China's Bo Xilai adjusts his glasses during the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People, March 3, 2012.
Xilai received a hint of a gathering storm that would soon topple him and shake China's ruling Communist Party in the form of an oblique warning about the weather.
Bo had flown to Beijing from Chongqing, his city power-base in the southwest, for the annual session of the party-run parliament. He was struggling to subdue an uproar after his police chief took refuge in a U.S. consulate for a day.
Telegenic and self-assured in a political elite crowded with wary conformists, Bo was already controversial for thrusting forward "red" Chongqing as a bold alternative model for China.
The astounding antics of his long-time aide, Vice Mayor Wang Lijun, threatened to spoil parliament's show of unity and Bo's run for a place in the party's innermost circle of power.
The warning came on March 3 from a senior central leader who told Bo and other assembled officials in Chongqing to be careful while attending the parliament session in Beijing.
"The climate in Chongqing is very different from the climate in Beijing," said the official, who several sources have told Reuters was He Guoqiang, the Party's top man for keeping discipline and fighting corruption. "So I hope that everyone will take care against the cold and stay warm, and be careful to stay healthy."
NO ISOLATED INCIDENT
Beijing's political winds indeed turned brutally against Bo. His removal as party chief of Chongqing was announced last week, stoking uncertainty about how China will manage a tricky handover later this year to a new generation of leaders at the 18th Communist Party Congress.
A reconstruction of the events leading to Wang's flight and Bo's downfall offers insight on how China is run that reaches far beyond their political base in Chongqing, a smoggy city-province of 30 million people on the Yangtze River.
Wang's flight to the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu was not the "isolated incident" Chinese officials first described. In interviews in Beijing and Chongqing, serving officials, retired cadres, Chinese journalists and other sources close to the government called it a climactic outburst of tensions that stretched back a year and involved the top reaches of China's leadership.
The tale involves allegations of corruption and abuse of power by Bo's family, bugging of senior leaders, and growing distrust between Bo and Wang.
Above all, Bo's rise and abrupt fall as a hero of leftist supporters exposed ideological rifts that threaten to tear at party unity if the leadership mishandles his departure.
"The loss of Bo Xilai means the whole balance of the 18th Congress succession preparations has been disturbed," said Li Weidong, an editor and commentator in Beijing who has closely followed the unfolding scandal. "Finding the right equilibrium will be more difficult."
Since China's secretive political system discourages people from speaking candidly about contentious news, most of the people interviewed for this report demanded anonymity.
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