Showing posts tagged boxilai

<Looking back on 2013: Five Blocked on Weibo posts I particularly liked from last year>

2013 has personally been an incredibly fun year. I finished grad school, my book was published, and I started working for this neat research lab. Chinese Weibo users though, especially prominent ones, had a particularly rougher time, with increased harassment and censorship by authorities inducing an unfortunate chill on discussion of sensitive topics on the site. Here’s hoping the next year brings a relaxation of such policies: I couldn’t be happier if I had nothing to write about on this blog.

So before we move on to 2014, a look back at five Blocked on Weibo keywords and posts that I particularly enjoyed uncovering and writing about in the past year:

1) Jan 23: 宪法法院 (constitutional court) is blocked during the Southern Weekend censorship controversy.

2) Mar 9: Weibo censors delete post of masked Mao portrait criticizing Beijing air pollution.

3) Jun 4: “The Flower of Freedom” (自由花) is a Cantonese song written by Hong Kong lyricist Thomas Chow to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tienanmen crackdown.

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<Infographic showing Weibo censorship being linked to offline events in Bo Xilai scandal>

In the infographic below, we have collected data from a number of sources, including GreatFire.org, China Digital Times, Blocked on Weibo, and Twitter users to chart the moments when Bo’s name became blocked or unblocked on Weibo. The speculation is that the authorities blocked his name when online conversations got too unpredictable to control and unblocked it when they sought to give netizens the space to criticize Bo. We have lined up those moments with what was taking place offline at the same time, presenting a connection between how real-life political turmoil was often reflected in changes in censorship online. Click to launch the interactive infographic.

Concept, Research, and Authorship: JASON Q. NG
Design: JANE GOWAN and ANDREW HILTS
Development: ANDREW HILTS

Source: The Citizen Lab



打黑 + 薄 (smash the black / dǎhēi + the surname for Bo Xilai / ) is a reference to Bo Xilai’s 2009-2011 campaign to rid the city of Chongqing of organized crime. In Chinese, it’s known as “重庆打黑除恶专项行动” (literally, Chongqing’s fight against illegal activities and elimination of evil forces special operation) and it’s also referred to as the Chongqing gang trials in English.

Why it is blocked: Chongqing is a sprawling major city in China’s interior, home to nearly 30 million people in an area the size of South Carolina. Before Bo Xilai’s arrival in Chongqing as party secretary (the de facto head of the city), organized crime was endemic in the city, with gangs running illegal underground activity and bribing police and government officials at all levels.

When Bo took office, he vowed to tackle organized crime and corruption and gave his police chief, Wang Lijun great latitude in attacking the problem.Thousands were arrested and Bo was celebrated for his seemingly successful triad busting. However, numerous questions have arisen about the way those arrests and convictions were made, with the most notorious being the case of Li Zhuang. Li, a much respected lawyer, defended some of those arrested in the crackdown, earning the wrath of authorities. One of whose clients was forced to falsely testify against him in an obvious frameup, and Li was convicted and imprisoned.

Since then of course, Bo and his police chief have experienced a spectacular fall from grace and the afterglow of busting the triads has been lost amid stories about tortured witnesses and false confessions. It was claimed that Bo and his associates even extorted rivals by threatening to target them next. Bo was recently convicted and sentenced to life in prison for numerous crimes, including those related to his handling of the crackdown in Chongqing, and Wang Lijun was sentenced to 15 years for abuse of power in his role in the campaign.

Note: Searching for 大黑 or 薄 on its own is ok, but if you have both words in your search query, it will be blocked. (The plus is not necessary.)



王雪梅 (Wang Xuemei) is a top legal medical expert in the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and vice-chairman of the Chinese Forensic Medicine Association. She appeared regularly in print and TV programs, in which she has been given the rather unique title of China’s “most beautiful forensic pathologist.” She resigned from the CFMA in Aug 2013, appearing in a YouTube video in which she disputed the autopsy findings in a case where the electrocution of the Beijing university student Ma Yue in 2010 was declared to be an accident (more suspicion arose when ten minutes of surveillance footage were discovered to have been deleted). She said in a statement on Ma’s mother’s Weibo page, “I can’t tolerate that my name, Wang Xuemei, is confused with an organization producing such ridiculous and irresponsible forensic conclusions.”

Why it is blocked: While publicly questioning the conclusions of colleagues, who are prone to political and police pressure, in the case of a student’s death is sensitive enough, western media emphasized the fact that she had also criticized the government’s findings in a much more high-profile death: that of British businessman Neil Heywood. While Chinese courts convicted Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, for poisoning Heywood with cyanide drops, Wang contested this account, declaring in Sept 2012 that based on her review of public documents that Heywood’s death was not consistent with a cyanide poisoning, and that he was perhaps killed for his secret dealings with the Bo family.

Though folks speculated that despite the fact that Wang cited the Ma Yue case as triggering her resignation, the timing of her announcement—just days before the start of Bo Xilai’s trial—may have been intentional and designed to further publicize her doubts regarding Heywood’s death.

