The Chinese Government continues to keep its citizens and the rest of the world in the dark about the health and whereabouts of China's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, who has not been seen in public since 1 September. Yet, wild rumours about Xi's possible fate seem to be overblown.
If Xi was gravely ill or had encountered political problems, which would call into question his anointment as head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the upcoming Party Congress, senior leaders would not be traveling and the leadership would be convening in Beijing. That is standard CCP practice at a time of crisis. Yet Hu Jintao did not cut short his trip to Vladivostok for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; another senior leader, Wu Bangguo, traveled to Iran; and a third high-ranking official has visited Sichuan this week.
Emails from Chinese friends report that there is no sign of heightened security in Beijing, another sign that Chinese leaders are not bracing for a political crisis.
I recall that in 1993 then-Premier Li Peng was not seen in public for seven weeks, leading to similar gossip and rumours of an impending political crisis. In those days, this all took place via word-of-mouth. There was no internet and no Weibo (a Chinese version of Twitter except that the Chinese Government tries to censor Weibo). Today, more than 300 million Chinese have social media accounts. Xi's mysterious disappearance is a hot topic.
The ongoing Xi debacle is one further sign that the contradictions of China's political system are reaching a crescendo. Senior CCP officials, especially those in charge of propaganda and communication, are completely out of touch with reality and the aspirations of Chinese citizens. China is today a vibrant, multi-faceted society in which people discuss, probe, and have opinions. But the Communist Party leadership clings to its rigid and secretive ways, and plays deaf. In the words of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, 'We have told everybody everything.'
Photo by Flickr user Antonio Villaigrosa.