Online rumour riot in jittery China

2012-03-22 14:35

Beijing - Groundless rumours of a coup that have swept Beijing in recent days are a sign of nervousness after the sacking of political star Bo Xilai exposed rifts in China's ruling Communist Party, analysts say.

Bo had been tipped to join an elite group of leaders who effectively run China later this year, and his downfall - announced last week in a brief official dispatch - is the biggest drama to hit the Communist Party in years.

But the news has been only lightly covered by China's tightly controlled state media, opening the way for lurid online speculation involving a crashed Ferrari, gunshots and even tanks rolling into central Beijing.

"People are nervous, there's not much information available," Bo Zhiyue, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the National University of Singapore, said Thursday.

"They are hungry for new information, and if there's nothing new, they will make up new information."


Bo, a flamboyant member of the Politburo - which groups the 25 most powerful politicians in China - was removed as party chief of the south-western metropolis of Chongqing last Thursday.

His sacking came weeks after his former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun reportedly tried to defect to the US in a dramatic event that remains shrouded in mystery.

The incident sparked speculation about Bo's future, but his sacking still came as a shock, as the party normally likes to maintain an appearance of unity, which it believes is crucial to preserving stability in China.

The state-run Xinhua news agency - which reported the news - gave no reason for Bo's ousting.

So far, the only official information on the subject has come from a brief statement by Li Yuanchao, a powerful party leader, last Thursday that gave no concrete information about the reason why Bo was dismissed.

Since then, rumours - all of them unverifiable and most of them highly implausible - have emerged to fill the void of official information.

Rumours of a military coup orchestrated by security czar Zhou Yongkang against some of the top leaders are perhaps the most fanciful.


These emerged earlier this week when netizens started reporting on micro-blogs that there were tanks on one of Beijing's main thoroughfares and that they had heard gunshots.

Security in the capital has not visibly increased.

An apparently official document that was posted online, alleging that one of Bo's family members was being investigated for corruption before he was sacked, has been given more credence.

The document - allegedly compiled by the party's highest authority - reveals Bo reportedly turned on Wang when the latter broke news of the probe to him, prompting Wang's escape to a US consulate to request asylum.

Even a deadly Ferrari crash in the capital has sparked intense speculation over the identity of the driver, after reports of the incident were censored online.

David Kelly, research director at analysis group China Policy, said top authorities were likely trying to contain the effects of Bo's dismissal - and the rumours.

"The problem is to deal with the aftershocks - the sudden emotional swings of the public mind," he said.

Search terms such as "gunshot", "tank", "Bo Xilai", "Wang Lijun", Bo's son "Bo Guagua" or his wife "Gu Kailai" have all been censored on's popular micro-blog, or weibo.

"All this is saying that the factional struggle has now burst into the open," said Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Read more on:    china  |  social networks

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

  • Wednesday Wellington - 14:45 PM
    Road name: R44 Northbound
    ACCIDENT between Wellington and Hermon
  • Wednesday Newlands - 13:00 PM
    Road name: M3 Southbound
    SLOW TRAFFIC approaching the Newlands Avenue exit
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Curve 9360

The BlackBerry Curve 9360 smartphone comes preloaded with Blackberry OS7...

From R1595.00

I'm shopping for:


You may find yourself fascinated by something which could draw you in to obsessively exploring this subject in more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.