Sunday September 16, 2012
What has a ‘red Yangtze’ got to do with Xi Jinping?
By PEH SHING HUEI
THE Yangtze River mysteriously turned red. Thousands of alligators strangely surfaced at a lake in Nanjing. An earthquake rocked a border province, killing 81.
To make things worse, a crown prince about to ascend the throne has disappeared.
It could be a dramatic scene from a TV series set in the imperial Middle Kingdom, portending trouble in the empire.
Or it could simply be modern day China’s politics.
As the country prepares for a generational shift in leadership, rumours, omens and superstitions have gone into overdrive.
All phenomena offer clues of trouble afoot, whether natural disasters or man-made struggles.
“Why is the Yangtze red? How is this linked to the alligators? Are these signs of impending disasters?” asked a Netizen on the Baidu website.
Most speculation has centred on heir apparent Xi Jinping (pic), who has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks, since an official event on Sept 1.
The Vice-president, who is slated to succeed Hu Jintao as leader of the Communist Party, cancelled two meetings a week ago, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On Monday, his meeting with the Danish prime minister was called off too.
The official explanation offered nothing more than “normal schedule adjustment”.
Probed further on Tuesday as to whether Xi was still alive, a terse Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman shot back: “Please ask a serious question.”
The Straits Times understands that Xi, 59, injured his back while swimming, and no ulterior motive is suspected behind his diplomatic no-shows.
But the official silence has not stopped Chinese microbloggers and overseas websites from coming up with all kinds of speculation. Some rumours suggest Xi has suffered a mild stroke.
The website cited unnamed sources who said Xi’s vehicle had been sandwiched by two off-road Jeeps and that the leader had passed out during the collision and suffered minor injuries.
But when The Straits Times visited the Zhongnanhai leadership compound last Friday, as Lee met vice premier Li Keqiang, there was no sign of the extra security that could be expected had senior leaders been targeted.
Analysts say these rumours are almost definitely untrue – similar to rampant, but unsubstantiated, talk in March of a coup by sympathisers of Bo when he was sacked. State media Global Times decried the country then as a “republic of rumours”.
“There is no reason for Xi not to meet Hillary or Lee. It’s not like they are the Japanese prime minister,” said Peking University observer Zhang Jian, referring to the escalating dispute between China and Japan.
“It is most likely that Xi suffered a one-off injury. It’s no big deal. I doubt it will affect the leadership transfer.”
As for the blood-red Yangtze, geologists have explained that it is because of massive soil erosion after heavy rain. The surfacing of alligators? Local officials say it was probably because of heavy pollution in the lake. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network