Backtrack to the dismissal of Bo Xilai, a top Chinese leader. A few months ago, scandals surrounding Bo began to surface and subsequently led to an explosion of discussion within the Chinese blogging community. The central government attempted to censor these posts one by one, but Netizens proved more than clever enough to detect loopholes. The discussion has yet to end, and Netizens have begun linking one scandal after another to the sack of Bo Xilai. To manage potential risks and control information, the government is stepping up its game with the suspension of 16 websites and the disabling of comment functions on Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo, the two most widely used microblogs in China.
One of the scandals has picked up international attention – the death of British Neil Heywood, found in his hotel room in Chongqing in November of 2011. Chinese authorities initially stated the cause of death as alcohol poisoning, but many Netizens suspect that Haywood was actually poisoned because of his close ties to Bo’s family.
Haywood is suspected to be the connection that helped Bo’s son attend prestigious schools in England. Haywood was not only involved with the Bo family however, but was also a business consultant for many Western companies doing business in China. His connection to both big businesses and the Chinese government has incited public suspicion of Haywood.
The true cause of Haywood’s death remains unknown, and Chinese authorities refuse to advance the investigation. With answers from officials scarce, Netizens are resorting to drawing conclusions of their own. To counter such assertions, the government responded with a three-day suspension of comment functions on the aforementioned Weibos, calling it a crackdown on “spreading rumors.”
This “crackdown” on comments may control information for the short term, but it is (as usual) actually counter-productive for the long term. Zhang Xin, the CEO of SOHO China and an active Sina Weibo Netizen posted that the best way to defuse rumors is “by being public and transparent” because “the more you stop people speaking, the more ‘rumors’ there will be.” But when has single-party China ever been known to be public and transparent?