Interest in Bo Xilai scandal bigger abroad than in China

While Bo Xilai's fate remains uncertain, it is largely business as usual when it comes to life in China's capital.

Story highlights

  • Bo Xilai's fall from grace is the biggest political scandal to hit China in years
  • Reporting has been cautious in Chinese newspapers, while blog posts are often blocked
  • Many ordinary citizens in Beijing are curious but feel they know too little about the case
  • Bo Xilai has not been seen since his removal from his post in March

When yet more news breaks about the Bo Xilai scandal there is a momentary stir in the office of a state-run Chinese newspaper in Beijing.

The latest rumor, which has come via micro-blogging service Weibo, prompts a few murmurs but people are soon back at their desks working. Five minutes later someone gets a delivery of lollipops from online shopping mall Taobao. This causes more of a commotion.

The spectacular fall from grace of the former Communist Party chief in Chongqing is the biggest political scandal to hit China in years. Yet when it comes to reaction at a grassroots level, curiosity appears muted.

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"I haven't really been following it. I never go onto Weibo," said one journalist from Henan Province, referring to the popular Chinese micro-blogging site.

Meanwhile, California-born Jenny Chung, who works for a PR firm in Beijing, asked her colleagues what they thought. Most "did not want to comment, saying that they did not care about politics or had no thoughts on the matter," she said.

With such a sensitive case, it is no surprise that a wall of silence exists. Newspapers are reporting on the matter, but the approach is cautious, while most content on Bo has been blocked on Weibo and Tencent, another Chinese micro-blogging site. When details appear on foreign news services, access to these websites is often blocked.

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"I try to search for information, but cannot find much. So I have little to discuss with friends," said local teacher Jean Shen.

"I wouldn't be too surprised if this is a bigger news story abroad than here in China," said 29-year-old Qin Guo from Hubei Province, who works at an art consultancy company.

"People are talking about it, but it stops where it lacks facts. The conversation usually ends with 'I don't know. Let's wait and see'."

But not everyone is being as reserved.

Cecily Huang, a research assistant in Beijing, said she her friends talk about the story daily. "It is like gossip. We share the latest things we hear and see," she said.

For Huang, who does not blog herself but follows others, the way the scandal is unraveling is novel. "Blogs are being deleted, but not all," she said.

"This is the biggest political scandal in years and while the public cannot do much, the fact that some stories are being leaked is a new process."

Back at the newspaper, 25-year-old Zhang is also eager to discuss the story. "Bo was fighting for a position in the nine person Politburo. If he was elected, he could have spread his Chongqing policies throughout China," he said.

Asked whether he agrees with these policies, he shook his head. "Forcing people to sing red songs -- I hate being forced to do anything," he said.

Bo gained national prominence -- and a host of enemies -- when he moved in to Chongqing in 2007. There, he made his name by cracking down on gangster activity and "singing red," mass-singing of militant songs that harked back to Maoism.

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He said he agrees with what is happening to Bo along as "it is done through a proper legal procedure."

Zhang is one of many "young, educated Chinese that find political struggles really interesting," he said. But unlike Huang, who views the story's exposure as a turning point for political transparency in China, he doesn't think it will make a difference.

Zhang's response may be understandable. Even in Beijing the Bo case feels very removed. It is happening at the top echelons of power and its spread to Britain and America only serves to make it more distant and detached from local life -- even if it has compelled Chinese policymakers to deal with the case carefully.

Complicating the issue is Bo himself. No one can agree what to think of the charismatic politician, who wanted to reignite aspects of the Cultural Revolution spirit, while educating his son at a top private school in England.

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"He was corrupt and bad to the core. Every official at that level is. So I think it is a good thing what has happened to him," said one of Zhang's colleagues.

But Qin offered a different opinion: "Bo has been a very popular, admirable figure for a long time.

"He was trusted and favored by the people. Most here prefer not to judge right now. We simply watch while the investigation goes on."

With more more revelations sure to surface, Bo's fate remains uncertain. But right now, when it comes to life in China's capital, it is largely business as usual.

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