’s chief of police, according to a story first reported by Reuters in May.
An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times in April, 2012 suggested that the government was trying hard to paint the removal of Bo and his wife as an “independent incident” and a criminal case rather than as a political purge.
On July 25, 2013, Bo was indicted on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power, according to state media.
CNN’s Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.
Peter Shadbolt | CNN