Reports   |   China

Bo Xilai Scandal: How news breaks in China

Andy Wong/AP

Chinese censors worked overtime to squelch reports of the downfall of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and the arrest of his wife on murder charges. But savvy journalists and Internet users stayed with the story and soon it commanded international headlines. Click through the timeline to see how a tightly censored story still made news in China.

Related reading: “Made in China”
Read the full special report, “Challenged in China”


Show expanded view

Show collapsed view

Nov
15
2011
  • British businessman Neil Heywood found dead in Chongqing hotel room. The official cause of death is “overconsumption of alcohol” and his body is cremated immediately. The case is not publicly known.

    Reuters
Feb
2
2012
  • Chongqing government announces that Police Chief Wang Lijun, a close ally of the powerful municipal Party chief Bo Xilai, has been demoted to vice-mayor.

    AP
Feb
6
2012
  • Wang Lijun enters U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, where he spends the night.
  • Rumors spread on weibo about the visit as passersby at the consulate post reports and photos of activity there and speculate on who the visitor may be. Many Internet users allege that Wang was seeking political asylum. Boxun publishes weibo rumors.

  • It is later revealed that Wang left with Ministry of State Security officials who flew him to Beijing. He then disappears from public view. Neither the U.S. nor Chinese governments confirm the visit.
Feb
7
2012
Feb
8
2012
  • Chongqing press office announces via Xinhua's weibo account that Wang Lijun has been placed on leave and sent for "vacation-style medical therapy" — "Based on information, Deputy Mayor Wang Lijun is, pursuant to agreement, currently undergoing 'vacation-style medical therapy' for long-term work overload, high levels of mental stress, and severe physical indisposition."

    8日上午10点54分,重庆市政府新闻办通过新华网官方微博发布消息,称"据悉,王立军副市长因长期超负荷工作,精神高度紧张,身体严重不适,经同意,现正在接受休假式的治疗。"

    The Guardian »

  • "Vacation-style therapy" quickly becomes a popular meme on weibo.
  • U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirms that Wang Lijun had a meeting at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and says he left "of his own volition."
Feb
9
2012
  • People's Daily confirms that Wang Lijun entered the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and left after one day, and says authorities are investigating the incident.
  • State Council Information Office gives reporting directives to media and websites: "All websites are requested to use only Xinhua and People's Daily materials on the Chongqing Wang Lijun issue. Strictly manage and control columns and forums. Do not report, speculate, comment, or stir up trouble on the issue."
  • On Weibo, deletion of posts referencing Wang Lijun is sporadic and many posts are left alone. Twitter, Twitter »

    Twitter cmphkustatus167646054618112001-full

    Twitter niubistatuses194899833021145088-full
  • Other terms related to Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai are censored by Sina Weibo search.
Feb
15
2012
  • The British Embassy asks Chinese government to investigate Heywood's death, but the link between Heywood, Bo Xilai, and Wang Lijun is still not publicly known.
  • Southern Weekly journalist Chu Chaoxin receives a text message from an unknown sender outlining details of the Heywood murder that Wang reportedly told U.S. consular officials. Some assume the message was sent by an ally of Wang's. Chu posted the message on weibo in March but it was immediately removed. The Guardian »
Feb
17
2012
Feb
21
2012
  • Weibo rumors and media reports, many of which originate from the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, claim Bo Xilai offered his resignation to the Politburo in response to the Wang Lijun scandal.
    The New York Times »
    Apple Daily »
Mar
3
2012
  • Central Propaganda Department issues directives to media and websites: "During the Two Sessions, do not conduct interviews concerning or report on any sudden incidents. Do not hype the Wang Lijun incident."
Mar
7
2012
  • Chongqing businessman Zhang Mingyu detained in Beijing after hinting on weibo that he has additional information about the "jigsaw puzzle" involving Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun. Sydney Morning Herald »
Mar
8
2012
  • Bo Xilai fails to appear for the annual National People's Congress meetings, even though he is a member of the powerful Politburo.
Mar
9
2012
  • Bo Xilai gives a press conference at the NPC and says he "neglected my oversight duties" in handling Wang Lijun but denies that he offered his resignation. This is his last public appearance.
Mar
14
2012
  • Wen Jiabao gives his final annual news conference during the National People's Congress and gives a sharp critique of Bo, which many interpret as marking the end of Bo's political career.
Mar
15
2012
  • Xinhua announces that Bo Xilai has been removed from his post as party secretary of Chongqing and replaced by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, but says the decision was made "a few days earlier." Xinhua releases the news on its weibo account at 10 a.m. Wall Street Journal »
  • The news generates millions of weibo posts speculating about the circumstances. The following day, Bo Xilai-related posts are removed from the major weibo sites and his name is blocked by search engines. Tea Leaf Nation »
  • Weibo posts that spread most quickly after the announcement include jokes and satirical comment about Bo and his circumstances.
  • Boxun posts an unverified story saying that Wang Lijun had given U.S. Consulate evidence of a coup plot that aimed to replace incoming leader Xi Jinping with Bo Xilai. Wall Street Journal »
Mar
19
2012
  • Talk of military vehicles and gunfire in Beijing fuel rumors of a coup led by associates of Bo Xilai. Journalist Li Delin posted on Sina Weibo (to 23,000 followers) and Tencent Weibo (to 375,000 followers) that he had seen military vehicles on streets of Beijing. His tweet on Sina was forwarded more than 200 times in four hours. (Read detailed account of how the coup rumors spread from The Economist)
    Boxun »
    WantChinaTimes »
    Wall Street Journal »
Mar
20
2012
  • A leaked audio recording allegedly documents a heated meeting between Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai in January in which Wang tells his boss he is investigating a crime involving a close relative of Bo's.
Mar
24
2012
  • Journalist Yang Haipeng posts on Weibo a story he had heard from well-connected acquaintances in Chongqing legal world: "Deceased: Guagua's [Bo Xilai's son Bo Guagua] nanny. Nationality: British. Place: Chongqing. Handled by: Wang Lijun. Cause of death: Wang was not allowed to investigate. The body was not preserved and instead directly cremated." Heywood, a personal and business associate of Bo Xilai and his wife, Gu Kailai, was initially misidentified on weibo as a "nanny" or butler for their son Guagua. This is the first mention linking Heywood's death to Wang and Bo Xilai. His post is widely recirculated before it is deleted the next day. Wall Street Journal »

