Gu Kailai

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Gu Kailai
Born (1958-11-15) 15 November 1958 (age 61)
Other namesHorus L. Kai
Bogu Kailai (薄谷开来)
Alma materPeking University
Criminal charge(s)Murder of Neil Heywood
Criminal penaltyDeath sentence with reprieveLife imprisonment
Criminal statusImprisoned
Bo Xilai (m. 1986)
ChildrenBo Guagua
Parent(s)Gu Jingsheng
Gu Kailai
Simplified Chinese谷开来
Traditional Chinese谷開來
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese薄谷开来
Traditional Chinese薄谷開來

Gu Kailai (born 15 November 1958) is a Chinese former lawyer and businesswoman. She is the second wife of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, one of China's most influential politicians until he was stripped of his offices in 2012. In August 2012, Gu was convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood and was given a suspended death sentence, later commuted to life imprisonment.[1][2][3]


Gu is the youngest of five daughters of General Gu Jingsheng, a prominent revolutionary in the years before the Chinese Communist Party took power.[4] General Gu held various government positions during early Communist rule but was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution. Gu Kailai herself was also punished, being forced to work in a butcher shop and a textile factory.

Gu met Bo Xilai in 1984 while on a field trip looking into environmental art in Jin County, Liaoning, where he was the Communist Party secretary. The couple have one son, Bo Kuangyi, known as Guagua,.[5]


Gu Kailai gained a degree in law and then a masters in international politics from Peking University.[6] She went on to become an accomplished lawyer founding the Kailai law firm in Beijing.[7] In the course of her career, she was involved in several high-profile cases, and is suggested to have been the first Chinese lawyer to win a civil suit in the United States, where she represented several Dalian-area companies involved in a dispute in Mobile, Alabama.[8] In 1998, she published a book named Uphold Justice in America (《胜诉在美国》, ISBN 7-80091-870-X ), about how she won the lawsuit in US.

Views on justice systems[edit]

After visiting the United States, Kailai ridiculed the U.S. justice system as inept, writing "They can level charges against dogs and a court can even convict a husband of raping his wife," she wrote. Gu wrote that, "We don't play with words and we adhere to the principle of 'based on facts,'...You will be arrested, sentenced and executed as long as we determine that you killed someone."[9]

Murder investigation[edit]

In March 2012, Gu became embroiled in a national scandal after her husband's deputy, Wang Lijun, sought refuge at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. It was rumored that Wang presented evidence of a corruption scandal, whereby Bo sought to impede a corruption investigation against Gu.[10] Specifically, Wang stated that Gu had been involved in a business dispute with British businessman Neil Heywood, who died in Chongqing under disputed circumstances; Wang alleged he had been poisoned. The Wall Street Journal reported that Wang may have fallen out of favor with Bo for discussing the Heywood case.[8][11]

Following the Wang Lijun incident and Bo's removal from key Communist Party posts, Gu was placed under investigation for Heywood's death.[12] On 10 April 2012, Gu was detained and "transferred to the judicial authorities" as part of the investigation.[13] In an unusual move, state media appended her husband's surname in front of her own (rendering her name as Bo Gu Kailai), extremely unusual for married women in People's Republic of China, without any explanation. Some speculate that it may imply that Gu may have acquired citizenship of a foreign country, and as a result "Bo Gu Kailai" appeared on her official documents;[14] Others suggest that this is because authorities wanted to emphasize that Gu's alleged crimes were linked to misconduct by her husband.[15]

Trial and verdict[edit]

On 26 July 2012, Gu was formally charged with murdering Heywood, based on what the prosecutor claimed was "irrefutable and substantial" evidence.[16][17][18] On 9 August 2012, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, Gu admitted during a one-day trial that she was responsible for Heywood's murder. She claimed that her actions were due to a "mental breakdown", and stated that she would "accept and calmly face any sentence".[19]

On 20 August 2012, Gu received a suspended death sentence, which is normally commuted to a life sentence after two years, but she could be released on medical parole after serving nine years in prison.[20] The trial lasted one day, and Gu did not contest her charges. Zhang Xiaojun, a Bo family aide, was sentenced to nine years in jail for his involvement in the murder following his confession.[1][2]

After the media published footage of the trial, claims that the woman shown in court was not in fact Gu, but a body double, quickly became popular on Chinese Internet fora, and Chinese authorities attempted to censor them.[21] Experts did not agree: the Financial Times cited "security experts familiar with facial recognition software" that the person who stood trial was not Gu,[22][23] whereas a facial recognition expert contacted by Slate was of the opinion that the woman most likely was Gu. The practice of rich people paying others to stand trial and receive punishment in their place, called ding zui, is relatively widespread in China.[24]

Following the verdict, the United Kingdom announced that it welcomed the investigation, and said that they "consistently made clear to the Chinese authorities that we wanted to see the trials in this case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not to be applied."[1][3] BBC News commented that "informed observers see the fingerprints of the Communist Party of China all over this outcome", stating that the trial's conclusion was "all too neat and uncannily suited to one particular agenda", that of limiting the scandal's damage.[25] The New York Times suggested the verdict "raised questions about official corruption and political favoritism within the Communist Party."[26]

