Beijing’s Rumor Control Cuts Both Ways

By He Qinglian on Apr 11, 2012
Modified version of the Epoch Times Translation

Owing to China’s information blockade, the Bo Xilai debacle has made media of different countries play some “guessing games”. Xinhua’s April 10 announcement pertaining to Bo’s alleged involvement in the death of Neil Heywood momentarily brought all these to a halt.

Already in mid-March the Communist regime made preparations to accuse Bo of three crimes, yet the one related to “path struggle” raised by Wen Jiabao during a March 14 press conference was not used in the Xinhua announcement.

Instead, Bo was said to have “seriously violated discipline” and is now under investigation by the disciplinary committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Bo’s Party posts as member of the Politburo, and member of the CPC Central Committee, have all been suspended. In addition, his wife “Bo-Gu Kalai” (Xinhua added Bo’s name to hers) and their chamberlain Zhang Xiaojun are under homicide investigation for the death of Neil Heywood.

The cruel treatment meted out by Mao during his cleansing campaigns to the family members of his political opponents was said to have troubled Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Deng established a rule for future political [purging] campaigns: there was to be “no [more] physical elimination and no implication of children and relatives.”

Whether it was Hu Yaobang or Zhao Ziyang, they all got to live out their natural lives, and their children and wives were relatively safe.

But this time, Bo’s wife has been implicated with the serious crime of “murdering a foreigner.” True or not, it is enough to lock Gu in dire straits.

Shadows Behind the Curtain
The reason western media has been drawn into a guessing game is that the infighting of the CPC is playing out behind a thick curtain. A lot of media professionals and China experts are quite anxious. It’s not that we don’t have any information at all. We surely can see shadows moving behind the curtain. But we don’t know who the shadows are, not to mention what shadow A said to shadow B.

In this circumstance, the Chinese-style political rumors are quite useful, and some international media have had to swallow their pride and join this guessing game. Whereas in China, anonymous bloggers have been leaking information that “guides public opinion.” For example, Gu Kailai’s involvement in the death of Heywood was first leaked in a microblog (weibo) and caught the attention of international media. After much digging by the media, Gu Kailai is now part of the Bo scandal.

In retrospect, of the various rumors that have circulated since Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. consulate, people now realize that most news were first reported by a particular overseas Chinese dissident media (Boxun) proved to be correct later on. Some information leaked on microblogs proved to be true as well. 
Most of this rumored news were not in favor of Bo Xilai.

Rumors Spread by Beijing
Netizens have finally realized that Beijing has utilized the Internet to leak information against Bo, to take him off the stage, and to prove, by “guiding the public opinion”, Bo and his wife's mastery of secretive political games and their tendency of silencing rivals by killing. Bo himself has always been a hot topic, now he, along with his wife, has almost been shaped into “horned demons” by Internet rumors.

People tend to sympathize with losers in political power struggles, but this time there is not the slightest sympathy for the Bo couples.

We can be 100 percent sure that all the rumors about Neil Heywood were spread by Beijing. 

The evidence is in the April 10 Xinhua announcement, which said: “On Feb. 6, Wang Lijun went to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. While at the Consulate, Wang brought up the Neil Heywood murder case in Nov. 15, 2011. The Public Security Office has taken this matter seriously and put together a special task force to re-investigate this case. With an attitude of digging out the truth, they did the investigation according to law.

“Police revealed that Bo-Gu Kailai—comrade Bo Xilai’s wife—and her son had a close relationship with Heywood but later they turned against each other because of money issues. Heywood’s death was caused by homicide. Bo-Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun—the Bo family’s chamberlain—are major crime suspects.”

Since what Wang Lijun said in the Consulate could only be known to the Consulate staff and CPC insiders who investigated Wang, therefore the rumors could only come from Beijing. 

My guess was proven out by Mingpao, a CPC-backed Hong Kong media, which said in an April 11 report that internal documents with part of the details pertaining to Bo’s involvement in the murder case were communicated to county and ministry level officials on April 10. However, the documents were recalled a day later. Major social media sites were ordered to “prohibit rumors and different opinions.”

In order to escape from the bad press of being embroiled in a power struggle, Beijing chose the Heywood murder case to remove the Bo family.

The Heywood case could of course serve the purpose, it could also provoke the outrage of western journalists, but it is the CPC itself that got hurt the most. Beijing has spent a colossal amount of money on “great external propaganda” to build the images of a “civilized political party” and a “civilized power.” These images were severely tarnished. The “soft power” that the CPC wants to create to win the respect of other countries has gone.

All these rumors were fatal to Bo’s political image. But once the rumors come out of the Pandora’s Box, they hit more than just one person.

Rumor Control
In order to curb the rumor that says, “so and so in the Politburo is in trouble,” CCTV frequently puts out reports about the nine members in the Politburo Standing Committee going on official overseas visits. Even Zhou Yongkang, who has nothing to do with foreign affairs, was sent to a meeting with Indonesian foreign affairs minister Marty Natalegawa on March 23. Chinese netizens call this “electronic clock-in of the nine seniors.”

Today Beijing enjoys seeing the fall of a political enemy brought about by rumors, but at the same time the regime suffers from the fear of lurking dangers that could arise anytime, anywhere. Therefore, Beijing began a serious campaign to fight against rumors at the end of March. It began by arresting the assistant editor of the Stock Market Weekly, Li Delin, and five others, for spreading rumors about military vehicles entering Beijing, and Beijing being in trouble. In the meantime, 16 websites have been shut down for “making up and spreading rumors and for lack of control.”

One particular masterpiece pulled off by the regime in response to netizens’ “rumor inventions” is worth mentioning.

On March 31, Beijing Daily published an article on page 4 by Wang Yunsheng, an assistant professor of the Central Party School. It was titled “How Did the Title of General Secretary [of the CPC] Come About?” One line in the article said, “The general secretary is not an entity that is above the Party Central.” A witty netizen shortened it to: “The General Secretary should not be above the Party Central,” and then published in an overseas Chinese website the article concerned, using that shortened line as the title, and promoted it on Twitter. This line was then interpreted by others as Beijing municipal committee challenging the authority of the Party Central.

When I saw this, I couldn’t believe that Beijing’s Party chief Liu Qi, who has nothing to do with Bo, would put his political career at risk. So I checked the original article and verified that the author has a low political profile. I concluded that this line was merely over-interpreted. 

But the CPC could not bear the aftermath of rumors. On April 5, another article appeared on the front page of Beijing Daily titled, “Words from the General Secretary Should Always Be Remembered.” Its intention was to show that the city of Beijing is no rebel and is loyal to the Party. 

Later Xinhua put up a series of commentaries on “saying no to internet rumors.” 

On the April 9 newscast, CCTV said, “With only a mouse click, some can ruin the stability of our society.” This has since become a laughingstock on the Internet. 

In summary, after the Wang Lijun incident, Internet rumors started flying. Anything negative about Bo Xilai would later be confirmed by state media. Anything negative about the regime would be officially “de-rumored” and the rumor mongers arrested.

Controlling and creating Internet rumors to destroy Bo’s image has been the central strategy in the CPC recent power struggle. But the CPC did not realize one thing: their trick is also destroying their own political legitimacy.

Politics is a public matter that people have the right to participate in. The era of blocking people from taking part in politics, and making them do anything the leaders would please has come to an end.

To allow only rumors beneficial to the regime, and breaking the “Internet rumor chain” with “combined measures” is merely a pipe dream of the CPC.