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A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China [Paperback]

Pin Ho , Wenguang Huang
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 April 2014
The downfall of Bo Xilai in China was more than a darkly thrilling mystery. It revealed a cataclysmic internal power struggle between Communist Party factions, one that reached all the way to China's new president Xi Jinping. The scandalous story of the corruption of the Bo Xilai family--the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood; Bo's secret lovers; the secret maneuverings of Bo's supporters; the hasty trial and sentencing of Gu Kailai, Bo's wife--was just the first rumble of a seismic power struggle that continues to rock the very foundation of China's all-powerful Communist Party. By the time it is over, the machinations in Beijing and throughout the country that began with Bo's fall could affect China's economic development and disrupt the world's political and economic order. Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang have pieced together the details of this fascinating political drama from firsthand reporting and an unrivaled array of sources, some very high in the Chinese government. This was the first scandal in China to play out in the international media--details were leaked, sometimes invented, to non-Chinese news outlets as part of the power plays that rippled through the government. The attempt to manipulate the Western media, especially, was a fundamental dimension to the story, and one that affected some of the early reporting. "A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel" returns to the scene of the crime and shows not only what happened in Room 1605 but how the threat of the story was every bit as important in the life and death struggle for power that followed. It touched celebrities and billionaires and redrew the cast of the new leadership of the Communist Party. The ghost of Neil Heywood haunts China to this day.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs,U.S. (17 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610393724
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610393720
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,587,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Howard French, Wall Street Journal "The most revealing work on the Bo episode to date. What emerges is an immensely complicated tale of behind-the-scenes power struggles as full of scandal, ambition and betrayal as anything that ancient history has to offer... The authors' account has the considerable merit of understanding that the surface plot built around Heywood's murder isn't the most interesting element in this narrative. They show how Mr. Bo's undoing had its roots in the country's intense but normally invisible factional jousting... The narrative is thrilling and believable, based as it is on the information that Chinese officials leak to the press as part of their infighting... The overall picture of elite politics in China is a devastating one of wanton ambition and lawlessness." The Atlantic "A gripping telling of the incident that would make for a great thriller novel-if it weren't all true." Maclean's "As a lurid tale of wealthy and powerful people behaving badly, the authors' account of what has been unfolding in China since November 2011 can't be beat." Kirkus "A true-crime murder mystery from 2011 set in a remote Chinese city, with an outsized impact on governance of the vast nation... The authors weave a fascinating, dark narrative web." Publishers Weekly "This deeply knowledgeable account of the rise and fall of regional Communist Party boss Bo Xilai (whose wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of Heywood's murder) by veteran journalists Ho and Huang reveals the weaknesses of top party leadership... The authors unravel the myriad threads of politburo-level power struggles--which make the Borgias look like rank amateurs--weaving together a narrative that includes obscene wealth and corruption, orgies, and totaled Ferraris on the streets of Beijing. This expert account is bolstered by the authors' willingness to admit that the story is so complex that 'unless Heywood's spirit can find a medium, the whole truth about the November 15 murder may never be known.'" Winnipeg Free-Press "The authors have done an admirable job of sorting through the contradictions, half-truths and outright lies perpetrated by all the players in this drama. Their careful research and meticulous explanations will help everyone from general readers to veteran China-watchers sort out the meaning of Bo Xilai's rise and fall." Library Journal "The light this book shines on the secretive world of Chinese politics makes it an especially important work. A must read for all China watchers; those interested in real-life murder mysteries and complex political scheming will also find it fascinating." Asian Review of Books "The complicated tale is well-structured and a pleasure to read." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Pin Ho, a journalist and writer, is the founder of Mirror Media Groups and has covered Chinese politics for twenty-five years. He broke the news on leadership lineups for three consecutive Communist Party Congresses since 2002. His book, "China's Princelings," was the first to coin that phrase to describe the children of Chinese revolutionaries, and is the source for much that has appeared in the accounts of various Western journalists. Wenguang Huang is a writer, journalist, and translator whose articles and translations have been published in the "New York Times," the "Chicago Tribune," the "Paris Review," and the "Christian Science Monitor." He is most recently the author of the memoir "The Little Red Guard" and the translator for Liao Yiwu's "For a Song and One Hundred Songs," "The Corpse Walker," and "God Is Red."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Death 21 April 2013
By Hande Z TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This book focuses on the death of a British national, Neil Heyward, in Chongqing on 13 August 2011, but it is really about the transition of power in China. The background story of Heyward is fascinating because it came as a climax to the crossing of paths of two powerful and ambitious men - Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun. Bo was the Party Secretary to Chongqing and Wang was Chongqing's chief of police. The short story is that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, murdered Heyward in the Lucky Holiday Hotel. Wang, as Bo's supposed lackey tried to cover up the murder but because he was threatened by Bo he fled to the US consulate seeking asylum (which was refused). He made major disclosures not only about Gu's deeds but also about Bo's corruption. Wang was tried within a year and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. Gu was tried shortly after and received a two-year suspended death sentence, meaning that after two years her sentence would be commuted to imprisonment.

