At Bo Xilai’s trial, searching for clues in his first photo in 17 months

August 22, 2013

This picture taken on Aug. 22, 2013, and released by the Jinan Intermediate People's Court's Weibo account shows former Chinese political star Bo Xilai on trial. (AFP PHOTO / JINAN INTERMEDIATE PEOPLE'S COURT)

JINAN, China -- Of all the information released by Chinese authorities Thursday at the trial of fallen senior Communist Party official Bo Xilai, it was the picture of him standing in court that drew most attention.

It was his first public appearance in almost a year and a half, during which time authorities have kept him separated not only from public but from his son, other family members and even his lawyers.

So when the photo of Bo standing in court was posted Thursday morning, on an official microblog account, it spurred much chatter online -- from comments on his shorter haircut to speculation on whether he may have been trying to send some secret hand signal.

Meanwhile, many of the foreign journalists cooped up in a nearby hotel hall became instant practitioners of the dubious art of physiognomy -- drawing all manner of deep conclusions from the enigmatic expression on Bo's face.

The photo of him — released by the Jinan Intermediate Court — was shared more than 20,000 times within the first half-hour on the Chinese social network Weibo. Here are some of the most amusing comments it drew in Jinan and in the blogosphere:

Overheard at the press room in Jinan, near Bo's courthouse:

• "Is it me or did he lose a bit of weight?"
• "A good political purge will do that to you."
• "I like the white shirt. Classic."
• "Would you call a smile or a grin?"
• "I would say smile. Calling it a smirk goes a bit too far, gets too interpretative."
• "Would you say he looks beaten and cooperative or rebellious and ready to stick it to them?"
• "I'd say he looks a little sad, to be honest."

Comments posted on Chinese social media:

• Sibadaboy: “Even standing at defendant’s seat, Bo is looking quite dapper as usual.”
• XinfuQingw: “He looks haggard/weary.”
• BOveYchan: “He's got a nice hair style and a pure white shirt.”
• LingXiao1: “The policemen beside him look so tall and big.”
• Ceek2011: “Old Bo's got a nice orchid fingers.” [A reference to his oddly configured fingers]
• Wang Xiaozhai: “Such a dreary/gloomy scene, he's so pitiful looking.”

William Wan is The Post’s China correspondent based in Beijing. He served previously as a religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent.
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