Corruption, Murder, And Intrigue In The Middle Kingdom: Neil Heywood, Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping, And An Asian Playboy In Harrow

Via China’s Forbidden News (


When Hu Yaobang, the reformist Party General Secretary whose death two year laters would spark the Tiananmen demonstrations, was purged for the second time in 1987, it was Bo Yibo who drew up the official charges. The only Politburo member who backed Hu was Xi Zhongshun, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

That Yibo’s son, Bo Xilai, would later feud with Zhongshun’s son (and future president of China) Xi Jinping should come as no surprise; Chinese politics is a long game. But how in the world did British national Neil Heywood, an Old Harrovian with dodgy business cards, insert himself into all this? How did we get here – the drafting stage of a John Le Carre novel in which British authorities are investigating a death that happened last November in a Chongqing hotel room?

Let’s piece together this ongoing story:

We’re told Bo Xilai hired Heywood to “help” his son, Guagua, get into Harrow (though, if memory serves, the entrance exam for Harrow is very simple; they ask you if you have 40,000 GBP a year, and if you get the answer right, you’re in). Heywood, among other things, was a seller for Aston Martin, yet no one knows who he is in Chonqing’s business community. Chinese bloggers initially seemed to assume he was Bo’s family butler – it’s great to see how Britain has moved on.

Heywood worked for Hakluyt, a corporate intelligence firm founded by former MI6 officers (so kind of like the Feather Men, then?) supposedly as what the Chinese poetically call a “white glove,” but we – you and me, guv – would call, more prosaically, a bagman. There’s nothing surprising about this. The British economy is run on agents, consultants, go-betweens, middle men and people who generally have nothing to offer except inserting themselves between mutually beneficial parties and making off with a fixer’s fee. The question here is, why are the likes of Bo running with this (apparently) small fry?

And then Heywood turns up dead in a hotel room, supposedly of alcohol poisoning. Despite his Harrow background, strange antics, supposed links to one of China’s top politicians and the British embassy, and mysterious cause of death, there were no reports in the press here or abroad of Heywood’s death – not even in Harrow’s official paper of record, the Daily Telegraph. Why? (Ed’s note, 12:30 am: according to Telegraph reporter Malcolm Moore, the paper ran a paid death notice on November 14.)

Furthermore, his family doesn’t seem to be bothered about his sudden demise. Cremation is the norm in China, but normally when a UK resident dies abroad, his body is repatriated with the assistance of the British consul, at the cost of the family. We’re told he had a Chinese wife – who, exactly? Did she authorize the cremation? What about the folks back home? (Rumor has it, just now via @malcolmmoore, that Heywood’s wife, who returned to the UK for the memorial ceremony, is currently in Beijing trying to get the hell back out, but the UK embassy is being just as helpful as they were immediately after Heywood shuffled off the coil).

And why is the British establishment only now taking an interest? We’re told Heywood was a teetotaler – if so, that would make him the first British one in China – but then, what do we make of his cause of death? The British Embassy was informed he overdosed on alcohol, yet his family was told he died of a heart attack. Which is it?

I’m starting to think this Chongqing stew might be all about Bo Guagua, who’s becoming an embarrassment to the Party. Correction: I’m starting to think certain folks in the upper echelons of power want certain other people to think that. The Heywood link is prime fodder – Harrow, Oxford, James Bond, corruption, murder… all we need is sex; an affair between Heywood and Gu Kailai would seal the deal. It focuses more attention on the Bos, particularly those lighting rods of corruption, excess and entitlement, which stewards like Hu and Wen can’t tolerate (two of only three Politburo members not to have bestowed Bo’s Chongqing with their benison).

Before Bo was dismissed, his last public appearance was mostly spent dismissing rumors about his son driving Ferraris, claiming that Guagua’s wildly extravagant education (not to mention his lifestyle) was funded by “full scholarships.” Five days later, Bo was toast.

Around the time of Heywood’s untimely passing and extremely timely cremation, Guagua’s profligate behavior was starting to disconcert just about everybody who had seen the photos. Despite Bopère claiming his son had scholarships for every school, everybody knows Guagua isn’t the brightest, supposedly flunking his entrance exams and eventually rusticated from Oxford for poor academic performance. A student magazine article winked that he was “terminally spending” and had a “strained relationship with books.”

The Metropolitan Police should be heading up to Harrow-on-the-Hill armed with two questions: what was Neil Heywood’s connection, if any, to Bo Guagua’s introduction to the school? And was his education funded by any scholarship – and if so, in God’s name why? It’s a murder inquiry, so they should have the credentials required.

We can now safely assume that Wang Lijun went to the US Embassy in Chengdu in part because of information on Heywood. That brings in a host of other players to this saga: the CIA? Sure. CCP moles? Why not. The story of the Chinese businessman and the foreign consultant making merry in business together until the Chinese side suddenly decides they have what they want and gives the foreigner the old heave-ho is as old as the Opium Wars – and Beijingers have certainly seen more than one case of that in the expat community (though Chad Lager and Olaf “Kro” Bauer are both, as we write, still alive).

But is that the reason Heywood lost his life? Because he was no longer useful, or because he knew too much?

Sound too fanciful? We’re just following the narrative arc.

    14 Responses to “Corruption, Murder, And Intrigue In The Middle Kingdom: Neil Heywood, Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping, And An Asian Playboy In Harrow”

    1. The Tao

      Ed’s note: the story above carelessly referred to Neil Heywood as “Nick” in a couple of instances. Sorry for that. Corrections appended.

    2. RFH

      There seems to be an ongoing wrangle at the top over whether Bo should be further prosecuted or merely put out to pasture. My guess is, whatever support there is for him and his ‘model’, there’s now simply too much dirt out there for the Party to avoid an investigation. In which case, the case of corrupt former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong provides a useful exemplar. The interesting difference here is that Bo has lots of chums in the PLA, an arm of the CCP where Hu and Wen have never had much credibility.

    3. sansculottism

      Dr Bo and 007 …. Your take on the story is interesting and there will be no place for Bo Yibo’s grandson after daddy gets rehabilitated. Oh, why can we not, at least, do this to the Windsors?

      Beginning to think Neil, or is it Nick, Heywood, is a bit like bin Laden. A wee bit of real investigative journalism on this one might produce a very different version of the Fredrick Forsyth, John Le Carrè thriller that we are being sold.

    4. kiers

      Was Bo CIA groomed. Heywood his handler. Wang his lieut. ?
      And it all went titsup. ? They bag heyw. blame Bo. and solve three birds with one bag. u think?


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