China's blogs buzz with leader's downfall

2012-03-15 12:04

Shanghai - China's popular social media sites buzzed on Thursday with the downfall of Bo Xilai, a high-profile political leader famed for his Maoist revival campaign, filling a gap in information left by state media.

The news that Bo had been removed as party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing quickly became a "hot topic" on popular social media, generating millions of comments from the nation of half a billion internet users.

China's popular weibos, or microblogs - the Chinese equivalent of Twitter - have avidly followed the scandal involving Bo since it began last month amid a vacuum of official information.

On Thursday there were nearly four million posts across the two most popular weibos, run by Sina and Tencent.

Bo had been seen as a leading contender to join the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee - the apex of political power in China - later this year.

But his political future became cloudy after his former police chief Wang Lijun visited a US consulate and reportedly asked for asylum last month.

Political struggle

One microblog user, who gave the name "Story of Ah Dian", said political in-fighting ahead of the leadership succession caused his downfall.

"Bo's dismissal was a naked political struggle. The Communist Party appears very united, but all factions are struggling both openly and secretly."

Another referred to his hardline crackdown on corruption and a populist Maoist revival campaign as the roots of his downfall.

"He encouraged singing 'red songs' like during the Cultural Revolution and he got rid of opponents in the name of cracking down on gangsters," another microblogger said, referring to the chaotic 1966-1976 period.

"His downfall was the necessary end-result."

But others leapt to his defence, including residents of Chongqing and the northeastern city of Dalian, where he once served as mayor and party chief, saying he brought change for the good.

No reason for replacement

"As a Chongqing person, I must point out very objectively that Bo Xilai was a good official. The city is cleaner and the people are more civilised," one person said on the Sina microblog service.

State media ran a report from the official Xinhua news agency saying Bo had been replaced, but did not give the reason, which added fuel to the speculation circulating on the internet.

"We see the 'weibo' picking up the slack," said David Bandurski, researcher at the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project.

"They [government officials] want to criticise it as rumour, but they're the ones creating a market for it by not offering information when there is a clear demand."