David Wertime

Bo Bye! Chinese Netizens Bid Farewell to Bo Xilai

Bo Xilai, the most controversial politician in China, has been sacked. Or as @唱反调 wrote on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter: “Bo Xilai has been ‘harmonized.’” Indeed, on March 15, the Ides of March, Xinhua News Agency announced that Bo Xilai was removed as the party boss of Chongqing.

China’s microblogs have exploded at news of Bo Xilai’s ouster, arguably the most significant political drama in China since 1989. It appears that the expeditious sacking of Bo is intended to quiet the chatter and drama to pave the way for a (superficially) smooth leadership transition later this year. However, in the short term, it has had the opposite effect.

Recent searches for “Bo Xilai” called up approximately 1.2 million tweets. This number has risen and dipped in recent hours, suggesting Internet censors are hard at work.

Wistful Words 

Many netizens have rushed to defend Bo for his governing record. As @雪佳-要改变 wrote, “If you are not a true Chongqing’er, you have no way to understand Bo’s status in Chongqing citizens’ hearts. Outsiders only know about ‘singing red’ and Mao poetry readings, but Bo Xilai oversaw the fastest development in Chongqing over the last few years.”

Some netizens wondered whether organized crime will make a comeback since Bo is known for his law and order campaigns. As @余丰慧 wrote, “Bo is out, and the happiest are the mobsters; they will be drinking and partying all night in celebration!”

@橙荼子 tweets, “I have very mixed feelings about Bo personally…he is the party boss that put Chongqing on the map and made the biggest change here. As a Chongqing’er, I am a bit sad.”

Indeed, many online comments evince an “us versus them” mentality, which may help explain why Bo was viewed as such a divisive figure which China’s central leadership ultimately chose to boot out. @最初的Triangle wrote, “I like you!” and @zht828 defended him, writing, “At least Bo Xilai was a clear-cut character, one who dared to speak and dared to do things, one who dared to undertake [responsibility].”

Celebration and Reflection

Meanwhile, @我发布 reports from Chongqing, “the public announcement system in the Chongqing People’s Hall is now broadcasting a happy, “non-red” song.” Another netizen asked whether it was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

@野田卉 was relieved: “[If Bo stayed], all of China [could have] moved to the Chongqing model, and the Cultural Revolution could happen again.”  @湖湘布衣 agrees, “this is the real campaign against organized crimes in Chongqing. I wish Chongqing well.”

Writer Bei Ye (@北野的理想国), however, looks at the bigger picture: “If the central government only asks Bo to resign but does not tell people the truth, then in the near future there will be someone else [like Bo]. The only way to prevent the resurrection of the Cultural Revolution is to embrace openness and transparency. No one’s power can go unchecked. The people must know the truth!” @云上人家2686745652 agrees, “We should have the right to know. Why are all these political changes happening?”

@深圳-猪肉荣 tweets, “If they only change politicians but do not change the political system, we will be forever stuck in palace intrigues.” @茜茜茜阿 also puts this story into context, “There are victims of political struggles in every generation, it is unavoidable throughout history.”

What’s Next?

Perhaps only this much is for sure: Countless millions of Chinese, netizens or not, will continue to read the tea leaves in the next few days. Tea Leaf Nation will be joining them.

But what will Bo do now? @贾斯晋 offers helpfully, “Don’t be depressed, just go to Taiwan and start a political talk show!” 


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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.