The Chinese government is moving quickly to censor Internet rumors of an internal coup in Beijing following the high-profile dismissal of top Communist Party leader Bo Xilai last week.
Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, along with other Chinese social media sites, exploded with rumors about a coup earlier this week as users posted photos of tanks and armored cars near the government's high-security compound in central Beijing and claimed to hear gunfire and observe plainclothes and uniformed security officers roaming the streets nearby.
Many of the photos turned out to be older ones of military parade rehearsals, BBC News reported, but have nevertheless sparked a wildfire of conjecture about political instability that the government finds unsettling, particularly after Bo's deposition revealed a rift in the party's leadership.
Government censors have been combing the Internet, removing any posts that make reference to a coup, and searches for Bo Xilai produce no results. It is clear the party leadership would like Bo to quietly fade away.
Bo's fall from grace is a major turning point in an ongoing saga of vigilante cops, ruthless mobsters and corrupt politicians that serves as the origin of the coup rumor. Formerly the party boss in Chongqing, a sprawling, gritty metropolis in China's interior, Bo -- working closely with police chief-turned-deputy mayor Wang Lijun -- became popular for cracking down on the Triad crime syndicate and rooting out corrupt public officials.
Wang and Bo later had a falling-out, with the deputy mayor seeking refuge at the American Consulate in February, fueling rumors that he had uncovered evidence of corruption in the party's Chongqing faction, reaching up to the highest levels, including Bo. Bo quickly turned on his former partner in justice, publicly denouncing him as Wang was whisked away to Beijing for interrogation.
Rumors swirled amongst China's netizens that Wang had uncovered a secret plot by Bo, a Communist Party hardliner, to wrest power from the heir-apparent to the party leadership and designated future president Xi Jinping, a moderate reformer.
Wang's exact whereabouts or current condition remain unknown, but the party's move to purge Bo gives credence to the speculation that Wang had uncovered wrongdoing on Bo's part and highlights the rift between party hardliners and reformers.
Whatever the exact reasons behind Bo's dismissal are, the Chinese government would like to keep it all under wraps as it views any sign of dissent within the party as a threat to its hold on power. In the party's mind, discussion of such things has no place on the Internet.