China censors searches for 'Hu Jintao,' the former president removed from congress

Hu's removal may not have been deliberate, but that way it happened showed the extent of Xi's power, analysts say
By RFA Mandarin and Cantonese services
2022.10.24
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China censors searches for 'Hu Jintao,' the former president removed from congress Former Chinese President Hu Jintao, front row second from right, talks to his predecessor as party leader Xi Jinping, right, as he is assisted to leave the hall during the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress of China's ruling Communist Party at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Chinese government censors on Monday limited keyword searches for former president Hu Jintao, who was unceremoniously removed from the ruling Chinese Communist Party congress over the weekend.

Seated at the leaders’ rostrum on Saturday, a confused-looking Hu was physically lifted from his seat by a security guard and firmly escorted past leader Xi Jinping, whom he tried to talk to, and out of the hall.

The incident prompted rampant speculation that Hu's removal was a political statement from Xi and to show the total destruction of Hu's political faction, which is closely linked to the Communist Party Youth League. Xi was later voted in for an unprecedented third five-year term in office, making him the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.  

No discussion of the incident was allowed on Chinese social media platforms after the event, while keyword searches for "Hu Jintao," "Granddad Hu" and "Xi Jinping" were blocked, or only showing very limited results.

A keyword search for "Hu Jintao" on the Weibo social media platform on Monday resulted in just a couple of generic posts from the party congress, which ran from Oct. 16-22 in Beijing, with comments turned off on both.

State news agency Xinhua later tweeted that Hu had turned up to the session despite feeling "unwell," and was escorted out due to his health.

Some messages managed to get around censors for a brief time by referring to Hu as a "former principal" who had been sent out by the current principal.

Clues from photos

Ming Chu-cheng, professor of political science at National Taiwan University, said important clues could be found in news photos of the incident, broadcast by the Spanish-language channel ABC Internacional.

"In the first photo, Hu Jintao is about to open the file [on the desk in front of him], but [outgoing Politburo standing committee member] Li Zhanshu stops him," Ming told a recent discussion forum in Taiwan.

"In the second photo, Li Zhanshu takes the file away from Hu Jintao, who tries to take it back, but Li won't let him."

In the third and fourth photos, party leader Xi Jinping indicates to the security guard that Hu should leave. Hu is escorted out, but tries to talk to Xi on his way out.

"Xi doesn't give him the time of day," Ming said, saying that Xi's behavior was rude according to Chinese culture's veneration of elders. "The leaders ... on either side stay expressionless throughout ... they didn't dare show any expression due to Xi's power."

But he added: "I think it was likely an emergency of some kind [rather than a premeditated gesture target the Youth League faction]."

2022-10-22T053422Z_419634725_RC236X9RQM6B_RTRMADP_3_CHINA-CONGRESS.JPG
Former Chinese president Hu Jintao leaves his seat next to Chinese President Xi Jinping during the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 22, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Wu Guoguang, a senior research scholar at the Center for China Economics and Institutions at Stanford University, agreed that Xi's treatment of Hu was disrespectful.

"Regardless of why he was leaving, the least the leaders on the rostrum could do would be to at least get up, shake hands, and say goodbye," Wu said. "There was a total absence of that etiquette."

"Why do former leaders come at all? Generally, as a platform for them to show unity with the current leader, but ... the [treatment] of Hu Jintao shattered those illusions," he said.

U.S.-based popular science writer Fang Zhouzi said via Twitter that the man who escorted Hu outside the hall was Xi's personal bodyguard.

The man following along behind was named by the Associated Press's Beijing correspondent Dake Kang as Kong Shaoxun, deputy director of the Communist Party's general office, which is in charge of practical arrangements, housing and other services for leaders past and present.

Japanese journalist Akio Yaita, Taipei bureau chief for the Sankei Shimbun, said rumors of a coup attempt were far-fetched. "It's more likely that Hu Jintao had an opinion on the ... amendments to the party charter," he said. "Hu's departure showed that Xi Jinping rules over everything, but also made public contradictions within the party."

After Hu left, the party charter was amended to enshrine Xi Jinping as a "core" party leader.

Protests

Signs of anti-Xi protest were largely confined to overseas cities during the party congress, with 1,000 people turning out in London on Sunday to protest Xi's rule and the beating of a Hong Kong protester by Chinese consular officials in the northern city of Manchester.

A video clip circulating on social media on the evening of Oct. 23, after Xi announced a new leadership line-up packed with his most loyal allies, showed two young women walking through a Shanghai street carrying a banner that read, "We don't want," repeated several times.

The banner appeared to be a reference to the "Bridge Man" banner protest on the eve of the party congress, which called for elections, not leaders, and an end to COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as for Xi Jinping to step down.

As the young women walked past the camera on Xiangyang North Road in Shanghai's Jing'an and Xuhui districts, someone could be heard playing the Internationale -- a tune that played a prominent part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest movement -- on a kazoo.

One of their companions commented: "We've always wanted to do this."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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