Bo Xilai trial: Netizens following proceedings closely on Weibo
CHINESE netizens sat riveted in front of their screens as the long-awaited trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai kicked off in the eastern city of Jinan early on Thursday.
The Jinan Intermediate People's Court in Shandong province started posting live updates, sometimes just a minute apart, on its Twitter-like Sina Weibo account from as early as 8.09am.
Netizens scrutinised pictures of Bo who has not been seen in public since March 2012 and devoured information and new evidence of his alleged misdeeds in one of China's most politically charged trials in decades. He faces charges of accepting bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power.
The number of people following the court’s Weibo jumped from 40,000 in the morning to over 2 million in the late afternoon.
The micro-blogging site was flooded with a range of emotions from sympathy for the 64-year-old former party boss of Chongqing, scepticism about the court process to frustration at the suffocating control of information by authorities.
Pictures of Bo in court, for instance, were posted only about three hours into the trial, prompting some netizens to question the delay.
"Everyone's eagerly awaiting for just one photo. Are the Jinan court staff still learning how to take and upload photos?" investment banker Wang Ran posted on his account.
Some also found humour in the situation, ridiculing the alleged 21.8 million yuan (S$4.6 million) that Bo took in bribes as too little considering his high rank.
A Weibo user "tiantangfeihong" said: "Is that all he took? Shouldn't he be embarrassed? It isn't even fitting for a township party secretary."
A journalist lamented the fact that there was more information to be gathered from Weibo despite the fact that he was at the scene.
"We have come all the way to Jinan just to eat yang rou chuan'er," another posted in response, in reference to lamb kebab, a local favourite.
Bo's appearance, not surprisingly, attracted scrutiny, drawing comments about how he had aged in the past 17 months and looked haggard and thinner. Some noticed how he held his hands together but stuck out the last three fingers of his left hand.
The seemingly innocuous gesture sparked speculation about what Bo could be trying desperately to tell the world.
Some joked he was hinting that he would be released in three years while others said it was simply finger cramp.
There were some who expressed support for the former political high-flier who was mayor and then party boss of the port city of Dalian at one time.
"I feel that he built up Dalian particularly well. No matter how corrupt he might be, he has done real work for the people. There are many officials who are not only corrupt but don't work as well. It's just that they have not been exposed," a Weibo user tweeted.
Screenwriter Quan Yongxian tweeted: "I feel a sudden surge of pity for him, such a high-ranking official standing trial in front of judges who would have shivered at the sight of him in the past.
"But these judges are now ordering him around and shouting at him."