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The Image of Bo Xilai

Here at the shop we are constantly driving home this point to our clients: the image you project is extremely important. Having been in the image business for so long, we’ve found that some of our clients understand this concept inherently. These are cases in which a man comes to us knowing that his promotion will have him in front of high-powered individuals and he needs to project success or even an astute college graduate who understands the value of making a good impression on job interviewers. The 8/31/2013 issue of The Economist highlighted the importance of image on a national scale in China.


To give some background, Bo Xilai, a former member of China’s ruling Politburo, is on trial for corruption and covering up a murder reportedly perpetrated by his wife. Serious stuff, to be sure. Interestingly, though, the report made it a point to note both the image that Mr. Bo and the court were trying to project.

“His hair was dyed black, and he wore an open-necked white shirt. It was a studied appearance of businesslike normality offset by the court’s decision to put two very tall policemen on either side of him to make even a politician who is 6’1” appear small.” (p. 37)

This is fascinating. We here at the shop make aren’t claiming to know anything about the Chinese legal system and are making no judgments of it, but we’re intrigued by the court’s decision to make Mr. Bo appear shorter than he actually is. Our guess is that this is the court’s attempt to assert visual dominance over him and make the guilty verdict (which seems to be all but guaranteed) ring even stronger from a strong, just government.

Bo Xilai in suit and tie

Mr. Bo’s appearance is also interesting. Most American defense attorneys will advise their male clients to don a suit and tie while in court. The intent is to give off an air of respectability and civility, thus making a jury less apt to convict. Mr. Bo, by choosing to dress with “businesslike normality,” is essentially saying that he’s confident that there was no wrongdoing on his part. Everything is normal, he’s innocent, and his casual-Friday clothing choices are reflecting that. That he dyed his hair black makes us think that he was attempting to make himself appear more youthful and therefore stronger.

The lesson here is that if you aren’t considering your image in your everyday interactions, you should. If people so high up on the food chain are doing it, and if you want to befriend, do business with, or govern with those people, then one of the first things to do is make sure your image is in order.

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