Even before I reached the news kiosk on the street corner, the seller waved his hand and shouted, "No more newspapers!" It was only mid-morning, and on each of the past few days I had easily bought papers at that spot when I passed it in the afternoon.
"Every paper is sold out?" I asked in disbelief.
"Yes, because every paper carries the news about Bo Xilai," the mid-aged man replied. "Even Legal Daily is sold out."
"Have you sold out all your papers before?" I said.
"Never," he said, "lots of leftovers every day."
I am in Chongqing this week to see my parents. My father, who is recovering from liver surgery, shares a hospital room with two other patients. Each weekday morning, the hospital distributes a free copy of Chongqing Morning News to every room on his floor. However the paper never reached my father's room today, a Wednesday.
The woman in the bed next to my father's offered me the paper her husband had just brought her. On top of the first page is the headline in large, bold font: "CPC Central Committee Decides to Investigate Comrade Bo Xilai's Serious Discipline Violations." Under it, a separate line in much smaller font reads: "Police reinvestigate the death of Neil Heywood in accordance with the law."
"Are you surprised by the news?" I asked the woman, who looked to be in her late forties.
"Not surprised about Bo's treatment, but very surprised by the murder charge on his wife," she told me. She had never heard about Heywood before. "But we ordinary people don't care about politics that much. We just care about our health and issues of daily life." Her husband nodded in agreement.
A while later I went to see my mother who was undergoing tests and observation in the gerontology wing of the same hospital. At the nurses station on her floor, I saw young nurses talking in hushed tones stop in mid sentence as I passed by. In my mother's room, the first words her roommate said to me were "Have you heard it?" by which she meant the involvement of Bo's wife in Heywood's death, not Bo’s removal from his party posts.
In the past week, since my arrival in Chongqing, nine out of ten people I spoke to had not heard of the Heywood case. The breaking of the news today apparently came as a shock.
Two days earlier, a friend who works as a mid-level cadre in a government-run enterprise said that the cadres in his unit have little mood to work. "All are waiting for the situation to get clearer," he said. "Nobody wants to follow the wrong line."
To many Chongqing residents, however, today's news seems to have just brought more confusion. As recently as last week, Chongqing was one of the banned internet words. Whether Party Central is really trying to achieve transparency by the sudden announcement today, or just using it as a new political tactic, the changes are too fast and too spotty to help in the never-ending chase for stability.