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Chinese Social Media Users React to Bo Xilai’s Sentence

On Sunday, a Chinese court found disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai guilty of the crimes of bribe-taking, embezzlement, and abuse of power, sentencing him to life in prison. It is, at least nominally, the end of an 18-month scandal that saw the formerly high-flying Bo brought low after his right-hand man Wang Lijun tried ...

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On Sunday, a Chinese court found disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai guilty of the crimes of bribe-taking, embezzlement, and abuse of power, sentencing him to life in prison. It is, at least nominally, the end of an 18-month scandal that saw the formerly high-flying Bo brought low after his right-hand man Wang Lijun tried to defect to a U.S. consulate.

For those outside the top reaches of the Chinese government, trying to follow, process, and understand the Bo Xilai affair has often been a frustrating process. Chinese have been asked to accept that Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai murdered a British businessman, that Bo deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars, and that his crimes do not cast doubt on the strength of the Communist Party as a whole. "Why can't there be discussion of the Bo Xilai trial?" asked Sina Weibo user A Flea On Thorny Mountain on Sept. 22, after the verdict was announced. "Ever since ancient times, the winners have been crowned and the losers vilified. Xilai has come to accept that unpleasant fact. What is there that we can't accept?"

At the time of this writing, "Bo Xilai case" is the second-most popular search term on Weibo, behind "Typhoon Usagi," which hit southern China on Sunday. (It is unclear to what degree discussion about Bo is being censored online.) The information released from the microblog of the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, the court where Bo was tried and sentenced, was widely circulated on Sina Weibo: a photo of him in court was forwarded 11,000 times; one of the documents announcing his crimes, including the amount of bribes he purportedly received, was forwarded nearly 22,000 times.

On Sunday, a Chinese court found disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai guilty of the crimes of bribe-taking, embezzlement, and abuse of power, sentencing him to life in prison. It is, at least nominally, the end of an 18-month scandal that saw the formerly high-flying Bo brought low after his right-hand man Wang Lijun tried to defect to a U.S. consulate.

For those outside the top reaches of the Chinese government, trying to follow, process, and understand the Bo Xilai affair has often been a frustrating process

. Chinese have been asked to accept that Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai murdered a British businessman, that Bo deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars, and that his crimes do not cast doubt on the strength of the Communist Party as a whole. "Why can’t there be discussion of the Bo Xilai trial?" asked Sina Weibo user A Flea On Thorny Mountain on Sept. 22, after the verdict was announced. "Ever since ancient times, the winners have been crowned and the losers vilified. Xilai has come to accept that unpleasant fact. What is there that we can’t accept?"

At the time of this writing, "Bo Xilai case" is the second-most popular search term on Weibo, behind "Typhoon Usagi," which hit southern China on Sunday. (It is unclear to what degree discussion about Bo is being censored online.) The information released from the microblog of the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court, the court where Bo was tried and sentenced, was widely circulated on Sina Weibo: a photo of him in court was forwarded 11,000 times; one of the documents announcing his crimes, including the amount of bribes he purportedly received, was forwarded nearly 22,000 times.

A surprising number of Weibo messages have expressed support for Bo. "You all will never know how good and kind Bo Xilai was to Chongqing!" wrote one Weibo user, who goes by the name LLR Wants To Be Khun’s Little Red Umbrella, and who appears in his profile photo looking like a Chinese version of one of the Village People. "The people of Chongqing thank you!" Happy qsch wrote. "Bo Xilai looked very manly today. This kind of charisma will stay in the hearts of Bo supporters. A woman married to this kind of man, accompanying him as he spends his whole life in prison, slowly dying, would be worthwhile."

Still, these messages appear to be in the minority. Far more common is the type of message sent out by many municipal organizations, including a highway traffic brigade in the southeastern city of Qingyuan, and a police station in the ancient Chinese capital of Luoyang. They quoted a modern version of a famous aphorism from the 6th century B.C.E. Taoist philosopher Laozi. One wonders if the expression — which could be considered a Chinese rejoinder to Martin Luther King’s oft-quoted "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice" — reassured anyone.

"The way of justice is vast and fair," the government organizations said, "and the guilty will not escape."

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

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