This Bystander will leave to others the more lurid details of the trial and conviction of the Chongqing “Godmother”, Xie Caiping. The 46-year old has been sentenced to 18 years in gaol for running illegal gambling dens in nightclubs and casinos, harboring drug users, running protection rackets and bribing police. The court also fined her 1 million yuan, though she is said to have made twice that from her illegal activities. Twenty one other people were sentenced with her, to between one and 13 years in prison.
Her trial was the most spectacular turn in a crackdown on crime and corruption in Chongqing that has been underway since the middle of the year. Hundreds of people have been arrested, including Xie’s brother-in-law and former head of the judiciary in the city, among several high level officials.
In the past decade, as Beijing has sought to open up the West, Chongqing has changed from being a provincial backwater to a free wheeling place dominated by the black societies living off the new money that has flowed in. It became known as the place to gamble and party, with all the dark side — the corruption and the protection rackets — those vices attract. That sits uneasily with the vision of the city having the national standing of a Shanghai or Nanjing that its party boss, Bo Xilai, has been pushing.
Bo is a rising star in national politics, having joined the Politburo in 2007, the same year he was appointed head of the party in the city. It is he who has been behind the crackdown, even though it is revealing a deep connection between mobsters and city officials. Chongqing has also bread another rising star, Wang Yang, who moved up from being city party secretary to party boss in Guangdong. With the 2012 succession to Hu and Wen fast approaching, it is not too much of a stretch to see Chongqing as being used as a proving ground for national leaders, much as Shanghai was a generation ago for Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji, who would go on to be president and prime minister respectively.