The Dalian Modern Museum once boasted exhibits on the achievements that brought renown to the city and its former mayor Bo Xilai. Not any more, with China’s propaganda machine dismantling Bo’s reputation as his trial approaches.
Any references to the one-time political star at the US$24 million museum have disappeared, along with once-prominent displays showcasing signature features of Dalian, which Bo is credited with transforming in the 1990s.
In recent months a hodgepodge of items have instead been on show, among them a gallery of American artwork, display cases of 20th century pipes and stamps, and Inner Mongolian stirrups and jewellery dating back a millennium.
Although some locals still remember him fondly, the makeover is emblematic of the way the ruling Communist Party is scrubbing away the vestiges of the disgraced politician, whose trial on bribery and other charges is scheduled this month.
“There’s this idea of getting rid of everything, the person and the accomplishments,” said Maria Repnikova, an Oxford University researcher into state-media relations in China.
“While it might appear disturbing to many observers, if you look at other historic events it seems like this method has been used in the past.”
Many Chinese know little of the bloody 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen protests, which are not referred to in school textbooks.
Similarly myriad other sensitive events, such as multiple school collapses in a 2008 earthquake that raised suspicions of corruption, are also subject to strict censorship.
Until his downfall, Bo had been praised for transforming Dalian into a development success story during the 1990s, before he moved on to head the provincial government of Liaoning and the national commerce ministry.
In 2007 he moved to Chongqing in the southwest and drew further attention with a “red revival”, exemplified by revolutionary songs and with populist policies that came to be called the “Chongqing model” of development.
But his leftist bent alienated some leaders, and he was brought down after his police chief fled to a US consulate last February with evidence Bo’s wife had killed a British associate, lifting the lid on the scandal.
When he was accused in September of a broad range of “disciplinary violations” by the party, state media pilloried him for having “badly undermined” China’s image.
Two months later his successor said there was “no such thing as a Chongqing model”.
Bo has not been seen in public since March last year, and has had no opportunity to defend himself as his image has been taken apart.
A respected Chinese magazine last week reported that the corruption charges he will face will focus on his time in Dalian – a narrow scope that could help contain the damaging political fallout.
Opened in 2002, it used to display projects linked to Bo, including a champion football team, an international fashion show and a squad of female mounted policewomen, according to an old sign left on the floor.
In May 2011 a visitor wrote on the tourism website Tripadvisor.com that one of the most memorable displays was a luxurious carpet presented to Bo by a foreign official.
But references to the politician or his contributions to Dalian have since vanished.
Calls have also been made in recent months to abolish the women’s mounted police unit.
Now, the museum’s eclectic collections are spread out around a gaping sun-lit atrium that echoes to the chatter of cleaners wiping panels of glass.
However, efforts to undo Bo’s accomplishments may not find fertile ground among locals, some of whom said they still supported him despite the scandal because of the benefits he had brought the city.
“Without Bo Xilai, Dalian would not be what it is today,” said a resident who declined to give his name because of the sensitivity of the topic.
“China from ancient times has had very few clean officials,” he added. “Everyone has pros and cons, but you have to see if he has more pros or more cons.”
Another 58-year-old resident surnamed Li agreed: “If he made mistakes, then he made mistakes. You still cannot forget he good things he did.
“You cannot just erase his positive side.”