China’s former president Jiang Zemin made a rare public appearance in Beijing on Sunday, ending speculations that he had died.
Jiang, 85, attended a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, marking the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution that ended the imperial rule of the Qing dynasty.
Speculations about Jiang’s health surfaced in July after he was absent from the leaders' podium during an official event marking the 90th anniversary of China's ruling Communist Party.
Rumors spread rapidly online following a report by Hong Kong's Asia Television, which said Jiang had died from illness.
China's Internet censors deleted posts and blocked searches on the topic and the state-run Xinhua news agency was eventually forced to publish a rare denial, quoting "authoritative sources" as saying the death reports were "pure rumour."
China regards information about the health of its senior leaders, incumbent and retired, as a state secret.
On Sunday, Jiang sat with other top Communist Party officials at a ceremony hosted by current President Hu Jintao and broadcast live on state television.
He looked frail and appeared at times to be tired.Political influence
Analysts said Jiang’s appearance at the ceremony served to not only dispel speculations but also to show his political influence should not be underestimated.
A senior editor of a Chinese Communist Party newspaper told RFA that Jiang "waved and greeted others, and he appeared very old but he can still walk about, which shows his health is all right."
"[H]is appearance also shows that he still has a certain amount of influence on the political stage."
Jiang led China through major changes after the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising before transferring power to President Hu in 2002.
Analysts believe he will have a say in the selection of the next Party Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision-making body, which is due to see major changes next year.
“He wants to redeem the damage from the previous reports and not only prove that his health is good, but also show that he still has things to say,” said Beijing scholar Shi Binhai.
At the meeting Sunday, President Hu called for reunification with Taiwan.
Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and threatens to attack if it declares official independence, even though the island has been governing itself for 60 years and has never lived under communist rule.
"Achieving reunification through peaceful means is what most suits Chinese people's fundamental interests, including Taiwan compatriots," Hu said. Reported by RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.