China Seeks to Contain Fallout From Scandal
Following the revelation yesterday that Bo Xilai had been dismissed from his powerful Communist Party posts and his wife was being investigated in the murder of Briton Neil Heywood, the CCP has worked hard to present an image of unity amid an obvious fracturing within the ranks. From the New York Times:
A day after removing a once powerful official, Bo Xilai, from the party’s Politburo and naming his wife as the main suspect in the murder of a British businessman, the party’s conduit for official pronouncements, the People’s Daily, published a front-page commentary ordering its members to “consciously unify out thoughts” and rally around the party’s Central Committee and its general secretary, President Hu Jintao.
“The people can see our party’s resolute determination to maintain party discipline and administer the state by rule of law,” the commentary stated.
Party censors moved at the same time to scrub the Internet of unapproved references to the affair, blocking all mention of Bo family members and related figures as well as the many nicknames and puns that microbloggers have employed to chat about the scandal while evading censorship.
Mr. Bo, 62, had won widespread popularity and become a rival to the party’s mainstream leaders with an aggressive effort to create an egalitarian society with hints of neo-Maoism in Chongqing, the city-state where he was party secretary. But he also enriched himself and his family in the free-wheeling atmosphere of the economic boom, raising questions of corruption, and he backed harsh police crackdowns.
But the staged show of unity and support seemed to belie a sense of official nervousness that Bo, the son of a revolutionary veteran, had become a hero to many on China’s far left and that his followers might denounce his purge as politically motivated.
Government censors moved quickly to ban Internet search terms related to Bo’s firing, his “Chongqing model,” the arrest of his wife, Gu Kailai, and the mystery surrounding the death, now ruled a homicide, of expatriate British businessman Neil Heywood. Hundreds of thousands of comments, many supportive of Bo, were erased overnight from Chinese news Web sites.
Party leaders “are eager to pacify public opinion as soon as possible,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian. Speaking of Bo, Zhang said: “Right now, a large number of people in China still support him, regarding him as the spiritual leader for the Maoists. Many people on the Internet still defend him. It’s possible that they will be an unstable force for China at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing.”
Despite efforts to wipe out independent speculation about the case, Chinese netizens continued to find ways to discuss the developments online. The Voice of America reports:
Users circumvented the blocks by referring to the political scandal as “the major news.” A Sina Weibo list of the 10 most debated topics on Wednesday, widely reposted online, included three Bo Xilai-related phrases.
The founder of Chinese media monitoring website Danwei.org, Jeremy Goldkorn, says even sophisticated government attempts to censor the Internet will not be able to completely prevent information from spreading.
“If people put together a bunch of words that are normally fine, it is just much more difficult to track,” Goldkorn explained, “because you can not use filtering or software to track them. If they do not mention somebody’s name [or] they do not mention any of the ‘bad words,’ [then] the speed of Weibo does allow these things to spread.”
Read more reactions from Internet users via Financial Times, Shanghaiist and Tea Leaf Nation. Meanwhile, despite the variety of opinion found online, China Daily issues a report arguing that, “Chinese voice support for decision on Bo’s case.”