Internet buzzes on fate of Wang Lijun
A search for the name Wang Lijun on Sina's wildly popular microblog service returned more than 540,000 hits yesterday, as mainland internet users were allowed to openly discuss scandalous rumours about the former Chongqing police chief.
Reports that Wang tried to defect to the US consulate in Chengdu this week, along with other rumours, have been disseminated and followed by millions of mainland web users keen on collecting as much information as possible about the political scandal and passing it on to their friends via social media outlets.
Users of the Twitter-like service, which has more than 250 million registered users, have marvelled at the wild tales about Wang, such as that he put a gun to the head of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai.
Web users have posted pictures of tight security around the US consulate, political zealots have weighed in with widespread comments, and spectators have followed it all, eagerly awaiting more.
Even those who aren't interested in or familiar with the scandal can see that 'Wang Lijun' is a trending topic on the microblog, as his name is listed under the 'most popular searched' list on the right side of the page.
Michael Anti, a political blogger based in Beijing, called it 'the most tremendous political event that has happened on the mainland in the era of social media'.
'Without microblogs, people wouldn't be discussing this or even believe that it is actually happening,' he said.
'It has also raised new challenges, especially for local governments, of how to react properly to the rapidly evolving medium.'
On Wednesday morning, the Chongqing municipal government's information office posted a statement on its microblog account, saying: 'Due to long-term overwork, a high level of mental stress and physical exhaustion, Vice-Mayor Wang Lijun is currently receiving vacation-style treatment.'
The post was forwarded tens of thousands of times by mainland microbloggers before the office deleted it a few hours later.
But the office then reposted it with an apology saying its removal was 'a mistake by the web editors'.
Users have since latched on to the phrase 'vacation-style treatment', turning it into a popular internet meme and using it to joke that leaders are so thoughtful and generous towards their comrades.
Many others have turned the phrase, applying it various situations, such as: 'School starts tomorrow, and I don't want to go. I need vacation-style treatment.'
A search for the phrase alone returned more than 400,000 microblog results yesterday.
After the rumours began spreading on the Sina microblog site on Tuesday, censors blocked phrases such as 'Wang Lijun', 'Bo Xilai' and 'US consulate'.
With the exception of Bo's name, the bans were soon lifted, a rare move by mainland internet censors when dealing with such a sensitive issue.
All the same, contrasting the relatively unfettered access to the rumours on social media and online portals, traditional state-run media stayed quiet or provided limited coverage of the dramatic incident.
Professor Zhang Ming, who teaches political science at Renmin University in Beijing, said that when officials acknowledge that something has happened, it is less likely to be censored on microblogs.
However, he said, other media formats must still follow strict government rules on what they can publish.
Number of microblog hits yesterday for the phrase 'vacation-style treatment', official term for what is happening to Wang Lijun