The dramatic finale to the corruption trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai drew out his supporters among Chinese netizens on Monday, while more seasoned political analysts said the case shouldn't be mistaken for a genuine criminal trial.
Posts to the official account of the Jinan Intermediate People's Court on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo, which relayed transcripts of proceedings over the past five days, were retweeted tens of the thousands of times, garnering thousands of comments on Monday.
One microblogger from Chongqing, where Bo served as ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary until he was removed from office in March 2012 after his police chief Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and blew the scandal wide open, seemed to suggest the city could buy his freedom.
"OK, so there are 30 million Chongqingers, and if everyone gave one yuan, we could .. .get him returned to us in Chongqing," wrote user @xia00.
"Since he has been away, we've had no high-speed railway, no new housing, and there are traffic jams everywhere ... law and order has got much worse. We all miss him more and more."
User @agugu agreed: "I support Bo, who used to get things done for ordinary people."
A second resident of Chongqing appeared to censor his own comment.
"As a Chongqinger, I'll have to be sad in silence," user @Qi__juemm wrote. "If I express it, I could get harmonized," he added, in a reference to the "harmony" policies governing censorship of China's Internet.
Some weren't sure
While a slew of comments supported the official line that the evidence against Bo was overwhelming, others weren't so sure.
"Why they didn't let the media into the courtroom?...Were the tweets from the Court deleted?...Were his lawyers approved by the government?" wrote user @napiannapianyoucaihua in list of "mysteries" surrounding the Bo trial.
"And [there's the] the lack of free comment on the official live tweets," the user added. "I have noticed that all the pro-Bo comments are being deleted."
Political commentators said the trial gave good dramatic value, but that it was hard to take seriously as a legal process.
Hong Kong lawmaker and political activist Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," said the level of privilege enjoyed by high-ranking Communist Party officials and their families undermined its credibility.
"Look at where Bo Xilai's son is right now," Leung said. "He's at Harvard."
"For [the Party] to be exhorting people to love their country, love the Party, and love socialism is a total joke."
He said theoretical divisions of Party ideologues into "Maoist" and "liberal" were artificial in the context of an elitist Party bound up with huge amounts of wealth and a monopoly on power.
"The so-called left of today is nothing like the left of Mao, and even Mao Zedong himself was a member of the bourgeoisie," Leung said.
"He just had far more share of political power than anyone else, so it's ridiculous for them to be repeating that old song "Continue the Revolution Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat."
But he added, of Bo's supporters: "People always doubt their own abilities and look to a leader to oppose a system seen as being inequitable and wrong."
Not a criminal trial?
Meanwhile, Germany-based veteran dissident Zhang Ying said Bo's was in no sense a genuine criminal trial.
"The Bo Xilai case in essence is a political case," Zhang said. "It's just that the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party have turned it into a so-called criminal case."
"Also, they initially announced six charges against Bo Xilai, but only three were presented at this trial. This is a huge reduction."
He said Bo's retraction of his confession and his not-guilty plea would help any future attempt to overturn the widely expected guilty verdict, paving the way for a comeback, should China's political situation change.
"The so-called villain has turned into the hero," he said. "And then there was all the dramatic value of the romantic entanglement between Wang Lijun and Gu Kailai."
"Then Bo Xilai said 'so, a slap round the face and the guy's a traitor?' It was great theater!"
Bo told the court that a confrontation in which he slapped Wang just before the latter defected to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu hadn't been the motivation behind his police chief's flight on Feb. 6, 2012.
Bo, who spoke volubly in his own defense throughout the five-day trial, linked Wang's flight to his 'secret love' for Bo's wife Gu Kailai, who was handed a suspended death sentence last August for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
'Bad soap opera'
Both Wang and Gu were presented as key witnesses against Bo, who likened the case against him to a 'bad soap opera.'
He ended by thanking the court for letting him fully defend himself.
"I'm trapped deep in the disaster of being in prison," he said. "I'm haunted by all sorts of feelings and all I have left is the remaining time of my life."
The prosecution urged the court to hand down a "severe" punishment, as there was sufficient evidence to prove he gained U.S.$4.3 million through bribes and embezzlement, as well as his abuse of power in interfering with the investigation into Heywood's murder.
"The play isn't over yet, not by a long way," Zhang said. "There is still plenty more to see."
Reported by Tian Yi and Lee Tung for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.