China's official media on Thursday rejected recent reports suggesting former president Jiang Zemin had died, describing them as “pure rumour”.
The state-run Xinhua news agency, quoting “authoritative sources”, issued a statement on Thursday saying reports of Mr. Jiang's death in “some overseas media organisations” were untrue, following days of speculation about the 84-year-old former leader's health.
In recent days, rumours about his health had swirled around Chinese websites, with some Hong Kong-based media reporting he had passed away.
On Wednesday, one Hong Kong-based television channel, ATV, citing anonymous sources, reported Mr. Jiang had passed away in Beijing's 301 Military hospital, where he had been reported to have been undergoing treatment.
Xinhua released no further details about Mr. Jiang's health, which has been the focus of much attention following his absence at a grand celebration held to mark the Communist Party of China's 90th anniversary on July 1.
Chinese authorities on Wednesday moved to clamp down on the intense debate on Chinese microblogs about the former leader's health, blocking searches for Mr. Jiang's name on the popular Sina Weibo microblog, which has more than a hundred million users.
A search under his name yielded no results on Wednesday, only displaying a message that the results could not be shown “according to the relevant laws, regulations and policies” -- usually an indicator of blocked terms. Searches for the “301 military hospital” were also blocked, as were searches for any river - Jiang means “river” in Chinese. The searches remained blocked on Thursday.
While newspapers in China did not report on the rumours, several Hong Kong newspaper carried front page stories on Thursday saying Mr. Jiang was “critically ill”.
Mr. Jiang, who served as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China and as president over two five-year terms starting in 1993, had been the subject of similar unfounded rumours about his health last year.
The recent explosion of microblogs in China lent added weight to the speculation on this occasion. The Chinese government, however, does not release information about the health of former leaders, and rarely responds to media speculation about them.
This week's rumours were triggered by his absence from the July 1 celebrations, which were attended by former premiers Li Peng and Zhu Rongji.
Mr. Jiang was given a prominent role during the sixtieth anniversary celebrations of the People's Republic of China in October 2009, seen by some Chinese analysts as a reflection of the considerable influence he continued to wield behind-the-scenes well into his political retirement.