According to my tests, Wang’s name was unblocked as recently as Aug 17 (it was the only keyword from the China Chats list to have been found newly blocked between Aug and Sept 2013), and according to GreatFire, it was first detected to be blocked on Aug 30. While it is tempting to attribute the blocking of her name to the lightning rod that is Bo Xilai, an excellent piece from Tea Leaf Nation notes how the Ma Yue case resonated with Weibo users, who applauded Wang for fighting back against yet another apparent medical cover-up, a hot topic especially after the July beating death of a Hunan watermelon seller by chengguan that was officially declared to be caused by a heart attack outraged netizens. The article also notes Wang’s history of casting doubt on official accounts, and her past role as a source of integrity and skeptic of the system no doubt caused her name to be placed on the China Chats sensitive keyword list in the first place.

This post isn’t in my book Blocked on Weibo, which documents the kinds of keywords suppressed on social media in China, but 150 others like it are. You can order online now at your favorite online store or pick it up at your local bookstore. Thanks again for supporting this blog!



政变 (coup d’étatzhèngbiàn) is a sudden, illegal overthrow of a government.

Why it is blocked: The search ban is a recent one, first noticed on Twitter on Tuesday, March 20 at 8:13 PM (Beijing time) (though inklings of potential censorship were hinted at as early as Monday night). This of course is in reaction to the wild rumors that a coup was taking place in Beijing, with the military intervening on Bo Xilai’s behalf to arrest Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Of course, the rumors were just that, rumors. The L.A. Times noted that last week Beijing had ordered 3,300 party cadres home for ideological retraining, thus perhaps explaining the heightened military presence in Beijing these past few days. Chinese history is no stranger to coups; recent examples include the 1927 Communist purge by Chiang Kai-shek and the resolution to the Hundred Days’ Reform in 1898. h/t to an American sinologist living in Beijing. [Status - 3/22/12: blocked]



陈希同 (Chen Xitong) was the former party secretary of Beijing from 1992-95 and mayor from 1983-93, during which time he famously asserted that only two hundred had died during the Tiananmen crackdown. He was dismissed on corruption charges in the mid-90s and was imprisoned for 8 years before being released on medical parole.

Why it is blocked: The parallels between Chen’s downfall and Bo’s are quite interesting. Both were rising stars within the CCP Politburo and mayors of prominent cities. Both were arguably undone by a mixture of arrogance (Bo for “trying to rally public opinion in favor of his now-defunct bid to join the Politburo Standing Committee”; Chen for “boasting that his power was beyond anyone’s reach”), corruption (although Chen’s was demonstrably much less than was initially reported in the mid-90s; in the end, he personally took something in the neighborhood of a $100,000 in bribes, most in the form of gifts—small potatoes considering what others in China have been punished for) and for personal/political reasons. Each of their deputy mayors (who even share the same, albeit common, surname) also played sensational roles in their falls: Wang Lijun sparked Bo’s purge with his visit to the American consulate in Chengdu while Wang Baosen committed suicide under suspicious circumstances, with some claiming his choice to die in Huairou was a sort of clue or signal. Chen’s son was sentenced to prison; Wang’s merely has to suffer the infamy of being known as not owning a Ferrari. [Chen’s block was not triggered by the Bo incident; it was blocked back in January. Status - 1/14/12: blocked; 2/5/12: unblocked; 3/12/12: blocked]

Also of note: The CCP pulled out all the stops to smear Chen, including branding him as “corrupt and decadent.” Newspapers intimated that he had a taste for “entertaining young female television presenters,” and it later came out that he cavorted about with a mistress who was 15 years old. A thinly-veiled roman à clef entitled The Wrath of Heaven about Chen was released then quickly banned in 1997.



薄熙来 (Bo Xilai) was the party secretary (essentially the mayor) of Chongqing from 2007 to 2012. He was the son of Bo Yibo, one of the Eight Elders and a prominent Chinese Communist Party official. Bo Xilai was speculated to be a prime candidate for appointment to the highest governing body in China, the Politburo Standing Committee until he was ousted from him position earlier today.

Why it is NOT blocked: This is a case where what is not blocked is more interesting than what is. Bo Xilai was recently involved in a major controversy when his police chief visited the American consulate in a nearby city, supposedly in a bid to request political asylum after offering to reveal his boss’s corruption to central authorities. Under normal circumstances, one would assume a nervous Internet company would play it safe and block everything associated with the incident (see this list of blocked names of people who were caught up in previous scandals [look under the column “scandal”]), and for a time, the police chief’s name, 王立军 (Wang Lijun), was blocked as was Bo Xilai. However, both were subsequently unblocked and Bo Xilai’s name even became a trending topic on Weibo after his removal was announced. Speculation is that the Chinese leadership ordered Weibo to unblock Bo’s name in order to openly purge him and the cloud hanging over him before the transition to new leadership later this year. [Status - 12/29/11: blocked; 2/5/12: unblocked; 2/27/12, 3/12/12: blocked; 3/15/12: unblocked;3/17: blocked]

Update:Sorry, the fun’s over. As of March 17, Bo Xilai is now blocked from searches and existing posts are being selectively pruned.

A limerick for the fallen Bo:
Young Bo was a man of great morals,
Who was never afraid of a quarrel.
    But his chief of police
    Was given 假期 [pronounced jiàqī]
So now his career? In spiral.