China Cracks Down on Weibo Discussions of Bo Xilai

By: Qichen Zhang on 28 March 2012

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese government is cracking down on Weibo again, this time in a more direct measure to prevent outlash against the removal of Chinese politican Bo Xilai from his Party position as secretary of Chongqing municipality. Bo, who was ousted from his position last week as the Communist Party sought to eliminate his populist form of politics, has been the center of much netizen discussion on the country's most popular microblogging site. Immediately following the announcement of Bo's removal, Weibo exploded with millions of tweets that speculated the reasons for his downfall. Censors were quick to remove the tweets in the day following the statement, however. Currently, searches for "Bo Xilai" on the site produce no results.

After Bo's ousting, rumors of a Chinese coup circulated on the site. Shanghaiist published an aggregation of media commentary that discussed why the rumors proliferated on Weibo. Said Mark MacKinnon of The Globe, "One of the truths of reporting on China is that few journalists, maybe none, can honestly claim to know what’s going on inside the upper echelons of power." The rumors were further fueled by reports that military forces fired shots and sent tanks into the center of Beijing, within the Forbidden City. On March 19, Sina Weibo, QQ, and Baidu all reported "abnormalities" happening in the city.

Despite the crackdown, netizens on the site have come up with clever ways of circumventing the search restrictions on Weibo. For example, users have begun searching for "buhou" instead of "Bo," which is a play on his last name in Chinese characters. But even though microbloggers are trying to get the facts, they may be hard to come by, as the Communist Party will most likely increasingly restrict information to the public as they prepare for this year's upcoming leadership transition. The political atmosphere is tense, full of talk about infighting, purges and power struggles at the top as China's Communist Party prepares for its once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle later this year. "The Communist Party likes to portray itself as unified, in control—a competent, managerial outfit guiding China towards renewed greatness," said BBC's Damian Grammaticus. "It had wanted to show it can handle a leadership change within its ranks smoothly, but now that looks to be far from the case."