Is Jiang Zemin Dead? Real-time Illustration of News Control in China

Is Jiang Zemin Dead? Real-time Illustration of News Control
in China

By James
Fallows 6 2011, 9:57 AM ET

15371_Jiang-Zemin.jpgFor the past 24+ hours, anyone following various
social-media feeds* about China has seen rumors, then official denials, then
silence, about the possible demise of former president Jiang Zemin, shown in his
prime at right. Jiang would turn 85 next month.

For another time, an
assessment of what Jiang has meant, the differences between him and the current
regime (and the regime about to take control), his family’s role in China, and
all of that. The fascinating part at the moment is the gap between the speed and
back-and-forth of the unauthorized discussion of his condition, and the
ponderousness and opaque nature of official statements. An item two hours ago in
the WSJ’s China Realtime Report illustrates the extreme
heavy-handedness of the news control. For instance: Jiang’s name in Chinese is
江泽民, with
the first character, , being his family name. That character,
, literally means “river" — and in the past few hours, any search for
info about China’s big rivers on Sina Weibo (China’s
Twitter counterpart, the real Twitter being blocked in China) comes up empty. As Josh Chin of the WSJ says:

>>In addition to “river," the company has
also blocked searches for “death" in various iterations as well as “301
Hospital," a reference to the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in
Beijing where top leaders are often treated.

Beyond blocking searches, the service’s human censors have also
been busy hand- deleting posts that mention the former leader.

Chinese microbloggers have employed a variety of tricks in an
apparent attempt to get around the blocks. With Weibo censors blocking searches
the word for “hung" (挂了), a
common Chinese euphemism for death, users have been circulating an image showing
an empty set of clothing hanging out to dry, pants hiked up to chest level the
way Mr. Jiang preferred.<<

I wish Jiang and his family
well. He has been out of power for nearly a decade. The government’s difficulty
in handling even the most basic info about his health is one more illustration
of the unevenness of its emergence as a full-fledged world power. It will be
interesting to see what the government finally says about him, when it
*Another real-time report: I have found the stream of info from
people in my “China" circle, on the week-old Google+, to be a
very useful source of updates here. More on that later too.

UPDATE: This email from Michael Standaert in southern China:

>>More from the rumor mill, via an odd route: Just heard from
a young acquaintance here in Shenzhen over QQ that Internet game operators he
knows have been given notice not to allow any Internet gaming tomorrow, so he
was speculating that an official announcement about Jiang Zemin will come

The main point, again, is the government’s
incredible awkwardness in handling health news about an 84-year-old man who has
been out of power for a decade.


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