Beijing, July 7: China on Thursday dismissed reports that retired President Jiang Zemin, who led the country through massive changes after the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement, has died.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted what it called authoritative sources as saying the reports were “pure rumor.”
An official from the State Council Information Office said only, “It's a rumor.” The State Council is China's Cabinet. The official, like many in China, would give only her surname, Li.
The denials follow days of widespread speculation on the Internet that Jiang, 84, had died, fueled by his failure to appear at last Friday's celebration of the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party's founding.
A Hong Kong TV station and Japanese and South Korean media had reported that Jiang had died.
The Internet speculation also sent censors into overdrive to excise the comments.
Searches for “Jiang Zemin” in Chinese or simply “Jiang”—which means “river”—drew warnings on Sina Corp.'s popular Twitter-like service that said the search was illegal. Some posts then began appearing about former leader “River” in English.
The Internet cat-and-mouse game over the possible death of a former leader underscores how secretive China's Communist Party leadership remains—and the difficulties of maintaining that secrecy in a well-wired society.
Jiang led China for a dozen years until transferring power to President Hu Jintao in 2002. AP