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Liz Carter senior contributor

China Announces Trial of Purged Princeling Bo Xilai, Authorities Coordinate Positive Social Media Response

Bo Xilai (via Weibo/Fair use)
Bo Xilai (via Weibo/Fair use)

China’s state-run media agency, Xinhua, recently announced that former top politician Bo Xilai, who was purged from the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party last year, has been charged with “bribery, embezzlement, and power abuse.” Bo is a highly controversial figure, and his detention and sentencing have been the topic of much discussion — and much censorship. Online reaction to the latest news shows that authorities have gone beyond deleting comments supporting Bo to coordinating the posting of comments opposing him. Though recent changes have indicated China is fine-tuning its social media censorship to make it less obvious, this effort is a return to more heavy-handed propagandizing.

The comments on the announcements of Bo’s trial included those supporting the punishment of corrupt individuals like Bo regardless of status, but also included comments indicating that Bo’s trial was proof of the government’s determination to fight corruption. In fact, the phrase “determination to fight corruption” appeared in almost half of the comments, a sampling of which are below:

@笨笨糖qThe Chinese Communist Party Central Committee pays great attention to this case, and has reacted quickly and enforced the law with strength, fully showing our Party’s determination to fight corruption.中共中央对此案的高度重视、快速反应、惩处力度,充分表明了我党对腐败的惩治决心。

@pipipi1991All are equal before the law, and no corrupt person is excused. The trial of Bo Xilai fully demonstrates the Central Committee’s determination to fight corruption. I support the central government, I support the trial! Anyone who violates the law should be seriously punished.法律面前人人平等,对任何腐败分子都决不姑息。薄熙来案件审理充分体现了中央反腐决心,支持中央,支持审判!任何人只要触犯了法律,都该严惩

@下雨天适合睡懒觉I trust the Central Court will definitely fairly and justly carry out the trial. Every person, regardless of their status, must be punished in accordance with the country’s laws.相信中央法院一定会公平公正的审理,任何一个人无论身份任何特殊国家法律一律都要受到国家法律的制裁。

@子NOT_鱼I strongly support and protect the Party Central Committee!坚决拥护党中央

@人品巨崩2This shows Chairman Xi Jinping’s commitment to fighting corruption. I await the results of the trial. 体现了习书记反腐倡廉的决心,期待庭审结果

@kaizai醿荼This truly shows the country’s determination to fight corruption. This is a result that average Chinese people are most willing to see!真的反映了国家反腐的决心呀~这都是老百姓最愿意看到的结果~

Leaked censorship directives have revealed that the government recently ordered social media sites to delete all pro-Bo commentary. Yet the tone, content, and homogeneous nature of the Weibo commentary on Bo’s trial indicate that authorities have also produced new commentary to fill the gap created by that censorship. This is not a new practice: in China, commenters known as the “50 Cent Party” allegedly receive 50 cents per pro-government comment.

Though virtually all pro-Bo comments were effectively scrubbed, a few anti-50 Cent comments remained. Remarked user @map追梦人, “The two commenters below me are 50 centers楼下俩五毛~.” Another was more inflammatory, writing in English: ”grass 50 fen’s sister.” In Chinese, “fen” means “cent,” and “grass” is a homophone for “f*ck.”

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Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
  • Chris Zheng

    I think it would be better to say that the “50 centers” allegedly receive 50 cents per post [as compensation]… After all, has the practice really been verified? Isn’t it a rumor (although memefied by now)?

    • Zhegezhege

      Yes, it’s a little bit sloppy to state they get 50 cents per post as fact. The practice is self-evidently real, although the rates earned by the losers that actually post the comments appear to not be verified public knowledge.

      • ebcarter

        quite right both of you! I’ll update to reflect that.

      • ebcarter

        quite right, both of you! I’ll update to reflect that.

  • Bob Newman

    That’s gotta suck to being able to bone “literally anyone you want” to probably no one for the rest of your life. All the corrupt officials and the CCP in general are playing a game of thrones. Once they lose, they all end up like Ned Stark.

  • Paul Schoe

    Thanks for mentioning “that the government recently ordered social media sites to delete all pro-Bo commentary. It is this ‘cleaning up’ that makes judging social media in China so difficult.
    When the Chinese notice such ‘harmonizing’ they start using often colorful references so that other Chinese know what they are talking about, but other then the ’35th of May’ these references make the reading chinese media often like seeing the trees but nothing of the wood.