Why had Bo and Wang fallen out at such a crucial moment in their careers? Bo was a protégé of Zhou Yongkang, a member of the powerful Politburo about to hand over to a new generation of leaders in 2012 and Zhou had the right to nominate his successor, which Bo assumed he would be the one. But the powerful Wang had enemies who went for him, as usual in China, obliquely, when his cronies in his hometown in Tieling were being investigated for corruption. He sought Bo's help but Bo fearing being tarnished, refused. Wang then asked Gu to persuade Bo but to no avail. Thus one version of the story was that Wang goaded Gu to kill Heyward, taking advantage of her paranoia, by telling her that Heyward intended to harm her son Bo Guagua. When that failed, he used the incident to blackmail Bo.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating analysis of the fall of Bo Xilai 2 Sep 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While we may never know for certain what happened, the authors paint a believable picture of the events and conspiracies behind the headlines. This book makes compulsive reading for those interested in understanding Chinese current affairs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FRIGHTENING 16 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An illuminating and informative if sometimes frightening look at modern China. Noting how rapid has been economic development there is there really so much corruption which would surly hamper this? At least noone appers tp be starving as they did under Mao and with the enormous international trade being so important they are no hosile threat.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Political Drama from China 1 April 2013
By Seth Faison - Published on Amazon.com
Political dynamics are the same everywhere. It is the high stakes and the culture of secrecy that make Chinese politics so particularly intriguing.

"A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel" is the best book so far on the political drama that riveted so many of us over the past year, by combining murder, stacks of money, sex and fast cars (and even, sex in fast cars), all at a time when the complex machinery of China's Communist Party was selecting its new leaders. The book's title makes it sound like a formulaic detective novel. But it is really an insightful account of this true political story, and it uses compelling profiles of the main players to explain the context and its tremendous implications for the world's most populous country.

I used to cover Chinese politics as a journalist, and I no longer follow the bland pronouncements made by Chinese bureaucrats, who look virtually indistinguishable from one another. But I got hooked on this story when the news broke that the chief of police in Chongqing had gone to the U.S. Consulate in Sichuan Province to ask for asylum, saying he had evidence that his boss's wife had murdered an Englishman. His boss was Bo Xilai, an ambitious and charismatic leader who had been building a left-leaning political brand that made his competitors in Beijing nervous. Right there, I knew there had to be a pretty interesting backstory.

Indeed, there was. And thank goodness, it takes some telling. A brawny power struggle always requires a good explanation of the political landscape and the main players in the drama. Pin Ho is an experienced journalist in Hong Kong, and his narrative is interspersed with moments when players in this drama called or texted him to leak information or try to get coverage furthering a particular viewpoint. He had a close-up view, but he was mystified how to put the pieces of the puzzle together while the story was still unfolding. When he and co-author Wenguang Huang sat down to write, it probably wasn't easy to decide how to structure the story. They chose to tell it through the main characters.

At the center is Bo Xilai, who grew up in a privileged family of Communist Party royalty, his father a lieutenant of Mao and Deng Xiaoping. Young Bo had smarts and good looks, and the ambition and ability to move his way up. He eventually became the boss in Chongqing, one of China's megacities with a population of 32 million. Bo espoused a special brand of populist politics, with nostalgia for Mao, all the while socking away tens of millions of dollars and bedding a stream of young Chinese starlets, including an attractive network news anchorwoman. His son went to Harrow, and then Harvard, and had enough cash to buy high-end sports cars without a financing plan. There was help from a British businessman-cum-fixer, Neil Haywood, who apparently grew an inflated sense of self-importance, pretending to friends that he was a British secret agent, and finally demanding a bigger cut of all that money. He's the one who ends up dead, poisoned, in the Lucky Holiday Hotel.

