Jiang Zemin Upgraded to ‘Dead’
Rumors of former Chinese Communist leader’s death have been censored, but
Chinese Communist Party (CCP), flanked by other top regime leaders and their
wives, at the opening of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. The Chinese internet
is abuzz with rumors of Jiang’s death. (Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images)
The Chinese Internet echo-chamber was still reverberating with the news of
Jiang Zemin’s illness and rumored death last night, despite stifling propaganda
restrictions. And the latest is that the former Communist Party chief is
The Hong Kong broadcaster ATV News reported the news that
Jiang Zemin was dead repeatedly on Wednesday evening, June 6. Other media began
reporting from there, and when the word reached China, people apparently took to
the streets to let off firecrackers.
Usually when rumors about Chinese
officials start to get out of hand, the official press publishes an article or
report refuting the rumors. So far Beijing has stayed silent, however, while
intensifying censorship over discussion of the topic.
ATV’s report stated
merely that staff stationed in Beijing had “obtained news” of Jiang’s death.
They broadcast it hourly from 6:30 p.m. local time.
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Hong Kong broadcaster ATV News
Hong Kong’s Ming Pao repeated the claims from ATV.
The station had an
hour-long program about Jiang’s life scheduled to be broadcast at 9:30 p.m. the
same evening, which was being repeatedly promoted for several hours before air
time, but was not aired.
ATV’s short obituary that went with the news of
Jiang’s death was generally laudatory in tone, something that activists and
ordinary Chinese are sure to take exception to.
Jiang was almost
single-handedly responsible for the largest persecution in recent Chinese
history, that against the Falun Gong spiritual
practice. The panoply of brutal and extralegal techniques expanded in that
campaign have been steadily incorporated into the state’s treatment of all
undesirables over recent years.
Meanwhile, conflicting reports are still
circulating, sometimes in a confusing manner.
Duowei News, a Chinese
media outlet friendly to Chinese officialdom, published an article outright refuting the news. Duowei said
it approached Jiang’s family and high-level Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
officials and “confirmed that the news about Jiang dying from illness is
Duowei also attempted to explain ATV’s programming decision,
saying that ATV decided at 9:15 p.m. to pull the 9:30 p.m. “report” because they
were unable to confirm the news. Nonetheless, ATV continued airing news of
Jiang’s death in their regular hourly updates. Ming Pao repeated ATV’s reports
at 10:30 p.m.
Oddly though, Duowei replaced its original piece with
another titled “Duowei Direct Report: 301 Hospital,” on the same URL and with the same time stamp.
that according to Duowei’s interviews with hospital managers, Jiang has been
going to the 301 Hospital every morning for the last month from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
but never stayed overnight. It is not clear whether hospital staff were coached
before speaking to reporters, which can happen in China when it relates to
sensitive political matters—especially about the communist leaders.
original article that denied Jiang’s death was moved and given a timestamp of five hours
But the information in the articles seemed contradictory.
While the second claimed that Jiang went to hospital every morning, the first
said that, according to a high-level CCP official interviewed by Duowei, “Jiang
had a complication earlier due to being bitten by a mosquito, and he was first
treated in Shanghai, but because of his severe situation he was transferred to
the Beijing 301 Hospital.”
Whatever the contortions of China’s
semi-official press and Hong Kong’s freewheeling broadcasters, Chinese citizens
are taking a load off.
Reports from netizens collected by the Chinese
edition of The Epoch Times showed how there was quickly online chatter about
setting off firecrackers, a Chinese traditional custom of celebration and
driving away evil.
It is difficult to find explicit references connecting
Jiang’s death with celebrations however, since the Chinese censorship apparatus
has gone into overdrive to shut down news–especially
non-officially sanctioned reporting. Even the Chinese word for river, “jiang,”
has been censored.
One forum user was quoted saying: “There are
firecracker noises outside, it must be that the whole country is celebrating
A search for “set off firecrackers” on Sina Weibo (China’s
largest social media site) turned up a series of results, with careful, cryptic
references to death and funerals. For example, some expressed surprise at being
woken up by the sounds of firecrackers in the middle of the night; one user
cursed at being
woken up and wondered whose funeral was being held; and another user
wrote: “Some people are living, but he died, some people died, [while] the
living people set of fire crackers for his death.”