China’s “trial of the century” in the sweltering, eastern coastal city of Jinan has been hailed by authorities as “open” proceedings, but the atmosphere is hardly welcoming.
Before my arrival in Jinan, the hotel I had been booked into cancelled my reservation; management said it had been told not to let non-Chinese journalists stay.
Foreign reporters are not allowed to enter the courtroom, and instead must rely on carefully stage-managed briefings on the court’s official microblog on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of the banned social networking website Twitter.
So it was by this means that we learned that Bo Xilai was taken into court at 8.47 am local time, that there were no empty seats in the court, and that five Bo family members and 19 Chinese journalists were among the 110 observers.
Outside the courtroom, most people in Jinan did not seem aware of the trial, though some of Bo’s supporters came to wave photographs of modern China’s founding father, Mao Zedong, the icon often invoked by Bo during his populist rule in Chongqing in southwestern China. Others sang songs and chanted his name before being removed by police.
There were also many petitioners there, using the high-profile occasion to try to get someone, anyone, to hear their complaints.
One middle-aged man said his wife and son had been taken away that day after they complained about a delay in payment for a government construction contract. He seemed desperate and left as plain-clothes police gathered around us.