After vanishing for two weeks, China’s Vice President Xi Jinping reappeared in public Saturday, according to witnesses and China’s state-run media, in an apparent attempt to quell swirling rumours about his health.
Xi, who is slated to become China’s new top leader this fall, had not been seen since Sept. 1 and had cancelled several appointments with foreign leaders, spawning theories that he had suffered injury and raising the possibility his health could jeopardise an upcoming leadership transition.
On Saturday morning, Xi arrived at China Agricultural University in Beijing “to attend this year’s National Popularisation of Science Day,” according to a brief statement by the state-run Xinhua News Service
Xinhua released two accompanying pictures of Xi.
In one, Xi is walking outdoors on what appears to be the university’s sunny campus, flanked by other officials, who like him were wearing dark jackets. Xi’s upright posture and a smile in the photo were notable in light of an especially pervasive rumor that Xi had injured his back. The second photo showed him gesturing while talking in front of a red table laid out with corn and plants at the agricultural university.
In recent days, speculation about Xi’s disappearance had ranged from a soccer and swimming-related injuries to an attempted assassination by car crash. Most recently, however, party officials and analysts with close ties to the party have been privately discussing two main possibilities: the back injury or a mild heart attack.
This week, one man — who, like Xi, is part of the group of children of revolutionary leaders, commonly called China’s “princelings” — said Xi’s mother told a concerned visiting princeling that her son was not feeling well but was recovering from an injury to his lower back. The man spoke on condition of anonymity because of the party’s current crackdown on discussions about Xi.
But one eyewitness at Saturday’s event, who was able to manoeuvre within a few feet from Xi, said he looked perfectly fit. “He was very talkative and looked very healthy. I think all those rumours about him will be dashed.”
The man, whose work is connected to the agricultural university, spoke anonymously for fear of angering the government. He said security around Xi was relatively loose, and he was able to take snapshots with his cellphone of Xi. In those photos, Xi also seemed to be walking around the science exhibition with ease.
Heavy online censorship has squelched much of the online discussion in recent days. But Xi reappearance led to a burst of chatter online, with many circumventing the restrictions by using nicknames like “crown prince” to refer to Xi.
An early message on Saturday morning with breaking news about Xi’s reappearance was forwarded to 5,928 netizens within 50 minutes of being posted.
Another campus blogger going by the handle “DangqiHuichang2011” noted, “The library is closed and students have to stay in the dorm. The school is greeting the prince indeed!”
Despite Xi’s reemergence on Saturday, the secrecy and feeling of crisis that had built up around him shows need for greater transparency, many experts said.
In other countries, public disappearances and reappearances like Xi’s would not be the focus of so much attention and rumours, noted Zhang Lifan, a historian who has studied the Communist Party. “It shows the system does need reform.”
In terms of internal politics, while Xi’s disappearance may have caused some worries within the party, it may also have helped him in an indirect way,” Zhang argued. “From the perspective of the political struggles, his disappearance is also a way of showing his importance in China’s political life.”
The appearance on Saturday was just the second mention of Xi by state media this week. On Wednesday, the state-run China News wire service listed Xi as one of several top leaders, including current President Hu Jintao, who passed along condolences after the death of a retired Guangxi region official named Huang Rong.
While designed to quell rumours, Saturday’s appearance sparked a few fresh speculations as well. Some online users dissected Xi’s appearance, questioning for instance why Xi wore a jacket, given the day’s warm and sunny temperature.
“Others just wore their shirt, but he wears a jacket. Is this because he just recovered from serious illness?” asked a microblogger under the handle Gewensen.
“You got people so worried,” tweeted another blogger. “So what were you doing these past few days, Comrade Jinping?”Washington Post
- China: Where in the world is Xi Jinping? (chinadailymail.com)
- China at crossroad: Xi Jinping rumours and “old man” politics (chinadailymail.com)
- Xi Jinping resurfaces in media, but China’s elite face questions (theweek.co.uk)