Perhaps seeking greater stability for their offspring, this high-profile couple wanted their son, Guagua (薄瓜瓜), to study in Britain. It was here that Heywood really proved his worth, working with others to secure a place at his alma mater, Harrow. That opened the door for the Briton to enter the inner circle of Bo’s family, where he — like many other foreign go-betweens — could trade on privileged connections to the CCP elite.
It was good timing. Bo was moving rapidly up the party hierarchy. In 2000, he was promoted to governor of Liaoning Province. Three years later, he became minister of commerce and added to his growing international fame by negotiating a trade dispute over Italian shoes with the then EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson. Heywood followed him to Beijing and established a consultancy.
The Briton did not appear to have profited greatly from his business, though he earned enough to live in a villa in the north of the capital and put his children through the nearby Dulwich College Beijing. He did not have a wide social circle, but intimates spoke highly of him as a somewhat scatty, but charming individual.
“He was fantastic. He was a lovely, lovely man,” said one. “He didn’t have many friends — but was charming and gave people his full attention. He was very welcoming; he really brought you in and included you.”
Others saw him more as a man of mystery.
“He was well-mannered and pleasant” said one, who described him as “unusually unforthcoming” as well as “studiously and almost clumsily elusive” about his work. Such behavior has prompted speculation that he was a spy, based on his oft-expressed patriotism and less well-known work for Hakluyt & Co, a corporate intelligence consultancy established by former members of MI6, the UK’s secret intelligence service. Exactly what he did for the company remains unclear. Heywood appeared to play up to the image, taking on a job for the Beijing dealership of Aston Martin — the car associated with James Bond — and driving a car with a 007 number plate.
Bo, meanwhile, was moving in a different direction. In 2007, he entered the politburo and was made party boss of Chongqing, a fast-growing municipality that was in the frontline of a multibillion-dollar project to open up western China to development. Bo turned the region into a personal fiefdom and a bully pulpit from which he publicly — and unusually, by the standards of Chinese politics — championed a shake-up of the “status quo.” He cracked down on organized crime in 2010 and last year cranked up the ideological volume with a series of mass “red song” campaigns that filled sports stadiums with the sound of old-school Maoist choruses.
For a victim of the Cultural Revolution to steal the colors of his tormentors was an act of ruthless opportunism, twisted genius or supreme irony. There were complaints that he ran roughshod over the law, ignored party regulations and allowed his handpicked police chief, Wang Lijun, to use torture to secure confessions, but few commented publicly at the time. Bo was flying high. Inequality was falling. Investment was rising. The apparent successes of the “Chongqing model” generated such wide coverage that Bo risked outshining Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) or his anointed successor, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平).