Then there is the wife, Gu Kailai, who seems to fit into a long line of villainous vixens in Chinese history. She had sharp cheekbones and spiky hair. She was demanding and high-strung. Trained as a lawyer, she had her fingers in many ventures and it is hard for the authors to figure out exactly where her husband fit in to all of them. The Communist Party put her on a public trial for the murder, while her husband languished under house arrest.

The other strands of political intrigue spread throughout Beijing. One of the most revealing involves Ling Jihua, chief of staff to the outgoing President of China. Ling's son died when his speeding Ferrari crashed on a Beijing street at 2 A.M. with two naked women in the front seat, apparently taking part in a familiar activity by China's young elite. But when Ling, the father, went to identify the body, he denied that it belonged to his son, knowing that an admission would end his own career. Of course, when the cover-up is revealed, it was doubly damning. It always is.

Any tale of political intrigue that includes murder and betrayal, on the stage of a political transition, inevitably invites the question about how much was orchestrated by people in power. In a secretive political culture, it is hard to prove anything for sure. But my guess is: not much was made up here. The police chief's plea for asylum to the Americans, and the death of an Englishman, made it difficult for China's leaders to keep the story secret. Instead, the authorities seem to have used a genuine scandal for their own political purposes - to identify a common enemy that they could rally all Party members against, and hold him up as a symbol of the corrupt excesses that the Party is theoretically trying to fight, just as they were preparing to champion new leadership. Bo fit that bill. In politics, timing and luck are almost everything. We will never know what might have happened had a few cards fallen in a different way.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Read 3 April 2013
By Steve Wong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I visited Chongqing last year and many of my friends asked me about the Bo Xilai scandal because they didn't have access to media reports. Not too many people believed in the government propaganda. I wish I had the book then. Bought the book last week. It contains an incredible amount of information about the case. I have learned so much about the Chinese political system. The narratives are quite compelling and believable. Some stories, like the Ferrari accident, are appalling. Overall, I think the authors are quite objective and non-judgmental in presenting each character. I really enjoyed it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not A Lot of Hard Facts 1 May 2013
By eBuyer Dave - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a book is based inferences, assumptions, innuendo and gossip. Not a lot of facts. Nevertheless, it is interesting because of the insight it provides into the culture. If anyone thought Democracy was a hard system to work and lacked transparency, imagine a system where everything is decided behind closed doors based on insider maneuvering. That is the message of this book.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Web of Deceit, Intrigue, and Political Drama 5 April 2013
By Juno - Published on Amazon.com
Mystery, intrigue, murder, betrayal -- all these are key components that flavor a political drama and make it so intensely irresistible, and no book portrays them better than "A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel". A whirlwind of plotting and corruption, the stunningly clear publication of China's dark and complex politics is a riveting masterpiece.

In today's world, China is an emerging world power, with a booming economy on the fast train to the top. Its leaders and government, naturally, are front and center in the lives of the media industry. With the 18th Party Congress drawing near at the time of the event, any and all imperfections and signs of disunity within the nation were expected to be covered up and hidden away. China was to present a united front, just like the images frequently seen on television--a uniform group of men all wearing dark suits and white shirts with jet-black hair. When the bombshell about the Bo Xilai scandal dropped just a few months before the publicized, yet still extremely secretive, transfer of power in China's government began, all eyes turned to the city of Chongqing and the shocking events that were taking place there.

Like zooming in on a mammoth spiderweb, the narrator slowly draws the reader in, beginning with the extra close-up view. With bits and pieces of leaked news and unverified information, the story gradually begins to unfold. A cryptic description of the hotel where the murder that changed numerous lives irrevocably took place is the reader's first insight into the whole debacle. The murder of Neil Heywood, an Englishman who would later prove to play a crucial role in the downfall of Bo Xilai and those connected to him, is briefly described, leaving the reader intrigued and desperately wanting to know more.

