Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained an artist after he said he would create an artwork on the theme of the recent defacing of a public image of President Xi Jinping.
He Guokuang, an outspoken artist and political activist who goes by the nickname Cangying, is being held under criminal detention by police, although his exact location remains unknown, fellow activists told RFA on Wednesday.
He earlier announced via the WeChat social media platform that he would be carrying out an "ink-splashing installation," in a reference to a protest earlier this month in Shanghai in which a woman splashed a poster of President Xi with black ink, but was apparently detained before he could do so.
Fellow rights activist Zhou Li said He has been incommunicado since being summoned by police to "drink tea" on July 12.
"Some of his friends only found out that he was being held under criminal detention on the second or third day after he disappeared," Zhou told RFA. "Apparently, he was in the process of doing an installation that involved splashing ink."
An earlier protest in Shanghai by Dong Yaoqiong, a woman who splashed ink on a public poster of President Xi Jinping before disappearing, has sparked a slew of copycat protests that has prompted the removal of public images of the president in a number of locations across China.
Dong, who hails from the central province of Hunan and used the Twitter handle @feefeefly, had streamed the live video of herself splashing ink on the ruling Chinese Communist Party propaganda poster in protest at "authoritarian tyranny."
In the video, Dong splatters ink across Xi's image on the poster and shouting slogans protesting "persecutory brain control," an allegation some activists have said could be linked to attempts to disorient her through psychiatric medication or technology.
Dong disappeared after reporting a number of uniformed men via her Twitter account, which was later shut down and the video deleted.
Her father, Dong Jianbiao, was later detained by state security police after he posted a video to social media identifying himself, while Beijing-based artist Hua Yong was also detained for questioning and later released, possibly under surveillance.
‘Invited to drink tea’
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Wu Kuiming, who is an acquaintance of He's, said Cangying's installation work frequently focused on themes of politics and human rights.
"Cangying had previously lived in [the provincial capital] Guangzhou for quite a long time before he moved to Dongguan," Wu said. "I don't know whether he was detained in Guangzhou or Dongguan."
"He is an artist who uses his art to express his political opinions and points of view," he said. "Back when China was bidding to host the Olympic Games, he did a naked protest at the bid, so he has that kind of background."
"I don't think he has previously been detained, but he has been invited to drink tea with the state security police," he said.
A source close to Cangying who asked to remain anonymous said his family have yet to hire a lawyer.
Dong's protest, and those that it inspired, has also sparked rumors in political circles of a backlash against a growing personality cult around Xi within the ranks of the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership.
Three days after her disappearance on July 5, unverified copies of directives ordering the removal of all public posters of Xi from public places in Shanghai and Beijing began to circulate on WeChat.
The rumors were fueled by a lack of images of Xi on the front page of Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily on July 9, as well as a report by state news agency Xinhua investigating historical reports of an alleged personality cult around Hua Guofeng, designated successor of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
State media have been instructed by the party's powerful propaganda department not to report or pass on any "rumors" of political forces at work, or face punishment, journalistic sources said.
A media worker who gave only her surname Wang said journalists now receive their instructions verbally from the propaganda department.
"They used to put these directives out in WeChat groups, but now they call down through each level [in the government hierarchy]," Wang said. "They don't want to leave behind a shred of evidence."
Employees who answered the phone at the party's central propaganda department declined requests for an interview on several occasions on Wednesday.
‘Rumors are circulating’
Political commentator Zhang Peng said that while internal opposition to Xi, whose indefinite second term as president was nodded through by the country's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) in March, does exist, there is unlikely to be a major split in the Chinese leadership.
"There are various forces and factions within the party, and none of them should be underestimated," Zhang said. "But people aren't keen to try to oppose Xi right now in political terms, partly because of their families, or even their own skins."
Beijing-based scholar Rong Jian agreed.
"The rumors that are circulating in Beijing right now of a coup, that Xi is on his way out, that we are getting a new leader, etc., don't chime in with reality," Rong said. "This is wishful thinking on people's part, not reality."
"Power in the Communist Party is structured now so as to make clashes between major factions very unlikely," he said.
Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.