China's cabinet, the State Council, said it will announce some "important news" at 10:00 a.m. local time Thursday, after a Hong Kong television station reported the death of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin.
"We have received news that the former president, Jiang Zemin, has died of illness," said the Cantonese-language report from Asia Television (ATV). "He was 84."
"Jiang presided over the rise of China to an economic superpower," the report said. "He was also the author of the political theory of the Three Represents."
Official media appeared to have been ordered to keep silent on the report, but the State Council announced an "important" news conference for Thursday morning.
An employee who answered the phone at the Beijing People's Liberation Army General Hospital declined to answer questions about Jiang. An employee who answered the phone at the Shanghai Huadong Hospital said they didn't know about the reports.
Soon after the report aired, China's online network of filters and networks appeared to have added Jiang's name to the list of banned and filtered items.
However, a total information blackout seemed unlikely, with Chinese Twitter users still able to pass on links from overseas sites.
"Posted the photo of ATV reporting #Jiangzemin death on Sina Weibo," tweeted user Yolanda Ma, adding that the update was retweeted "286 times within 20 min, before it got censored."
Meanwhile, the Shandong provincial news website also referred to reports of Jiang's death, with a mourning photograph and tribute in somber black and white characters.
Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu said there had been no mention of Jiang on national TV so far, however.
"They didn't report this on the news, nor on the evening current affairs show," Gao said. "If they had, it would have been the top story."
"There has been nothing about this."
Waiting for orders
But a media source in Beijing said that all the major television and radio stations had been warned to expect a change to scheduled programming on Thursday.
And one update to the Sina Weibo microblogging service said top-level Party officials had been warned to return to Beijing and await orders.
Jiang's absence from the leaders' podium during the official celebration of the ruling Communist Party's 90th anniversary on Friday had already sparked widespread speculation about the state of his health.
Former chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association Camoes Tam said he had been called by a number of Hong Kong media organizations earlier in the day to come on news shows as a political commentator to discuss Jiang.
"But apart from ATV they are all standing still and waiting for orders," he said, adding that the report was unlikely to be unfounded.
"I don't think these things come out of a clear blue sky," Tam said.
"There's bound to be a source for it; perhaps he is still being kept alive by life-support machines and they haven't yet turned them off."
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.