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What has a 'red Yangtze' got to do with Xi?

Publication Date : 12-09-2012


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, who has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks, since an official event on September 1.

The Vice president, who is slated to succeed Mr Hu Jintao as leader of the Communist Party, cancelled two meetings last week, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US 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 yesterday 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. Others, that he has suffered a minor heart attack.

Boxun, a well-known Chinese website based in the US, went so far as to say that he had been part of an assassination attempt by supporters of Bo Xilai.

Bo, former chief of southwest Chongqing, was purged in March after his top aide attempted to defect to the US and his wife was caught for murder.

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.

It added that anti-corruption chief He Guoqiang, another member of the top nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, was also injured in a similar incident.

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 Mr 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.


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