China’s new top leader, Xi Jinping (习近平), seems settled to have settled into the routine of running the world’s most populous country. Just three months ago, however, China’s soon-to-be head honcho was missing for an astonishing two weeks. As China made no attempt to publicly explain Xi Jinping’s absence, speculation ran wild through September, exposing a serious risk and downside to the country’s secretive political system. Had Xi had a stroke? A heart attack? Had his car been attacked by Bo Xilai loyalists?
Xi’s gap this fall has slipped like a memory loss into the unregarded past. There have since been uncorroborated reports that he in fact was hit with a chair during a brawl among Party elites. But the fact is we still don’t know.
Now, apparently, China is experiencing yet another mysterious high-level disappearance. And this time the missing person is the Party’s newly-appointed chief of propaganda, Liu Qibao (刘奇葆).
Formerly the top Party leader in China’s western Sichuan province, Liu was formally appointed head of the Central Propaganda Department last month. He replaced Liu Yunshan (刘云山), who is now on the Politburo Standing Committee.
On November 27, Liu Qibao made his first public appearance as propaganda department chief, addressing a meeting of the Chinese Ballad Singers Association. According to the official People’s Daily, Liu urged his audience to “make the lives of ordinary people the subject of their works.”
The same day, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that Liu Qibao would make official visits to North Korea, Laos and Vietnam from November 29 to December 2.
But Hong Kong media reported on Friday that Liu had not made the trip as planned, and there was no official explanation from China about the sudden change.
Four days later there is still no news of Liu Qibao, the man who now oversees China’s news machine.
Searches for “Liu Qibao” on Sina Weibo return no results after November 29, though no message indicates a keyword block on his name. The last result is a post including among other unrelated notes that Liu Qibao will not be going overseas “due to work.”
One Sina Weibo user commented: “Liu Qibao has been replaced on the overseas trip by [National People's Congress Vice Chairman] Li Jianguo. That’s really strange!”
“Where has Liu gone?” another queried.
“Li Jianguo is going in his place. I’ll bet he’s sick,” another ventured a guess.
This could, of course, be nothing. But that just leaves behind another great big question: if it’s nothing why does China say nothing?