Skip to main content

Interest in Bo Xilai scandal bigger abroad than in China

By Jemimah Steinfeld for CNN
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1002 GMT (1802 HKT)
While Bo Xilai's fate remains uncertain, it is largely business as usual when it comes to life in China's capital.
While Bo Xilai's fate remains uncertain, it is largely business as usual when it comes to life in China's capital.
  • 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

Beijing (CNN) -- 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.

Why Bo scandal might not be all bad

"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.

Bo Xilai insider goes public
Inside hotel of murder mystery in China
Bo Xilai investigation continues
What does Bo scandal mean for China?

Inside China's murder mystery hotel

"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.

Most here prefer not to judge right now. We simply watch while the investigation goes on.
Qin, Beijing resident

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.

The rise and fall of China's Bo Xilai

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.

Bo Xilai's 'party boy' son under scrutiny

"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.

Part of complete coverage on
Bo Xilai scandal
September 22, 2013 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Political science professor Yuhua Wang says he's surprised by the severity of the life sentence given to Chinese politician Bo Xilai.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 0611 GMT (1411 HKT)
A charismatic politician, Bo Xilai is said to have made high-profile enemies after launching a crackdown on law and order in Chongqing.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 0546 GMT (1346 HKT)
In a letter to his family, the disgraced Communist Party leader reiterated his innocence but said he expected a lengthy prison sentence.
August 28, 2013 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
CNN Beijing bureau chief Jaime Florcruz compares his experience covering Bo's trial with a similarly explosive story in the early 1980s -- the "Gang of Four" trial.
August 27, 2013 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
While Chinese state media hailed the Bo Xilai trial as a show of "historic transparency," analysts saw its theatrics as part of a high-profile show trial.
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 0829 GMT (1629 HKT)
How did the story of one of China's powerhouse political couples descend into a veritable soap opera of sex, lies, murder, and corruption?
August 27, 2013 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
The trial of Bo Xilai concluded with claims from Bo that his former police chief had a crush on his wife, Gu Kailai, who is serving time for murder.
August 26, 2013 -- Updated 0634 GMT (1434 HKT)
Few political trials can boast the intoxicating mix of sex, murder and exotic meat but Bo Xilai's trial did just that.
August 19, 2013 -- Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT)
The wife of a high-profile Chinese politician found guilty of murder has been described as funny, personable, attractive and charismatic.
August 19, 2013 -- Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT)
The trigger of China's biggest political scandal in a generation, Wang Lijun was once a feared police chief whose crime fighting exploits inspired a TV series.
April 23, 2012 -- Updated 0322 GMT (1122 HKT)
A run-down hotel on the outskirts of Chongqing is the unlikely setting for a murder mystery. CNN's Stan Grant looks inside.