show trial completely fair and legitimate exercise of Chinese justice last month, Gu Kailai may count herself lucky that she avoided the death penalty. Now it looks like she’ll avoid most of the hardships that face regular Chinese prisoners, or, in the more cynical words of the AP: “China’s privileged remain privileged even in prison”.
Gu is apparently headed for Qincheng prison or, to give it its much more ominous, Area 51-esque title “Project #156”. The prison was set up in secret in 1958 with help from the Soviet Union (World Locking People Up Champion 1922-1991) to house old Manchu officials, Japanese prisoners of war, and senior-ranking members of the Kuomintang. During the cultural revolution Qincheng proved useful for housing “counter-revolutionaries” and “rightists”, including Gu’s father-in-law Bo Yibo who was later rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping as one of the “Eight Immortals“. More recently Qincheng has held such prestigious captives as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who spent 18 months there beginning in 1989 but has since been moved to less comfortable dwellings.
Descriptions of cells sound sparse compared to European prison systems, but a 200m square cell with a private toilet is a real luxury in a country that exports convicts to the third-world as slave labour. High-ranking prisoners in Qincheng also reportedly receive better quality food than the average Chinese prisoner.
The practice of treating criminals from privileged sections of society differently, even when they’ve completely disgraced themselves the way Gu has, is hardly confined to China. White-collar criminals in the West tend not to be treated in the same manner as 12-year-old children.