One of the biggest political scandals in China slowly unravels, displaying its twisted and dangerous inner workings to the public through foreign media and social networking. Through the main characters in this exciting political drama, the authors, Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang, artfully tell the tale of an aspiring and ambitious politician falls from power and how his subordinate, the chief of police in Chongqing, seeks asylum with the U.S. Consulate and ultimately causes this fall from power.

The central character of this scandal is the power-hungry politician Bo Xilai. Growing up as a princeling and the son of a Communist Party lieutenant, Bo Xilai is smart and charismatic, with attractive looks and plenty of ambition. Quickly moving up on the political ladder, he soon becomes the Communist Party chief of Chongqing, a megacity in southwestern China. Bo Xilai eventually becomes embroiled in corruption, affairs, and scrambles for power. With his crafty and seemingly villain-like wife backing him up, he manages to gain a seat in the Politburo Committee and become a likely candidate for election to the Politburo Standing Committee.

Another crucial performer in this shocking drama is, of course, Wang Lijun, Chongqing's chief of police who finally turns against his boss after realizing that he is dispensable and can be easily disposed of by Bo Xilai. Nicknamed the "Iron Blooded Police Spirit", Wang Lijun is fierce and unafraid, yet also cruel and merciless. With many staunch supporters in the public of Chongqing, he also has many powerful enemies. Eventually, his once protector and ally Bo Xilai joins the ranks of the people who look forward to his downfall. Fearing for his own position and addicted to the power of his role as head of police, Wang Lijun--just like a loyal dog who has been beaten one too many times--snaps and provides evidence of the murder of a foreigner by Bo Xilai's wife to the U.S. Consulate.

The strands of this web stretch out and entangle more people than could have been imagined. Many of the leading public figures of China are named, such as Zhou Yongkang, Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao, Ling Jihua, and more. What begins as a solitary death is gradually realized to be the pebble thrown into a calm lake, creating political ripples that grow ever larger and more shell-shocking. Every citizen of the world has been able to follow the exhilarating events from various Internet websites, print sources, or television reports, beginning from the discovery of Neil Heywood's corpse all the way till the prosecution of Bo Xilai, his wife Gu Kailai, and Wang Lijun. However, this book offers a truly in-depth and close-up look at the people involved and the intimate details of this political drama.

As the story unfolds and one gets deeper and deeper into the book, more and more questions pop up. What could possibly cause Gu Kailai to allegedly murder Neil Heywood? Why did relations between Bo Xilai, his wife, and Wang Lijun eventually sour? Who were the powerful connections behind Bo Xilai? And finally, what really happened that fateful night in room 1605 at the Lucky Holiday Hotel? Most of these questions are answered with objective and unbiased facts. Like wiping away steam from a mirror, the truth in the reflection increasingly becomes clear. Presenting only the cold, hard facts, authors Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang allow readers to decide for themselves what truly happened in the end.

The real world, especially the world of politics, is a messy and complex place. There is often no right or wrong, and things are often painted in varying shades of gray rather than black or white. The Bo Xilai scandal is a prime example of that. The public may never know who truly murdered Neil Heywood or the motives for all the events that occurred. No one can truly say for sure what will become of Bo Xilai, the once powerful man who was a rising political star before his ground-shaking fall to shame. This book provides the details of what occurred, letting readers come to their own conclusion on the past and the future.

Once again, this incident is just another thing that the Chinese government can use, and is using, as something the Communist Party stands against and aims to protect its people from. Bo Xilai, in the end, is just another pawn in the grand scheme of things.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strong Powerful Voice that Uncovers the Dark Side of China 17 April 2013
By ILGAR - Published on Amazon.com
Pin Ho, a well-known commentator on Chinese politics and a writer, resourcefully reveals an internal power struggle among Chinese high level government officers through his non-fiction bestseller: A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China. Coauthored with Wenguang Huang, Ho narrates this high profiled story providing detailed information on Bo Xilai, a political figure who was expected to be at the top government office in China during the peak of his political career. The story covers a wide range of background information from the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood to the trial and sentencing of his wife Gu Kailai for the crime she committed. The leaked details of Bo's scandal have become an intriguing political topic in the Western media and provided the China watchers with valuable information on the current political structure and the corruption of Chinese government.
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