Mystery of Xi Jinping's two weeks in hiding

Was it illness, an assassination attempt...or simply political brinkmanship? 

Beijing

For a fortnight back in September, China’s vice president and anointed supreme leader, Xi Jinping, disappeared. Vanished.

There was not a peep from the missing leader for two weeks, no official mention of his disappearance and no public comment on it other than to say he was ill.

With days to go until the process of the once-in-a-decade leadership transition begins at the Communist Party’s 18th congress, which starts on Thursday, speculation is back about what exactly happened to Mr Xi.

The timing of the disappearance coincided with heightening tensions over what to do with purged former Party star Bo Xilai, and came just ahead of a flare-up with Japan over a chain of remote islands which both Tokyo and Beijing claim to own.

There were rumours he had injured his back swimming, or put his back out playing football, or even been the subject of an assassination attempt. Whatever happened, it was serious enough to force the 59-year-old to cancel meetings in Beijing with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong.

No one knows for sure, but there are a number of theories. The latest has it that his disappearance was a tactical move to force the rest of the leadership to acknowledge that he was prepared to withdraw his candidacy for General Secretary-ship and thus required them to accept that he was indispensable.

This relates to reported tensions between Mr Xi and the current leader, President Hu Jintao.

Businessman Mark Kitto, writing in the magazine Prospect, said there was a meeting in September of the so-called “red second generation” – the sons and daughters of the party’s old guard, the princelings. This group is incredibly powerful, and divided on factional and family lines, and meetings can often become heated, wrote Mr Kitto.

“The meeting turned violent. They went at it hammer and sickle. Xi Jinping tried to calm them down. He put himself physically in the crossfire and unwittingly into the path of a chair as it was thrown across the room. It hit him in the back, injuring him ,” he claimed.

For Steve Tsang, director of the China Police Research Institute at the University of Nottingham, it sounds too much like a story put out by his supporters. “My bet remains that he had suffered from some kind of illness that prevented him from appearing in public without embarrassment,” Mr Tsang said.

“If my assumption is right, then his disappearance did not matter that much. It did not leave major marks on the leadership succession arrangements.”

If it were true that he had withdrawn from sight and threatened to withdraw as a candidate for party leader and president, this would be a sign that he has great political skills and courage. “I remain sceptical that this ever happened or that China was able to get a really dynamic, courageous leader with skills that would make Machiavelli proud,” Mr Tsang said.

“I imagine he was ill because apparently he couldn’t even have his officials agree to him taking a call from Hillary Clinton,” said Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre and a Professor of Chinese Politics at the University of Sydney.

“Running to ground at such a sensitive time doesn’t make sense. If he was ill, as I suspect, we are stuck with the rather depressing conclusion that the party is stuck with him whether he is ill or well, good or bad,” Mr Brown added.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam