Chongqing Bans Messages, Gatherings

The atmosphere in the southwestern Chinese city is 'very tense.'

Thousands of people participating in the demonstration that led to clashes with riot police in Wansheng district in Chongqing city, April 11, 2012.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, the center of an emerging political scandal, have imposed a ban on messaging and public gatherings following clashes between police and protesters in a coal-mining district of the city, residents said Friday.

Police notices implementing five security measures including a ban on "sending out" text messages and online messages had been pasted along all the streets, according to a resident of Wansheng district surnamed Chen.

"[They ban] abnormal gatherings, demonstrations or attacks on government buildings, any blocking of roads, distribution of leaflets or sending out [information] via text message or Internet messaging," Chen said.

"I think that for things to return to normal, the armed police will have to leave, and then people will actually want to reopen for business."

Local television stations were repeatedly airing the government's measures aimed at appeasing the residents of Wansheng following days of smashing and looting, which were also accompanied by peaceful demonstrations attended by thousands of people.

Chen said the atmosphere was still "extremely tense" in the city, which recently announced its full support for the ruling Communist Party's decision to remove its former leader Bo Xilai from office and investigate him for "serious discipline violations."

'Not connected' to Bo

Chongqing officials told the BBC that there is no connection between the Wansheng unrest and the political scandal surrounding Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, who has been named as a suspect in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last November.

Bo's ouster as Chongqing Party secretary came just weeks after his former second-in-command and police chief Wang Lijun sought asylum in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February, creating an international stir and putting China's usually secretive political processes in the global spotlight.

A Chongqing real estate employee surnamed Li said she had no strong feelings either way about his removal. But she added, "The streets were a lot safer during his time in office, and that's a fact."

Meanwhile, a resident surnamed Yu said the political scandal had brought "disaster" to Chongqing.

"As Party secretary, he did quite a lot for the people," she said of Bo. "I don't pretend to understand what's really going on behind the scenes, but they didn't do a bad job of developing Chongqing, and people are pretty satisfied with that."

"The thing they are unhappy about is that prices just keep rising, while people's wages are still low."

'Very tense'

Back in Wansheng, Chen said local people remain highly suspicious of the government and police.

"Things are still very tense here, and people don't dare to go out," he said. "If you go out you run the risk of being detained for no reason."

"The schools are all open but the parents don't dare go out on the school run."

Wansheng residents are angry because they stand to lose valuable state pension subsidies in the merger with a neighboring district and say their ability to sustain a basic existence is now threatened.

Chen said that order was still far from restored in the wake of mass unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"You can't really say they have regained total control," Chen said. "There are still a few people going out smashing stuff up in spite of the police."

"They managed to catch a few of them."

The authorities appear keen for a return to normal life in the district, and have been tight-lipped about the disturbances there, Chen said.

"The armed police have been telling people to open up shop again," he said. "They say that if their premises are smashed and looted, the government will compensate them."


The city's official newspaper, the Chongqing Daily News, ran a series of articles and commentaries on Bo Xilai on Thursday, vowing to give a full and clear explanation of the Wang Lijun affair to officials and the people.

Official media have also sought to separate Bo's investigation by the Party's discipline inspection commission from his wife's investigation in the Heywood murder case.

"Heywood's murder was the personal act of Gu Kailai and others," the paper said.

"People should be clear about what is fact and what is fiction, and not allow themselves to be swayed by rumors," it said.

"They should wholeheartedly support this correct decision by the central Party leadership."

National anti-rumor campaign

Beijing has launched a nationwide anti-rumor campaign since Bo's removal from his Chongqing post, which has led to the deletion of hundreds of thousands of microblog posts and the detention of more than 1,000 people nationwide in recent weeks, according to official media.

But critics say the campaign reveals more about the cracks appearing behind the scenes at Party headquarters in Zhongnanhai than it does about those using the Internet to try to find out what is going on.

A former top Communist Party aide hit out on Friday at the campaign, calling for greater openness as a more effective remedy for rampant online speculation.

"This latest campaign against rumors has a unique characteristic: it is aimed at rumors surrounding an important matter that must be kept secret," wrote Bao Tong, a former aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang.

"This is very odd. They pursue the rumors, and yet they don’t clarify the situation, but keep it as a skeleton in the closet," wrote Bao, who has been held under house arrest at his Beijing home since his release from a seven-year jail term in the wake of Zhao's fall from power.

"Controls on information will inevitably give rise to rumor," he wrote in an essay broadcast by RFA's Mandarin service.

"That’s why I say that the anti-rumor campaign in the wake of the case against Bo Xilai is highly unlikely to pay off."

Rumor mill

The Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, pledged support for the central leadership's decision to investigate Bo and Gu after the former's removal from high-ranking Party posts earlier this week.

In the third such article in as many days, the paper said the decision had won the broad-based support of Party members. "The Chinese Communist Party will never allow the existence of special Party members who are above the law of the land and the Party's own internal discipline," the paper said.

But Hong Kong current affairs commentator Poon Siu-to said that it was possible to surmise what was going on behind the scenes at Zhongnanhai by assuming that the opposite of official media commentaries was true.

"Whoever controls public opinion will regard all opposing views as rumor," Poon said. "The Chinese Communist Party has been carrying out its internal power struggles in this manner for many years."

"The more they say that they support the central leadership, the more that should tell you that actually there is a fierce power struggle going on between various ideological divisions in the Party leadership," he said.

Reported by Lin Jing and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service and by Tang Qiwei for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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