You Can’t Handle the Truth: Bo Xilai’s Courtroom Performance Wins Fans

A show trial this is not. But is a twist ending in the major blockbuster “The Life of Bo Xilai” in the offing?

The long-awaited trial of Bo Xilai, once a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party, took place Thursday morning, but instead of the promised live broadcast, the proceedings played out over text-based “live tweeting,” which amounted to intermittent updates from the official Weibo account of the Jinan Intermediary People’s Court.

The luckier journalists were reserved chairs inside the courtroom—from which, ironically, they could watch the Weibo account update on-screen, just like the rest of the world. Most remained in the cordoned-off area across the street from the building, while others gave up fighting for proximity and followed the trial from their homes or coffee shops.

For hours, online observers clamored for a video feed or pictures, but it was not until 11:22, over an hour after the trial began, that the court released the first picture from its official Weibo account, an image which was retweeted almost 60,000 times.

The court then released seven long transcripts of trial proceedings during the day, each containing detailed courtroom exchanges among the judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and Bo himself. [Link to the full transcript here (in Chinese).]

The move to publicize the proceedings—perhaps to dispel the impression that this would be a show trial—is unprecedented, and very surprising given the political nature of Bo’s case. The handling of the case also stands in sharp contrast to that of previous cases of high political importance, including the murder trial of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, and Chen Liangyu and Chen Xitong, two other Communist officials charged with corruption.

The day began innocently enough, with many Internet commentators following the first few procedural tweets with virtual yawns. But the armchair commentators fell out of their armchairs when a tweeted transcript of court proceedings showed that Bo Xilai had denied some of the bribery allegations and directly confronted a key witness against him in a tense cross-examination.

Acting more like a judge or a defense attorney than the defendant, Bo Xilai interrogated Xu Ming, a businessman who allegedly gave money to Bo’s wife and son to secure favor with Bo himself. Bo asked twenty-one sharp questions about his personal involvement and knowledge of Xu Ming’s dealings, and Xu mostly answered “No,” confirming Bo’s contention that Xu never gave him money or asked him for favors directly.

@贺江兵 tweeted on Sina Weibo, “I’ve changed my view of him! He is much more gentlemanly than those with power and he really does know the law.”

@廖素珊 tweeted, “I was dumbfounded by the transcripts. Xu Ming kept saying no!” @天道酬勤_冀 agreed, “What a huge twist. The testimony of the prosecutor’s witness became the defense’s testimony. It would be very hard to find him guilty now.”

@戴老鼠 wrote, “What a huge twist, we shall see how this ends… I feel [the prosecutors] have blown it. So far, the material presented by the prosecutors do not seem to prove Bo’s guilt. Instead, Bo and his defense attorneys are quick on their feet, have airtight logic and are able to rebut each allegation on the facts.”

Some are openly speculating about what seemed completely unthinkable just eight hours ago. @钴尔 tweeted, “There is not even one piece of convincing evidence. A not-guilty verdict and the reinstatement to his previous positions are possible.”

@thomasluo骆轶航 tweeted, “This man has remarkable logic, eloquence and memory. As someone who likes smart people, for a moment I almost forgot about his avarice, evilness and ruthlessness.”

However, Bo’s temporary courtroom victory might be fleeting. The trial is likely to go on for at least one more day, and Bo would have to contend with the allegation of misuse of power in dealing with Wang Lijun, his Police Chief in Chongqing whose flight to the American consulate in February 2012 heralded Bo’s political downfall.

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