A top ideologue at a flagship political journal under the ruling Chinese Communist Party has hanged himself amid ongoing factional infighting in Beijing's corridors of power, according to Chinese media reports.
Zhu Tiezhi, 56, deputy editor-in-chief of Qiushi journal was found dead in the early hours of June 26 after missing work the previous day, according to the online edition of party mouthpiece the People's Daily.
While the article didn't mention the cause of death, the cutting-edge Caixin media group quoted a friend of Zhu's as saying he had hanged himself in the car park of his office building at around 9.00 p.m. on June 25.
According to the friend, Zhu had suffered from depression, and was gloomy over recent internal ideological fighting between would-be reformists and leftist academics who harked back to Mao-era politics.
Economic reforms instigated by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping after Mao Zedong's death in 1976 are increasingly coming under fire from leftists in the party, it said.
Zhu was a well-known writer of ideological essays, and had previously used his platform in Qiushi to speak out against taking such divisions too far, Caixin said.
Media commentator Jia Ping described Zhu as an "enlightened" member of China's propaganda elite.
"He was an ideologue and a propagandist working within the system," Jia said. "He had fairly liberal views; he believed that the government should take care of the people, for example."
"But his aim was always to protect the party leadership."
Jia said Zhu would make expansive statements about how the party should behave, but would shy away from more direct questions about what his ideas would mean in practice.
"He was never going to be a critic of the regime," he said. "But he got increasingly marginalized in his duties at Qiushi, which is incredibly left-wing."
Zi Su, a former lecturer at the Sichuan Provincial Party School, said many of the more liberal-minded thinkers in the party have been feeling increasingly alienated by the restrictive political atmosphere in recent months.
"Based on [Zhu's] writings and the information we have available, I'd say he committed suicide because of a sense of oppression and pain at being required to act as a mere tool of the party," Zi said.
"This sort of chronic interference [from higher up] makes people lose the will to live," he said.
Media sources told RFA that the party's powerful propaganda department has issued a directive to the country's tightly controlled media, ordering them not to report on Zhu's death, but to use copy only from official sources.
Repeated calls to the editorial department of Qiushi rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Before his death, Zhu had pointed to pressing issues, like rampant official corruption, that needed fixing before ideology, according to Caixin.
"If we are unable to solve real problems, then ideological debates are nothing but empty talk, and this will undermine trust between the party, the government it leads, and the people," Zhu once wrote.
In particular, Zhu had feared losing his unique viewpoint and integrity in the face of ideological campaigns within the party, amid repeated warnings from President Xi Jinping that all party members and government officials must stay on message at all times.
Beijing-based democracy activist Zha Jianguo said Zhu's death was almost certainly due to the current atmosphere in Chinese politics.
"I think there are likely political factors at work here, judging from some of the things he has said in the past," Zha said.
"He wasn't happy with total party control over freedom of expression, and with certain political factions in the party," he said.
"But it's ultimately hard to say whether it was personal or political factors that led to his suicide."
Zhu cut his teeth on the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)-era political journal Hongqi before moving to Qiushi in July 1988, where he gradually rose to management level.
Emergency discussions are under way at Qiushi to make arrangements for Zhu's funeral, Caixin reported.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Gok Man-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.