    Screen shot of Yang's post:
    yang-haipeng-screenshot
Mar
25
2012
Mar
26
2012
  • The Wall Street Journal is the first to report that the British government had asked Chinese authorities to investigate Heywood's death and to describe the relationship between Heywood and the Bo family.
  • Subsequently, additional foreign media examine the relationship between Bo, Gu, and Heywood.
  • Chinese weibo users repost the articles and speculate over the relationships and the reasons for Bo's removal from his post. Radio Free Asia »
Mar
27
2012
  • Tencent Weibo begins censoring search results for "Gu Kailai" Screen shot »
Mar
31
2012
Apr
3
2012
  • Weibo services Sina and Tencent are disciplined by authorities and forced to suspend commenting function following coup rumors. Wall Street Journal »
Apr
6
2012
  • People's Daily publishes an editorial titled: "Ensure that the Armed Forces Resolutely Obey the Party Center, the Central Military Commission, and Party Secretary Hu Jintao". Wall Street Journal »
Apr
10
2012
Apr
12
2012
  • Xinhua announces that six people have been detained for spreading rumors online. The report also says authorities deleted 210,000 online posts and shut down 42 websites since mid-March.
  • Utopia, a leftist website that supported Bo Xilai, is forced offline.
Apr
13
2012
  • Newspaper front pages nationwide carry headline: "Conscientiously Follow Party Discipline and National Laws," followed by a People's Daily editorial stating that Party leaders and the masses supported the dismissal of Bo Xilai. Wall Street Journal »
Apr
14
2012
  • Chu Chaoxin posts on Weibo that police have been looking for him to question him about his earlier post on Heywood's murder. The Guardian »
Apr
17
2012
  • State Administration for Radio, Film, and Television issues a directive: "All media must immediately cease broadcasting of and remove audiovisual content about Bo Xilai on the site, including Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang's inspection tour of Chongqing work that Bo hosted. China Digital Times ».
Apr
18
2012
  • U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague confirms to media that Wang Lijun had made allegations about the death of Heywood while at the U.S. Consulate on February 6. Wall Street Journal »
Apr
24
2012
  • Sina Weibo sends a message to all users: "Recently, criminal elements have used Sina Weibo to create and spread malicious political rumors online for no reason, producing a terrible effect on society."
    Twitter »
    CBS News »

    Twitter niubistatuses167646859798654977-full
Apr
25
2012
Jul
26
2012
Aug
9
2012
  • Gu Kailai's trial held. Commenting and forwarding are reported to be disabled on Weibo during the trial. Twitter »

    Twitter MissXQstatus233438050242424832-full
  • Many terms related to the trial are blocked on Sina Weibo search.
Aug
20
2012
  • Gu Kailai given a suspended death sentence and family aide Zhang Xiaojun sentenced to nine years in prison for the murder of Heywood. China Digital Times »
  • Immediately after the verdict is announced, Sina Weibo stops censoring search results for "Gu Kailai." Fei Chang Dao »
Sep
24
2012
  • Wang Lijun is sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power, and bribe-taking."
  • Immediately after the verdict is announced, Tencent Weibo stops censoring searches for Wang Lijun's name.

    From Fei Chang Dao:
Sep
28
2012
  • Late on a Friday evening before a week-long national holiday, Xinhua announces that Bo Xilai has been expelled from the Communist Party and will face criminal charges for "violating Party discipline." The report also notes that Bo "had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women."
  • The report quickly becomes a hot topic on weibo before censorship kicks in. Wall Street Journal »
  • Tests on the search function of Sina Weibo show a long list of keywords relating to Bo Xilai's expulsion that are blocked.
Oct
26
2012
  • Xinhua announces that the Supreme People's Procuratorate has put Bo under investigation for criminal offenses. Wall Street Journal »
  • State Council Information Office issues directives limiting coverage of the investigation of Bo Xilai and requires all media to use only Xinhua copy in reporting the story.
Nov
7
2012
Nov
14
2012
  • The 18th Party Congress is held in Beijing. Xi Jinping is nominated to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party, and a new seven-person Politburo Standing Committee is revealed. The fate of Bo Xilai is unknown.
Feb
21
2013
  • Reuters reports that Bo Xilai has not cooperated with the investigation into his case and has gone on hunger strike and refused to shave in protest. His current whereabouts are not known.
More on
Tags
Published

Like this article? Support our work