Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rumours persist following Gu Kailai conviction

Retraction & Apology

In the original posting of this article there were references made to Chinese netizens' assertions claiming that the body of a former mistress of Bo Xilai had been used in a Body Worlds exhibition. A statement from lawyers representing Body Worlds refute the accusations made by Chinese netizens and calls them "false and defamatory". 

In an email lawyers representing Gunther von Hagens and Plastination Company said that the implication that the exhibition of plastinated human bodies presented by Plastination Company and Dr. von Hagens and known as Body Worlds includes the plastinated body of Zhang Weijie, the former mistress of Chinese politician Bo Xilai is completely false. 

As such the reports "defames and causes serious injury to Dr. von Hagens and Plastination Company, Inc." the law firm says. tvnewswatch and WantChinaTimes have been asked retract the assertions and print a retraction. In order to avoid litigation certain portions of this article have been removed, however there was no intention to defame either Plastination Company Inc or Dr. von Hagens. The article merely reported what Chinese netizens had speculated, though it is acknowledged that these views had no basis in fact. WantChinaTimes has also edited their original article and given its response here. Other news sites and blogs have also been sent emails demanding retractions including Goldsea

Netizens in China have expressed skepticism surrounding the trial and sentencing of Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, who was this week given a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last November.

Gu Kailai was 'body double'

Many rumours have circulated suggesting that the woman who appeared in court to face the accusations of murder was a body double. Such speculation has prompted Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging service, and Baidu, China’s largest Internet search engine, to block the term tishen [替身, literally “body replacement”].

Some Internet users have circulated a picture showing Gu Kailai, taken some years back, aside that of the woman who appeared in court along with the suggestion that she was a body double from Hebei province. “Gu Kailai’s impostor is 46 year-old Langfang resident Zhao Tianyun,” the text reads above the two pictures. This has again resulted in further censorship of the name Zhao Tianyun.

Such discussion has of course not been aired in China’s media, which have long been the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], something which journalists in China are encouraged, if not obliged, to facilitate [NYT blog]. Meanwhile Hong Kong and Taiwan newspapers have freely debated the topic with at least one paper claiming to have spoken to Gu’s adopted sister who appeared to support the rumours.

According to Taiwan’s Want China Times Gu’s adopted sister Yu Shuqin declared the woman who appeared in court as an impostor. “It doesn’t matter how fat a woman becomes, the shape of her ears will never change,” the report quoted Yu as saying.

Bo's former mistress 'murdered'

It is not the only rumour aired by the paper. In another article the Want China Times points to speculation that an exhibit at a Body Worlds exhibition showed an uncanny likeness to that of a former mistress of Bo Xilai, an accusation Body Worlds refutes.

Zhang Weijie [张伟杰], a former news anchor for Dalian TV, disappeared soon after a confrontation with Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai after apparently becoming pregnant. 

Censorship fuelling rumours

Of course, all this little more than speculation and rumour. But in a country where media is so tightly controlled and where there is a growing distrust in the government, such rumours are common. In fact the censorship and control used to curtail the spread of wild and fanciful stories only gives fuel to the conspiracy theories and adds credibility.

Many netizens in China have expressed the belief that Gu Kailai is already free because of the ‘CCP doppelganger’ appearing in court. And even if it was the ‘real’ Gu, she will soon be free because ‘Death Sentences’ commuted to life imprisonment often facilitate early relaese for medical reasons.

Other rumours circulating are that the murdered British businessman was in fact a spy who worked for MI6 and was killed by Gu Kailai, perhaps with help from internal elements of the CCP.

As for Bo Xilai, many believe he will face a comfortable house arrest, a stay at a CCP private resort, or simply have his party membership revoked [Foreign Policy blog / WSJ blog].

Growing skepticism

It is unsurprising that many young Chinese become skeptical of official propaganda and media reports. Many young Chinese speak good English and are reading foreign news reports which contradict domestic coverage or provide detail censored at home. In addition many netizens are using software and VPNs [Virtual Private Networks] to circumvent China’s strict censorship.

The official report published by Xinhua and carried by other state media stated that “relatives and friends, British Embassy and Consulate officials, media reporters, NPC deputies and CPPCC members and people from all walks of life” attended the court to watch the proceedings [People's Daily forum - Chinese. It failed to point out, however, that the media were hand-picked and that all foreign media were excluded. Furthermore friends and relatives of Neil Heywood were not present, and have not been for the entire two days of proceedings.

Burying truth

The real truth surrounding the murder of Neil Heywood may never be known. The dark history of Gu Kailai, her business dealing and financial affairs will also likely remain hidden from public scrutiny.

Bo Xilai is unlikely to be seen in public again after this sordid affair, along with his right hand man Wang Lijun, the police chief who blew the lid off the murder plot. Wang, who may have had dirty hands in having helped Bo with his anti-corruption purge, has become a scapegoat for bringing the whole affair into the public eye. The truth concerning his involvement can only be guessed at.

What might be learned from the whole saga is that doing business in China can be dangerous - remember Hu Stern? [tvnewswatch: Hu's been bribing who?] It also highlights the dangerous cut throat world of Chinese politics that seems to have changed little in the last 60 years. Power grabs, political positioning, purges and plots were rife throughout Mao’s dictatorship. But the paranoia existing within the inner circle of China’s government is clearly still alive, purging both people and information likely to be a threat to the status quo. People are not the only victims in this continuing battle, so too is truth.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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