The first of the two-day trial of disgraced Chinese Communist party official Bo Xilai was closely followed on—where else?—China’s microblogging platform Sina Weibo, which also happened to be the main source of information about the trial, thanks to an official courtroom feed. While most elements of the trial were carefully stage-managed, it wasn’t exactly the victory parade for China’s ruling politicians that many expected. That’s because of a few surprises:
The official Sina Weibo courtroom feed (link in Chinese; registration required) broadcast transcriptions of what was happening in court, with what appeared to be little or no censoring. ”It was almost an open trial,” said Edgar Yuen, a professor of journalism at United International College in Guangdong.
It has been 17 months since Bo has been taken into custody, and during this time he and the authorities were believed to be hammering out an agreement over what he would admit to in return for a negotiated sentence.
But rather than quietly accept the court’s accusations that he received $3.6 million in bribes, echoing his earlier confession, Bo said he had confessed ”against his will,” under “unjust pressure and coaxing” (paywalls). He called the testimony that his wife, Gu Kailai, made in her earlier murder trial “laughable,” denied owning a villa in Nice and referred to the allegations of the prosecution’s key witness, businessman Tang Xiaolin, as “the ugly performance of a man who has sold his soul.” This won Bo some fans on Sina Weibo.
An official picture (see above) circulated of Bo standing in the courtroom dock was a stunner. Sandwiched between two enormous police guards, the 6″1 defendant looked tiny. Some speculated that towering physiques informed the choice of the two policemen—or even the trial location itself. (The court is in Jinan, in China’s northwestern province of Shandong, a region famed for the height of its population.) ”He already stands out in a crowd, but today these two court cops really are too tall—we finally understand why the trial was arranged in Shandong province,” a blogger called ecxcn wrote on Sina Weibo, as China Real Time reports.
Artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei took the carefully staged image and inserted his grinning, bearded face onto one of the guard’s bodies, then Instagrammed it.
What the hand signals Bo was making from the dock actually meant—and whether they were signals at all—became a topic of intense discussion on Sina Weibo and Twitter. Was he signaling his son? Did he just have an itch? No one knows.
This man stripping his clothes off was just one of the gaggle of Bo supporters—some serious, some more rabble-rousing—who gathered outside the courthouse, displaying petitions, holding up Mao Zedong posters, chanting about the destruction of “American imperialism” (paywall) and partaking of other somewhat disruptive activities.
The complicated case will run all day tomorrow as well, when the court is expected to level two more charges. Bo, meanwhile, is expected to—well, no one actually knows. There may be more surprises still to come.
Jennifer Chiu contributed Chinese-language translation and reporting.