China’s web censors labored in vain on Wednesday as the country’s citizens messaged each other about the one topic on everyone’s mind: the fate of Bo Xilai, the purged party official, and his wife.
The day after state media announced that Mr Bo had been stripped of his party posts and that his wife, Gu Kailai, was a suspect in the alleged murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, Twitter-like microblog sites blocked searches for the country’s most famous couple.
But the country’s 500 million-odd web users debated the political drama anyway using pictures, code-words and vague comments about power and corruption — all of which everybody seemed to understand instinctively.
“Pathetic! How ignorant that such a high leader gets himself into such a mess,” wrote Sun Xiangbo in a discussion attached to a picture of Bo Xilai. Hung Huang, the daughter of Mao Zedong’s English teacher and a prominent publisher and blogger, wondered whether “in this country, when a man does something bad, it’s all the woman’s fault”.
“Singing red until you turn purple, purple until you turn black,” added another microblogger under the pseudonym Huirenbujuan 2008, in a reference to Mr Bo’s promotion of “red” revolutionary songs and “black” anti-crime campaigns while party leader in Chongqing, a large city in southwest China.
In his signature, and popular, crackdowns on organized crime, Mr Bo has been accused of abusing the judicial system to ruin political enemies and private entrepreneurs. “When a person is the highest somewhere with nothing above him, then he is bound to become like a robber. If you add to that a central government title, he becomes like a tiger with wings, he is unbeatable,” mused Jin Zhongyi, head of the justice department in Haining, a southeastern Chinese city, and one of China’s most popular microbloggers with 730,000 followers.
While the Communist party’s propaganda machine used state newspapers and television to hammer home the message that Mr Bo would be dealt with “according to law” and the party remained united behind its leadership, web users forwarded posts from the Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, which was written 200 years ago. Thousands of microbloggers remarked that its description of the downfall of a powerful, well-connected official read as if it had been written about Mr Bo.
Additional reporting by Zhao Tianqi