A high-ranking ruling Chinese Communist Party leader in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing has died in murky circumstances, RFA has learned.
Ren Xuefeng was deputy party secretary of Chongqing, a city of more than 30 million residents that reports directly to the leadership in Beijing, when he died at the age of 54, official media reported on Sunday.
Ren had previously served as deputy party secretary in the northern port city of Tianjin, and in the southern province of Guangdong.
He died after “medical attempts to save him were unsuccessful,” the Chongqing Hualong news website reported.
Ren’s death came after he attended a city-level leadership meeting for the study of the political ideology of President Xi Jinping, the state-run Chongqing Daily newspaper reported on Oct. 26.
The meeting was his last public appearance.
His remains were taken for cremation at the Changping District Crematorium in Beijing, some nine hours after his death, sparking widespread speculation.
Reports indicated that Ren died on Oct. 31, the closing day of the fourth plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee in Beijing.
The use of the Changping Crematorium has also sparked interest in the absence of further detail from the authorities, since Ren’s rank as an alternate member of the Central Committee should theoretically mean he would be cremated at Beijing’s Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery where Chinese leaders are typically laid to rest, rather than in a surburban facility.
Fall from hotel?
A political source in Chongqing surnamed Zhao said he had been told that the “No. 3” official in the city had committed suicide.
“Actually I knew that, but there haven’t been many details,” Zhao said. “I had two people tell me yesterday that he fell from the Jingxi Hotel [the plenary session venue in Beijing].”
“It’s hard to say what was going on with the power struggles there,” he said. “He was fairly young compared with the other Chongqing leaders.”
Independent scholar Wu Zuolai said Ren’s death was likely a suicide linked to a behind-the-scenes political purge by Xi, who continues to consolidate his power at the helm of the ruling party.
“This is quite something, because this guy came up through the ranks under the auspices of [former Politburo standing committee member] Li Ruihuan,” Wu said. “He jumped to his death from the roof of the hotel, right there, during the big meeting,” he said.
“[I think] maybe he felt jumping was better than being targeted by them and doing jail time.”
Wu said ideological differences with President Xi are often behind official suicides in China these days.
“When an official jumps, it’s often because they want to go back to the ideology of [late supreme reformist leader] Deng Xiaoping,” he said. “They usually think Xi has strayed too far from that line.”
Wu said the fourth plenary session was likely the scene of renewed bids by Xi to further concentrate power in his own hands, in the manner of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
“This is the final battle, according to my own formulation,” Wu said. “If those who adhere to Deng’s ideology are being defeated, then it means that there is nowhere left for them.”
The lack of information surrounding Ren’s death has given rise to a number of popular rumors, according to a second Chongqing resident surnamed Zhao.
“There are a few rumors going around Chongqing about this,” Zhao said. “Particularly that he didn’t really get along with Chongqing party secretary Chen Min’er, even to the point of them getting into verbal disputes.”
Zhao, who has connections in municipal government, said others are saying that Ren’s death had more to do with his time as deputy party secretary in Guangdong province.
Dissident scholar Si Ling told RFA that the former theory was more likely.
“It’s likely that Ren Xuefeng had different opinions from Chen Min’er, particularly on the topic of purging the evil of [jailed former Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai,” he said.
“[These differences] were seen as a huge threat by Xi Jinping and [his political ally] Chen Min’er,” Si Ling said. “There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense about the rumors, regardless of whether they are that he was murdered, committed suicide, or died of illness.”
The flight by then Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. consulate in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu on Feb. 6, 2012 began a string of events that led to his jailing, as well as that of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai for corruption and Bo's wife Gu Kailai for the murder of British businessman and family friend Neil Heywood.
Bo was handed a life sentence in prison on bribery charges, a 15-year jail term for embezzlement, and seven years for abuse of power in September 2013.
The chairman of China's securities regulator Liu Shiyu told a meeting of top finance officials during the 19th party congress in October 2017 that the once-rising political star had plotted to seize power from the current leadership under President Xi Jinping.
The leadership transition that eventually led to an indefinite term in office for Xi as president was finalized at the 18th Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Nov. 8, 2012, the same day that Bo Xilai was expelled from the ruling party.
Reported by 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.