The Chinese capital is awash with speculation,
innuendo and rumours of a coup following the most
important political purge in decades, with even some
of the most well-informed officials in the dark
about what comes next.
Since Bo Xilai, one of China’s most powerful
leaders, was removed from his job last Thursday, the
bureaucracy and the public have been on tenterhooks,
awaiting the next twist in the gripping political
Besides a one-line statement on Mr Bo’s dismissal
published late last week, China’s heavily censored
media have not mentioned his name, let alone
provided any clues about what will happen to him.
But the country’s netizens, in particular those
using hard-to-censor Twitter-like microblogs, have
been flooding the internet with information ranging
from highly implausible to apparently authentic.
In one rumour that spread rapidly on Monday night,
a military coup had been launched by Zhou Yongkang,
an ally of Mr Bo’s and the man in charge of China’s
state security apparatus, and gun battles had
erupted in Zhongnanhai, the top leadership compound
in the heart of Beijing.
But when the Financial Times drove past the
compound late on Monday night, all appeared calm and
by Wednesday evening there was no indication that
anything was out of the ordinary.
However, one person with close ties to China’s
security apparatus said Mr Zhou had been ordered not
to make any public appearances or take any
high-level meetings and was “already under some
degree of control”.
The same person said Mr Bo, who was Communist
Party chief of Chongqing until last week, was under
house arrest while his wife had been taken away for
investigation into suspected corruption, a common
charge levelled at senior officials who have lost
out in power struggles.
Although this information could not be immediately
confirmed, documents and audio recordings
circulating on the internet appear to substantiate
the claim that members of Mr Bo’s family were under
investigation for corruption even before his trusted
police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate and
requested asylum in early February.
The documents and recording of a preliminary
government report on the case, which Chinese
officials say appear to be genuine and probably
leaked intentionally, suggested Mr Wang fled after
Mr Bo fired him and tried to arrest him to head off
a corruption investigation.
Jon Huntsman, a former Republican presidential
hopeful and US ambassador to China who met Mr Bo a
number of times, said his demise revealed serious
rifts among the top leadership of the country.
“The splits in the standing committee [over
reform] are as pronounced now as they were during
the  Tiananmen Square period,” Mr Huntsman
said. “Politics in China is a rough and tumble
business. This is an open and public evidence of
this and what happens behind the velvet curtain that
the world never sees.”
Adding to the air of intrigue in the capital, a
report of a fatal car crash on Sunday involving the
son of a top leader and a Ferrari appeared on the
internet but was quickly removed by official
Netizens and one source with close ties to China’s
top leaders said the illegitimate son of a politburo
standing committee member was killed in the crash
and two young women were badly hurt.