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In Chinese graft trial, surprises in defiance and online access

Bo Xilai faced a two-day trial on charges of abuse of power as a Chinese party leader.

Jinan Intermediate People’s Court)/Associated Press

Bo Xilai faced a two-day trial on charges of abuse of power as a Chinese party leader.

JINAN, China — For months, many in China and abroad had assumed the prosecution of disgraced Communist party leader Bo Xilai would be a mere show trial — predictably scripted, with a predetermined guilty verdict. What they got on Thursday, on the opening day of the trial, was a show indeed.

For the first time in China’s legal history, the trial was relayed online with remarkable openness by the government, which posted updates, photos, and transcripts on a live blog throughout the day. But it was Bo’s unexpectedly vigorous defense — disavowing an earlier confession to bribery and verbally attacking his accusers — that drew the most attention.

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The former rising star of the Communist Party called one witness a ‘‘mad dog’’ and described his testimony as ‘‘the ugly performance of a person selling his soul.’’

Bo dismissed the testimony of his own wife against him as ‘‘very comical, really laughable.’’

Political analysts and many in government remain convinced that party leaders and Bo reached some agreement before the trial about its outcome, saying that, otherwise, authorities would not have proceeded.

What’s unclear is whether Bo’s heated defense was part of that plan or a true surprise borne of his forceful personality and penchant for showmanship.

‘‘His defense was genuinely surprising,’’ said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a political analyst at Chinese University of Hong Kong. But Lam and others say they remain convinced even that was part of a negotiated arrangement with the government.

Both sides got something out of Thursday’s proceedings, the first day of a two-day trial, Lam said.

Bo Xilai had the chance to prove to his still substantial number of backers that he is not taking his prosecution lying down. For its part, the party can point to the vigorous defense it allowed as evidence of the rule of law and a fair trial.

A once-powerful party chief, Bo has been the focus of scandal, political maneuvering, and negotiations for the last year and half. His dramatic fall from grace — sparked in part by the mysterious death of a British businessman — led to the party’s biggest crisis in 30 years and exposed splits among its leaders.

He had not been seen in public since party officials began his political purge. The most widely circulated photo — posted on a microblog newly created by the Jinan court for the trial — showed Bo in a crisp, white shirt standing between two officers. And on his face, a slight smile.

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