Remember back in March when the Chinese government tried to hush the scandals surrounding Communist Party Boss Bo Xilai? Well, thanks to the perseverance of free speech advocacy with Netizens at the frontlines, keeping mum was no longer an option on at least one of them. Something had to be done.
In early April, Chinese Netizens couldn’t shut up about Bo Xilai and his connections to Neil Hayward, who was found dead in a hotel room the year before. Although Netizens suspected Bo’s family poisoned the British businessman, the government refused to conduct an advanced investigation, stating that Hayward died from alcohol poisoning. Funny thing was, Bo’s family was directly connected with the death. In fact, it was Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, who murdered Hayward by getting him drunk then slipping him cyanide — as she later confessed in court.
The government’s general rule of thumb has been to keep anything with a whiff of controversy or embarrassment hushed and unexposed. But the Internet and millions of savvy Netizens make maintaining the Great Chinese Firewall tough. Faced with an Internet uproar, the government’s hand was forced on the Hayward case. Late last month, Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was charged with the intentional killing. And on August 20, the court found her guilty, handing down a suspended death sentence. The trial was broadcast on national television for everyone, including the Netizens, to see.
The trial’s integrity remains questionable. Some say that justice will not have been served until Gu is executed. Others say there are many inconsistencies with the court’s final findings, and suspect the guilt goes higher and deeper into the government establishment.
These are the exact criticisms that China needs. Critical cynicism is better than blind belief, so remaining suspicious can only stimulate growth and progress. Without Netizens’ fierce, consistent, and clever push for the truth, the government would have never dealt with the scandal in the first place. From this case on, the table seems to be turning in China’s political atmosphere, with the government starting to listen to the demands of the citizens instead of vice versa. This tells me something that smells a little like democracy is brewing in that cyber realm called the Internet.