But the staged show of unity and support seemed to belie official nervousness that Bo, the son of a revolutionary veteran, had become a hero to many on China’s far left and that his followers might denounce his purge as politically motivated.
Government censors moved quickly to ban Internet search terms related to Bo’s firing; his “Chongqing model”; the arrest of his wife, Gu Kailai; and the mystery surrounding the death, now ruled a homicide, of expatriate British businessman Neil Heywood. Hundreds of thousands of comments, many supportive of Bo, were erased overnight from Chinese news Web sites.
Party leaders “are eager to pacify public opinion as soon as possible,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian. Speaking of Bo, Zhang said: “Right now, a large number of people in China still support him, regarding him as the spiritual leader for the Maoists. Many people on the Internet still defend him. It’s possible that they will be an unstable force for China at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing.”
Many of Bo’s most prominent and normally outspoken “new left” supporters were not answering their telephones Wednesday, and the few who did were reluctant to speak openly.
“I can’t address whether Bo Xilai is the victim of political struggle,” said Zhang Hongliang, an economics professor at Beijing’s Minzu University of China and a new left cheerleader for Bo. “Although you can ask your question freely, I cannot give you my answer freely. I don’t live in a vacuum. Some questions are too sensitive for me to address.”
The sense of unease was heightened by reports of an unrelated riot Tuesday night in Chongqing, a southwestern city of 30 million people where Bo served as party secretary until his removal last month. Witnesses said tens of thousands of people turned out in the streets to protest the merger late last year of their economically struggling district, Wansheng, with the poorer district of Qijiang, battling police armed with electric batons and pepper spray.
The crowds began gathering Tuesday night at least three hours before the official announcement of Bo’s removal from his remaining party positions on the Central Committee and as a member of the 25-person Politburo. The protesters were angry that some of their social welfare, health insurance and pension benefits had been reduced because of the merger with the other district. Bo, during his high-profile 41
2-year tenure as Chongqing party boss, had engendered popular support by addressing problems of economic disparity.