AN ENGLISHMAN'S BODY was found in Room 1605 of the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, or Lucky Holiday Hotel. Nestled atop the densely-wooded South Mountain, the three-star resort is about eight kilometers from downtown Chongqing. The clear mountain air provides a welcome change from the smog-shrouded, fast growing municipality of more than 30 million. Its secluded location overlooking the sprawling city that straddles the Yangtze River below makes it a popular venue for weddings, holiday parties, government conferences, and leadership retreats. In the spring and summer, the hotel accommodates tourists who visit the nearby botanical garden or worship in the Tushan Temple built around 700 CE.
During the off-season month of November, the hotel compound looks eerily deserted. Inside the empty lobby of the main building, two thick wooden ceiling beams, painted in bright red, tower over a big glass fish tank. It feels like entering a gaudy Chinese restaurant. Two young female attendants staffing the registration desk reluctantly stop their computer games to greet guests who either arrive to check in or inquire about the special winter rates.
The hotel registration shows that a lao wai, or foreigner, checked into a private villa suite on November 13, 2011. His name was Neil Heywood. He was forty-one, an Englishman with a British passport and a Beijing address. He was last seen with two young men in green army overcoats middle-age Chinese woman who, before she left the suite, flipped on the door's "Do Not Disturb" sign and told the villa supervisor not to bother the foreign guest because he'd had "too much to drink."
Two days later, the cleaning staff, noticing that the guest in Room 1605 had not stepped out of his room the whole time and suspecting something had gone awry, notified the villa supervisor. On receiving no answer to his knocks and calls, he opened the door and discovered the foreigner dead on his bed. The hotel's general manager contacted a local hospital and the police.
Wang Lijun, the police chief of Chongqing, was the first to show up at the scene with the vice chief of his criminal investigation team, whom government papers identified by his last name, Huang. After getting details from the hotel manager, villa supervisor, and cleaning staff and examining the room, Wang Lijun sent Huang away and assigned the case to four of his trusted senior police officers—his deputy police director, the chief of the criminal investigation section, the chief of technical detection, and the chief of the Shapingba District.
The initial police report shows the investigative team interviewed the hotel staff, took a blood sample from the victim's heart, and conducted a CT scan on the body. The next morning, the team declared that Heywood had experienced "sudden death after drinking alcohol" and reported the results to Wang Lijun, who later testified that he "did not oppose their conclusion." Police located Heywood's family in Beijing—he was married to Wang Lulu, a Chinese national, and had two children. Based on a British report several months later, Heywood's mother in London was grief-stricken after receiving notice of her son's death. Her husband, Heywood's father, had just died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-three after drinks over dinner at their London home.
The Chongqing Public Security Bureau persuaded Heywood's family members to accept its conclusion on the cause of death and, with their approval, cremated Heywood's body. No autopsy was conducted. Heywood's friends said he was "not a serious drinker," but neither the family nor the British Consulate raised any objections to the investigation and its conclusions.
On November 18, three days after Heywood's body was found, the case was closed. With so many foreigners living in China, Heywood's death went largely unnoticed by the media and the public. But in Chinese mythology, the spirit of the dead does not dissolve if he or she has unfinished business in this world. The ghost lingers, clinging to its enemies, manipulating their minds, and causing havoc in their lives.
So it would prove for those who had come into contact with the dead man from Room 1605, including the most elite members of the Chinese Communist Party. The crisis triggered by Heywood's death reveals more about the scandalous state of corruption in China than any dissident or journalist could ever manage.
From A Death In The Lucky Holiday Hotel by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang. Reprinted with permission from PublicAffairs.