BEIJING — Before dawn on March 18, a black Ferrari slammed into a concrete barrier in Beijing, killing the young male driver, badly injuring two young women and setting off another episode in the soap opera that has become Chinese politics.
At the time, coverage of the crash was quickly scrubbed from the media and microblogs, the identity of the driver merely the subject of rumor.
Now, Chinese-language media outside Beijing are reporting that he was the son of Ling Jihua, until recently head of the Communist Party's general office of the central committee — in effect, chief of staff for President Hu Jintao.
One of Hu's closest associates for two decades, Ling was demoted over the weekend in what might be fallout from the crash. Ordinarily, the loss of a son would engender sympathy not censure, but the cost of the 458 Spider — reportedly worth about $700,000 — suggested a family with more disposable income than is befitting a public servant in a communist country.
Ling's removal is reminiscent of the spectacle surrounding Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing party secretary whose wife was convicted last month of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Ling and Bo were reported to be rivals, both contending for higher positions in the Communist Party.