Officially, Neil Heywood was murdered because he demanded $22 million from Gu after a real estate venture failed, and after Heywood sent an email which threatened her son, Gu decided to neutralise the threat. At a hotel in Chongqing, Gu gave Heywood whiskey and tea. Heywood became drunk and vomited. When he tried to go to bed, Gu poured animal poison into his mouth and she placed pills next to him to make it appear as though he had overdosed on drugs.[27]

However, according to Reuters, at the end of 2011, Gu asked Heywood to move a large amount of money out of China.[28] Heywood agreed to do that if Gu paid him a certain amount of money. But Heywood asked for a larger cut of the money than Gu expected. When Gu told Heywood he was being greedy, Heywood threatened to expose what Gu was doing. Gu was outraged and decided to kill Heywood.[28] An academic close to the Bo family said Wang Lijun had written two letters to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection which accused Gu of moving several hundred million dollars out of the country. The CDIC did not act immediately but the letters increased pressure for a deep probe.[29]

On 14 December 2015, Gu Kailai's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The prison authorities said Gu had expressed repentance and had made no intentional offences during their review.[30]

Popular culture[edit]

In the 2019 film The Laundromat, Gu was portrayed by actress Rosalind Chao.


  1. ^ a b c "Bo Xilai scandal: Gu Kailai jailed over Heywood murder". BBC. 19 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Chinese politician's wife convicted of murder". Al Jazeera. 20 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b Ruwitch, John (20 August 2012). "China's Gu Kailai gets suspended death sentence". Reuters. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  4. ^ Bloomberg News (13 April 2012). "China Murder Suspect’s Sisters Ran $126 Million Empire". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Retrieved 20 April 2012
  5. ^ "Bo Xilai jail letter: My name will be cleared one day". South China Morning Post.
  6. ^ China's 'Jackie Kennedy' under scrutiny, BBC News, 11 April 2012.
  7. ^ Wife of sacked Chongqing boss a woman of many talents Archived 23 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Want China Times, 19 March 2012.
  8. ^ a b Jeremy Page, U.K. Seeks Probe Into China Death, The Wall Street Journal, 26 March 2012.
  9. ^ "谷开来案凸显中国司法制度缺陷" [Gu Kailai case exposes faults in Chinese judicial system]. The New York Times.
  10. ^ John Garnaut, 'Bo intrigue deepens over death of Briton', The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 March 2012.
  11. ^ Jeremy Page, Brian Spegele, and Steve Eder, 'Jackie Kennedy of China' at Center of Political Drama, The Wall Street Journal, 6 April 2012.
  12. ^ Chris Buckley and Benjamin Kang Lim, "China says Bo Xilai's wife suspected of murder China suspends Bo from elite ranks, wife suspected of murder", Reuters, 10 April 2012.
  13. ^ Bristow, Michael (10 April 2012). "Bo Xilai's wife suspected over 'murder' of Briton". BBC News. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  14. ^ Sharon LaFraniere (11 April 2012). "Surname of Ex-Official's Wife Adds New Twist to Mystery". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Ho, Stephanie (11 April 2012). "Bo Xilai Scandal Dominates Chinese Media". Voice of America. Archived from the original on 13 April 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  16. ^ "Gu Kailai charged with murder of British businessman in China". The Guardian. London. 26 July 2012.
  17. ^ "Bo Xilai's wife prosecuted for intentional homicide: Xinhua". Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  18. ^ Bogu Kailai, Zhang Xiaojun charged with intentional homicide, Xinhua News Agency, 26 July 2012.
  19. ^ "Bo Xilai scandal: Gu Kailai 'admits Neil Heywood murder'". BBC. 11 August 2012. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  20. ^ Jeremy Page (20 August 2012). "China's Gu May Spend Only 9 Years in Prison". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  21. ^ "姜维平:庭审的谷开来不是替身(图)". Secret China.
  22. ^ Yuwen Wu (24 August 2012). "Gu Kailai and the body double debate". BBC News. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  23. ^ Kathrin Hille, Gu Kailai verdict set for Monday, Financial Times, 19 August 2012.
  24. ^ Sant, Geoffrey (24 August 2012). "Double Trouble in China". Slate. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  25. ^ Sudworth, John (20 August 2012). "Bo Xilai casts long shadow over Gu Kailai case". BBC News. Archived from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  26. ^ Jacobs, Andrew (21 August 2012). "In China, Gu Kailai's Reprieve Reinforces Cynicism". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Jacobs, Andrew (20 August 2012). "China Defers Death Penalty for Disgraced Official's Wife". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  28. ^ a b Buckley, Chris (17 April 2012). "Briton killed after threat to expose Chinese leader's wife". Reuters. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  29. ^ LaFraniere, Sharon (16 April 2012). "Briton in a Chinese Scandal Reportedly Brokered Overseas Money Transfers". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  30. ^ "Death Sentence Reduced to Life in Prison for Wife of Bo Xilai". China Radio International. 14 December 2015.