Bo's fall brings out his fans - and also the harsh critics
Two events, somewhat related, attracted most comments from the mainland press last week. One was Wen Jiabao's final National People's Congress press conference.
The other was the dismissal of Bo Xilai, the once high-profile Communist Party boss of Chongqing, one of the four provincial-level megacities.
The Communist Party Central Committee's decision to dismiss him was announced on Thursday, the day after Wen's press conference.
Wen's press conference touched upon the recent leadership crisis in Chongqing, which became public after the city's former police chief, Wang Lijun , 'entered' the US consulate in Chengdu in February and stayed overnight.
Wen said the Chongqing authorities must 'seriously' reflect on and draw lessons from the Wang Lijun incident.
Chongqing under Bo was famed for its tough campaign against alleged triad members and corrupt officials, its banning of commercial advertisements on local television and its mass singing of revolutionary 'red songs', and was branded a role model, reminiscent of a seemingly simpler and purer revolutionary past. It was even called the 'red capital city' of the middle and lower classes by Utopia, the country's most famous neo-Maoist website.
There is, however, no way to read the neo-Maoists' views on Bo's downfall. Many mainland leftist websites, including Utopia (wyzxsx.com), Maoflag.net and Redchinacn.com have been shut down temporarily for 'repair work' since Thursday.
However, from many media outlets, the usually nationalistic ones in particular, one can see that the attachment to Bo, or rather his so-called Chongqing model, was obvious. Thursday's Global Times (Chinese edition) ran an editorial praising Bo in its review of the annual NPC session that closed on Wednesday.
Also on Thursday, on V1.cn, an online news television service, Kong Qingdong, a Peking University professor who gained notoriety for his recent scolding of Hongkongers, said that attacks on Chongqing and Bo were nothing but plots by the enemies of the People's Republic of China and only served their vicious purpose to divide up the country.
However, more moderate media also showed sympathy for Bo.
On Caixun.com, a financial information website, a column expressed concern about the Chongqing model's fate in the 'post-Bo era'.
It went on to say that Bo had remained popular among many Chongqing residents 'even though he should be held responsible for Wang Lijun's behaviour and the municipal authorities' reckless campaigns to meddle with the market and to revive ultra-leftist sentiment'.
It reflects not merely an attachment to Bo himself, it said, but a fear of the loss of all the uniqueness in Chongqing's society.
China's reform cannot stop, it said, and there is widespread yearning for greater efforts, just like the one seen from Chongqing.
Following a similar line, a column on 21cn.com, a popular portal owned by China Telecom, said people were wondering how Chongqing would fare after the hasty end to the 'Bo Xilai era', and asking what was going to be Chongqing's 'next stop'.
They have a good reason to do so, because the answers matter not only to Chongqing. Chongqing's future reform will reflect the entire country's next stage of reform.
At the same time, criticism of Bo and his running of Chongqing was also getting harsher. An internet user commenting on People.com.cn, the website of the official People's Daily, called Bo's way 'high-handed government'. And that might have been why Premier Wen reminded people at his press conference of China's nightmarish memories of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution (1966-76), not once, but twice.
A similar view was expressed by Wang Dingding, an economics professor at Peking University.
But when Wang's comment was reposted on People.com.cn, readers' feedback was split. One internet user said: 'Those who are afraid of the Cultural Revolution cannot be members of the masses, but the members of the corrupt officials and the nation's traitors.' However, another said: 'Having mass chorus competitions of red songs [as in Chongqing] resembles the Cultural Revolution. This sort of thing had better be discarded.'