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Mystery and Rumor Dominate China in the Time of Bo

Mystery and Rumor Dominate China in the Time of Bo
Photograph by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

On a rooftop bar in Beijing, a twenty-something sips a raspberry Margarita and dishes the latest dirt on the scandal that has gripped China’s capital, if not most of the country. “I’ve heard the police and the military are supporting two different factions [vying for political power],” she says.  “Lots of people who were close to [disgraced former city chief] Bo Xilai are being arrested in Chongqing.” The next evening, a retired party member whispers conspiratorially: “Have you heard? Jiang Zemin has been spending time in Beijing,” referring to the former top leader of China. Jiang lives in Shanghai and, although he retired almost 10 years ago, still is the most powerful player in China’s byzantine politics. “He’s making sure his people are O.K.”

A taxi driver scowls when asked about the intrigue surrounding the upcoming leadership transition and the fate of Bo: “Those who are capable don’t get promoted in China. Those who aren’t, they are the ones who run this country,” he says. “That’s how our system works.” A month earlier, a worried American investment banker called from his office in Shanghai to query a Beijing-based journalist: “I’ve been hearing that there is a coup happening up there and tanks and soldiers are on the street—I know this sounds crazy, but do you see any signs of that at all? My e-mail has been lighting up with worried clients asking about the coup all morning.”