Speculating on Jiang Zemin

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Speculation on the health of a former leader offers an interesting insight into censorship in China and the insecurities of the Communist Party.

Since earlier today, reports from sources in China say that Internet searches tied to the health of former President Jiang Zemin are being blocked, with some users being greeted with a message saying that the search is illegal.

There has been considerable speculation in recent months over the health of Jiang, 84, talk that was fanned further by his failure to appear publicly during official celebrations last week marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.

The Washington Post notes, for example, that on popular microblog Sina.com that ‘searches were blocked for terms including “301,” the name of the Beijing military hospital where China’s top leaders are treated. Also blocked was Jiang’s name, which means “river” in Chinese, as well as terms like “brain death” and “brain dead.”’

State media so far hasn’t reported on the rumours. However, AP notes that one Hong Kong TV station, citing unnamed sources, reported that Jiang had actually died.

Jiang is still a towering figure in Chinese politics, despite having officially retired long ago, for a number of reasons. For a start, he is widely seen as still wielding considerable influence, including promoting the rise of President Hu Jintao’s likely successor, Xi Jinping.

Jiang spent 13 years in the Communist Party’s top job, taking up the role shortly after the Tiananmen Square crackdown and gradually helping steer China back from international isolation, most notably with the 1997 US-China summit – the first between the two countries in almost a decade.

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