Theater of the Absurd

Xie Huanchi / Xinhua Press / Corbis

Bo Xilai (C, front) at Jinan Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, Aug. 26, 2013.

It was quite the Chinese opera. The recently concluded trial of fallen princeling-politician Bo Xilai for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power provided sex and scandal, allegations of an ill-gotten French villa and a hunk of rare African beast that the Bo family supposedly feasted on for a month. Via the hyperactive online feed of the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, where Bo was being tried, an eager Chinese public got rare access to edited court proceedings.

The image fashioned by China's government propagandists was of a model of courtroom transparency in which...

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