The Communist Party’s five-yearly national congress is a carefully planned political event aimed at demonstrating the party’s unity and legitimacy.
But yesterday’s closing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People was a dramatic moment when former top leader Hu Jintao was unexpectedly removed from the venue.
Pictures and video from the meeting showed Hu, 79, sitting prominently at a table at the front of the stage, next to his successor, Xi Jinping, as a staff member approached him.
As they sat down, Hu Jintao seemed to have a brief conversation with the male staff, while Li Zhanshu, a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, who sat on the other side, put his hand on Hu Jintao’s back.
Then, Hu appeared to stand up with the help of the staff, who put his arm around the former leader’s arm, and a second person came over. Hu had a brief conversation with the two and initially seemed reluctant to leave.
He was then lifted from his seat by two people, one holding his arm, while the other party members sitting behind the main table watched.
On the way out, Hu Jintao was seen gesturing to Xi Jinping and saying something to the leader. Then he patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Both Xi and Li appeared to nod; it was unclear whether Xi was speaking.
The official media broke the silence: The circumstances surrounding his departure were unclear, and CNN censored in China when it reported Hu’s departure.
The dramatic moment wasn’t reported on state Chinese media or discussed on Chinese social media, where such conversations are highly restricted – but it sparked a storm of speculation overseas, with many analysts describing it as a public humiliation And possibly a power game.
China’s official news agency Xinhua finally broke its silence on Saturday night, writing on its English-language Twitter account that Hu “has insisted on participating in the closing of the party’s 20th congress, even though he has been taking time to recuperate. Recently.”
“When he was unwell during the meeting, his staff accompanied him to a room next to the meeting venue to rest for his health. Now, he is much better,” Xinhua wrote.
The comment was attributed to a particular reporter from Xinhua, a highly unusual move. Xinhua is the official government news agency, and newswires usually come from government departments rather than independent sources.
Twitter is also banned in China. So far, Xinhua has not released the statement on its website or Chinese social media.