Beijing Coup: Not Really.

Zhou Yongkang has been spotted out and about a few times, so it looks like he didn’t really try anything. As a few days have gone people have started asking how the rumors got so out of hand, and to what extent they actually reflected tensions with the Communist Party. From The Economist:

The party, which normally tries to suppress any expression of sympathy for purged leaders, is either failing this time, or else it is not trying very hard. It could well be a sign that Chinese leaders themselves are divided over how to handle Mr Bo’s case and the public reaction to it.

Uniquely among Chinese politicians in the post-Tiananmen period, Mr Bo had acquired a vocal and genuinely admiring fan club. Silencing this group will not be easy. It happens to include people whom party traditionalists regard as hailing from the most venerable sectors of the population: workers laid off from state-owned factories, retired cadres, and intellectuals who remain doggedly committed to old-fashioned communist ideals. Before Mr Bo was sacked, articles praising him and his “Chongqing model” were a staple of websites controlled by die-hard Maoists in China.

For several days after Mr Bo’s dismissal, some Maoist websites ceased functioning. It is unclear whether they were ordered to shut down, or whether they prudently decided to keep quiet while they assessed the political mood. But they are now back in business, not in the least cowed, it would seem, by the disgrace of their hero.

The nationwide upheaval of 1989 started when supporters of Hu Yaobang took to the streets to mourn his death, two years after he had been dismissed as party chief. But any such displays of sympathy on behalf of Mr Bo are highly unlikely this time. The Maoists could probably mobilise protests involving disparate groups of marginalised citizens. But they enjoy little support among the urban middle class or intellectuals. And they would likely resist causing unrest, for fear of appearing disloyal to the party. These are, however, volatile times politically as the party prepares for a sweeping transfer of power at a congress late this year.

On March 23rd, the party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, published an article on its front page which says that Mr Zhou sent a letter to a conference in Shanghai in which he expressed support for Mr Hu’s leadership. This may have been an attempt to scotch rumours that he was involved in a coup, though it has been widely noted that Mr Zhou did not turn up for the meeting in person. And then Mr Zhou was to be spotted again on an evening broadcast of CCTV, on “Xinwen Lianbo”, as if to prove that he is not under house arrest, or anything of the sort.

From CNN, on how censorship ended up fueling the rumors:

What is happening in Beijing?

This is a question that has China watchers and Chinese themselves puzzling and pondering.

“In the absence of transparency and credible official media, rumors fly,” noted Bill Bishop, an independent analyst who closely follows China’s Internet and social media industry.

Even a traffic accident report triggered political rumors. When a Ferrari reportedly crashed on one of Beijing’s “Ring Roads” last weekend, Weibo was abuzz with wild speculation about the driver — rumored to be a godson of a top communist party official.

By Tuesday, the English-language edition of the Global Times — a newspaper affiliated with the official People’s Daily — one reported that “almost all online information” about the crash had been deleted overnight, “triggering suspicions as to the identity of the deceased driver.”

For days, the word “Ferrari” was blocked.

On Weibo, bloggers who type in Bo’s name, or even his initials BXL and homophones, typically get an automatic reply: “Due to relevant regulations and policies, search results for ‘Bo Xilai’ are not being displayed.”

Censorship has been inconsistent, experts note. “Rumors were blocked and unblocked,” recalled Bishop. “For most of the day at the height of the coup rumors, you could search for ‘zhengbian’ (coup) and on some days it was blocked.”

Such erratic censorship has created confusion compounded by questions of where the rumors originated.

“It’s the first time in China that a political power struggle has played out in the era of Weibo (micro-blogging),” said Bishop. “It’s as important to get information out on Weibo as it is to publish it on CCTV or the People’s Daily.”

But cyberspace censorship, Bishop argues, is not good for China’s global image — nor for the rest of the world.

Finally, Reuters on what happens to Bo now:

Accounts vary of when the party leadership decided Bo had to go, but most sources said the curtain fell within 72 hours of his combative news conference.

At a post-parliament news conference five days after Bo’s performance, Premier Wen Jiabao suggested Bo was culpable not only for Wang’s flight but also for conjuring up false nostalgia for Mao’s era. China needed political reform, without which “such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again in China”, Wen said.

“Wen’s words revealed the split,” said the former Chongqing official. “It turned this into a line struggle.”

The next day, the government announced Bo had been removed as party secretary of Chongqing.

China’s leaders now appear uncertain about how to deal with the downfall of a popular politician.

“The 18th Congress outcome hasn’t been settled yet, and this makes it more difficult, because Bo Xilai represented many left-leaning voices in China,” said Wang Wen, a Beijing journalist who has met Bo.

A week after his fall, Bo remains out of sight, with unconfirmed speculation he remains in Beijing available for questioning. His abrupt departure has kindled wild rumors, including one this week of a coup attempt.

“The game is not over yet. There’s no full-stop on this yet,” said the ex-official familiar with Bo.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

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