The trial of Bo Xilai, former member of China’s ruling Politburo, started at the Intermediate People’s Court in the northern city of Jinan yesterday. Bo, who was once a rising political star, is charged with bribery, corruption and abuse of power. The case is probably the most sensitive trial involving a senior Chinese official since the televised show-trial of the Gang of Four which signifies the end of the Cultural Revolution. And yesterday’s courtroom drama definitely didn’t disappoint the audience.
Bo is widely considered as one of China’s most charismatic politician in recent years. He has accumulated a large number of fans in Dalian and Chongqing, the two cities he used to govern. His popularity among the ordinary people is partly why his case has been so controversial and sensitive.
Probably in an attempt to completely crash Bo’s public image and to establish the legitimacy of his trial, Chinese authorities unprecedentedly allow the Jinan court to live-tweet real-time occurrences in the courtroom to millions of netizens on Weibo, China’s leading microblog platform. Sadly, the open trial achieved exactly the opposite so far.
In white shirt and black pants, Bo, with perfectly trimmed black hair, appeared in court in good spirit. Judging from his performance later, he hasn’t lost any of his sharpness as a top politician. Based on detailed trial proceedings posted online by the court, Bo has rejected all accusations.
He called Dalian businessman Tang Xiaolin who allegedly bribed him for business gain a “mad dog” who “sold his soul.” He dismissed earlier confessions to taking bribes, saying that he was forced to concede. Later, he called his wife’s testimony to the bribery allegations “ridiculous” and “laughable.” And in a last act after another Dalian businessman Xu Ming testified against him, Bo asked Xu 21 very sharp questions and confirmed that he, himself, has never directly received money from Xu or gave Xu favor.
Many netizens, after reading the live feed of trail proceedings, thought that Bo outperformed both his lawyers and the prosecutor, successfully presenting himself as a logical, eloquent and capable official. For example, netizen 朱一律师, a lawyer himself, commented: “Bo is very skillful at asking questions, much better than a real lawyer like me. Bravo!”
The open trial seems to be a boost to Bo’s public image. Netizen 老K7155 commented: “Though Bo has lost all his powers, he is unquestionably a person of great abilities and ambitions.” Another netizen manyli commented: “No wonder he was so close to the top of power in China.” Netizen Mcc_微晴 commented: “Even as a defendant being trialed, Bo still surprises us with his eloquence, wit and daring spirit. There will be no other official like him any more!”
Even netizens who disapprove his style of governance now applaud for his courtroom performance. Neitzen 评论员文章指出 commented: “I very much dislike his Chongqing model. But now I have to say he is truly a heroic figure!”
What most people expected to be a carefully staged show-trial now turns into probably the best political reality show of the year. And Chinese netizens are enjoying the show. Many equal Bo’s vigorous self-defense with classic court scenes in Hollywood movies.
“The series of negative answers by Xu to Bo’s questions are epic! It’s like watching a classic movie.” One netizen Dannyblue_W commented. “Greatest contemporary film script. Ultimate fictionality.” Another netizen 伊优迷 commented.
Many speculated that the move to allow an open trial is to use Bo’s case as an example of improvement in the country’s rule of law and of the government’s determination to fight corruption. If that’s the plan, Beijing needs to seriously re-consider its strategy.
In response to the news that Bo has allegedly taken over RMB 20 million yuan in bribes, many netizens expressed surprise at how little money was involved. “Judging by the amount of bribes Bo took, he is really a clean official by Chinese standard.” Many netizens agreed.
In the eyes of many people, Bo is the better among a lot of worse. Netizen lulu0626 commented: “There are a ton of officials who are more corrupt than Bo. He fell only because Beijing wants to use him as a warming to the others.” Another netizen 一头小pig commented: “Which official in China isn’t corrupt? At least Bo has been working hard to improve people’s livelihood. I, for one, will forever be grateful to him in the heart.”
No one knows whether Bo went completely off script or his defiance is part of the plan. Whichever scenario it is, netizens’ reactions so far aren’t what Beijing expected.
To eradicate the influence of Bo’s very well received courtroom performance, many official Chinese media uniformly published an article titled “Crook and sophistry, the last act of craziness by a hypocrite” right after the first day of trial. In the article, Bo was described as a typical corrupt official who don’t easily give in, and a criminal who mistakenly think that he can play tricks at a court of justice.
“The actor stayed off script. So the playwright and the director are now starting to worry.” One netizen 小K黄狐 responded to the article.