BEIJING — Each plot twist roils Chinese politics a little more. What began with the political purge of Communist Party heavyweight Bo Xilai has rippled into allegations of murder against his wife, turning a power struggle within an opaque leadership clique into the most public scandal in China in decades.
But the chances of it having the potency to alter China's political and economic path appear slim.
Until their sudden fall, Bo, 62, and wife Gu Kailai, 53, were a telegenic power couple frequently described as "Kennedyesque," dominating politics and business in the massive metropolis of Chongqing.
Bo was the ruling party's secretary in a city of 32 million where he led a Maoist revival movement and had expectations of rising to a top national post. Gu built a business empire of interests at home and abroad.
Last month, Bo lost his job, fired over what was described in a Communist Party statement this week as "serious discipline problems." The statement also said Gu and a family aide were under arrest as suspects in the November death of Neil Heywood, a 41-year-old British businessman and a longtime family friend.
The spectacular fall of such a high-flying politician with a base in the rising Maoist new-left movement has led to speculation about policy schisms within the Communist Party leadership. But many observers say Bo's removal had more to do with personal style than political substance.
"It wasn't what he did but how he did it," said Jin Zhong, a political analyst based in Hong Kong. "He was too extroverted."
His dismissal certainly occurred at a sensitive time. The Communist Party is naming a new leadership lineup for the upcoming 18th party congress in October, with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao retiring and seven of nine coveted seats on the Politburo Standing Committee up for grabs.
Bo had been openly lobbying for one of those jobs based on the deep support he had built in Chongqing.
But even Bo's sympathizers on the new left say his downfall was unrelated to ideological differences over China's political path.
"It looks like a very simple case of murder; this might be something out of a Hollywood movie, but it doesn't necessarily indicate anything about what direction China is headed," said Sima Nan, a prominent Chinese intellectual associated with the new left.