Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Gu Kailai, China's 'Jackie Kennedy'

    Just Watched

    Who is Gu Kailai?

Who is Gu Kailai? 02:26

Story highlights

  • Gu Kailai found guilty of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood
  • She's married to Bo Xilai, once seen as a rising star of Chinese politics
  • Heywood was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room in November 2011
  • Scandal created turmoil at top of Chinese politics during leadership transition

Funny, personable, attractive and charismatic are just some of the words used to describe Gu Kailai.

The wife of Bo Xilai -- a one-time rising star of the Chinese Communist Party -- once had it all: a powerful husband, a dynamic career and vast wealth.

But it all unraveled in November 2011 when Gu and her household aide Zhang Xiaojun poisoned British businessman Neil Heywood in a Chongqing hotel room.

During her one-day trial the following August, Gu issued a statement saying she didn't deny the accusations levied against her, but "accepted all the facts written in the indictment" -- including poisoning Heywood at a time when she thought her son's life was in danger, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

"During those days last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning my son was in jeopardy," Gu, 53, said shortly before the trial concluded. "The tragedy, which was created by me, was not only extended to Neil, but also to several families."

    Just Watched

    Trying to gain access to Gu Kailai trial

Trying to gain access to Gu Kailai trial 03:00
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    Gu trial set to begin in China

Gu trial set to begin in China 02:32
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    Evan Osnos on corruption in China

Evan Osnos on corruption in China 00:40
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    Bo Xilai's son responds

Bo Xilai's son responds 05:50
PLAY VIDEO

She eventually received a suspended death sentence, with Zhang given nine years in jail.

    Timeline: Bo Xilai's fall from grace

    Gu's world started crumbling when she and Zhang were arrested in April 2012. The same day, Xinhua announced that Bo had been stripped of his seats on the Communist Party's Central Committee and Politburo, the nation's ruling organs, for an unspecified "serious breach of regulations."

    Ambitious and outgoing, Gu typified the international outlook of the second generation of China's political elite. She has even been described by some as the "Jackie Kennedy of China."

    Gu and her husband were both descendents of China's revolutionary heros -- Gu from Major-General Gu Jingsheng, a prominent revolutionary military figure, and Bo from Bo Yibo, considered one of the "eight immortals" of the revolution that created modern China.

    These associations may have fostered the connections essential to getting ahead in the new China of the past three decades. But in the 1960s, Gu and her husband were targets during the political upheaval of the Cultural Revolution. Bo spent almost five years in re-education camps as a youth, and published reports say Gu was forced to work in a textile factory and a butcher's shop as a 10 year old.

    These hardships only served to galvanize the phenomenal ambition of the couple, analysts say.

    Fluent in English, Gu is a lawyer who took a leading role in a legal battle in the United States involving several Chinese firms, eventually winning the lawsuit for the Chinese companies. She later wrote a book about the legal fight called "Winning a Lawsuit in the United States."

    Gu's involvement in Heywood's murder may have remained undetected, if not for former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun.

    In February 2012, Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu where he alleged that Bo had covered up Heywood's murder.

    Bo was later stripped of his post as Chongqing's party chief and his memberships in the Politburo, Central Committee, and Communist Party. In late July, he was charged with bribery, corruption and abuse of power.

    Gu is currently serving a suspended death which likely be commuted to life imprisonment if she doesn't commit any crimes during the first two years.

      Bo Xilai scandal

    • chinese.politician.sentenced_00023923.jpg

      Political science professor Yuhua Wang says he's surprised by the severity of the life sentence given to Chinese politician Bo Xilai.
    • This screen grab taken from state television CCTV footage broadcast on August 24, 2013 shows ousted Chinese political star Bo Xilai (C) speaking in the courtroom as he stands trial at the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, China.

      In a letter to his family, the disgraced Communist Party leader reiterated his innocence but said he expected a lengthy prison sentence.
    • Was the trial of Bo Xilai (right) any more transparent than that of Jiang Qing and the "Gang of Four"?

      CNN Beijing bureau chief Jaime Florcruz compares his experience covering Bo's trial with a similarly explosive story in the early 1980s -- the "Gang of Four" trial.
    • This picture taken on September 29, 2008 shows the then Chongqing mayor Bo Xilan attending the "Ode to Motherland" singsong gathering in Chongqing. China's once high-flying communist politician Bo Xilai has been indicted for bribery and abuse of power, state media said on July 25, 2013 following a scandal that exposed deep divisions at the highest levels of government. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images

      While Chinese state media hailed the Bo Xilai trial as a show of "historic transparency," analysts saw its theatrics as part of a high-profile show trial.
    • This frame grab taken from Chinese television CCTV shows on September 18, 2012 shows former police chief Wang Lijun (R) facing the court during his trial in Chengdu, in southwest China's Sichuan province. The former police chief who set off China's biggest political scandal in years "did not contest" charges including defection and bribery at his trial, which ended on September 19, a court in Chengdu said. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO / CCTV

      The trial of Bo Xilai concluded with claims from Bo that his former police chief had a crush on his wife, Gu Kailai, who is serving time for murder.
    • The wife of a high-profile Chinese politician found guilty of murder has been described as funny, personable, attractive and charismatic.
    • Wang Lijun pictured last year at the National People's Congress in Beijing.

      The trigger of China's biggest political scandal in a generation, Wang Lijun was once a feared police chief whose crime fighting exploits inspired a TV series.
    • pkg grant inside china heywood hotel mystery_00002515

      A run-down hotel on the outskirts of Chongqing is the unlikely setting for a murder mystery. CNN's Stan Grant looks inside.