Beijing is insisting that reports of the death of Jiang Zemin are "pure rumor." Xinhua issued a terse denial that the former Chinese President had passed away. A ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson curtly refused to comment on the talk.
The rumors began on Friday when Jiang failed to attend the 90th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, and speculation has been swirling on Sina Weibo, the popular Chinese microblog.
Weibo is doing its part to quell the speculation. As of 4:30pm HKT, the following words have been banned on the site:
• Names of Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao
• The words "breaking news" in Chinese
• "Jia beng" – the honorific used by Chinese to describe the death of an emperor or king
• "Three represents" is also banned. The term refers to the political roadmap drafted by Jiang Zemin
When you search for any of the above terms, you get the following message: "According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the results of this search cannot be displayed."
Interestingly, a number of related terms are still searchable on other top Chinese Internet destinations like Baidu, the search engine giant.
• "River" or "jiang" in Chinese, which sounds like Jiang Zemin's last name
• "Jiang Zemin." Chinese Netizens can still search his name and information related to the former Chinese leader, even access reports about the rumors of his death.
In Hong Kong, broadcast ATV led last night's newscast with a report that Jiang died citing unspecified sources. The report did not mention key details like the time or cause of death. ATV has since issued a statement apologizing to viewers and the Jiang family about the report.
The news is also leading today's local papers with The Standard saying "Jiang 'Critically Ill' and the Apple Daily showing, above the fold, a photo of both Jiang and current president Hu Jintao
Such speculation is unlikely to end anytime soon, unless Jiang Zemin makes a public appearance.