Internet censors have pulled the plug off the state-owned Shandong provincial news portal SDnews.com.cn (山东新闻网) after a screengrab of a banner commemorating the death of former president Jiang Zemin (江泽民) began circulating on Sina Weibo, China’s number one microblogging platform. It is unclear if the banner was published live on the homepage of the news portal, or if the screengrab was taken from a tribute mini-site that had been prepared for the event.
What’s clear now is that central government propaganda authorities have slapped down the news portal: its website is no longer accessible and its Weibo account appears to have been strangled. Comments and retweets have disappeared from the page and it is no longer possible to leave comments on posts sent out from the account.
Online rumours circulated two days ago that a massive news was going to be broken on CCTV, the national broadcaster, yesterday morning at 8am. The time came and went, no news was broken, but Shanghaiist noted a flurry of comments on Sina Weibo left by disappointed netizens who said they had woken up especially to hear what earthshattering news it would be.
In Hong Kong, the news was broken by broadcaster ATV which led its news bulletin with a report that the 84-year-old former leader had passed away, citing anonymous sources in Beijing. A feature on the life of Jiang, slotted in at the last minute, did not run at the scheduled 9.30pm timing. [UPDATE: ATV has taken down the news report from its website. (h/t Andrew Lih)]
Rumours that Jiang was unwell have been circulating for some time. The dissident website Boxun reported on June 4 (no doubt the most sensitive date in the political calendar) that a “huge figure was about to die”. A video it posted showed Audi convoys and army personnel outside the compound of Beijing’s 301 Military Hospital — reserved for top Party and military officials. Two days ago, Boxun reported that Jiang had had a cardiac arrest and was on life support, but a later report said Jiang was actually suffering from liver cancer, citing a “more reliable” source, and that he was in Shanghai, not Beijing.
Analysts that the SCMP spoke to said that Beijing had no good reason to embargo the news of the death of Jiang, who was a no-show at the CCP’s recent 90th anniversary celebrations.
Beijing-based dissident Chen Ziming told the paper, “There has been no such thing over the years as the death of a leader being covered up for days before it was made public. It is possible that Jiang is in a vegetative state, but it is unlikely that he has died, given the fact that no official confirmation has been provided.”