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When Wang made his mad dash to the U.S. consulate, the whisper campaign against Bo gathered force. In Beijing the powers that be, who worried that Bo's populism bordered on demagoguery, seized their chance: a man whose lieutenant had blabbed to the Americans surely could not be promoted in the fall to the Standing Committee. Bo, once touted as a new breed of Chinese ruler, a fitting leader for a resurgent nation, was finished. "Bo Xilai had great ambitions, but he misjudged China," says Wang Kang, a Chongqing businessman who has emerged as a suspiciously knowledgeable source of information on the official Bo investigation. "He was trying to be a second Chairman Mao. Who can tolerate that?"
Ambition in a country that values faceless conformity among its rulers may have been Bo's ultimate sin. But the details surrounding his fall are so sensational, they could hardly be imagined in a Hollywood screenplay, much less the rigid script the Communist Party was following in the months before the leadership transition. Gu stands accused of murdering Heywood, and Bo has been charged with "serious disciplinary violations." Bo Guagua is in hiding in the U.S. The latest unsubstantiated rumors floating around the Internet, which, tellingly, have not been scrubbed by China's scrupulous censors, speculate that Gu may have helped dispatch Heywood with poisoned soup. Foreign media and overseas Chinese groups have reportedly uncovered a global business empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars run by Bo's brothers, Gu's sisters and various cronies.
Clearly, China's central leadership wants to delete Bo from its future, just as it clumsily airbrushed other purged leaders from group photos decades ago. But it must do so without implicating the entire Communist Party. "Absolute power brings absolute corruption," says Guo Yukuan, a Beijing commentator. "It's very common for Chinese officials of every level to be corrupt, and everyone knows this is a cost of the system." Last year China's central bank released a report that estimated that from the mid-1990s through the first half of 2008, up to 18,000 people associated with the state had absconded abroad with the equivalent of nearly $127 billion at today's exchange rate.
Days after publication, the report was removed from the bank's website, but not before Chinese bloggers seized upon it. Some 500 million Chinese are online, and with the official media muzzled by censorship, they are using China's version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, to make themselves heard. "Before, there was only one channel of information in China," says Yao Bo, who each day aggregates the juiciest Bo Xilai rumors he finds online, some of which have proved true. "The Internet is the best gift that God has given China." The cat-and-mouse game between China's censors and its online population can reach comic proportions. Over the past few weeks, Internet searches blocked in China have included Ferrari (the car that Bo Guagua was rumored to have once driven; it turns out he favors other brands like Porsche) and UA898 (the flight Chen Guangcheng was incorrectly rumored to have taken from Beijing into exile to the U.S.).