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Chinese censorship fans rumors on Jiang Zemin

At a Beijing exhibition, a portrait of Jiang and a security guard. (Reuters)

Sina's Twitter-like microblog platform Weibo blocked searches for "death," "river" and "301 Hospital" on Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal website. The company was responding to what Reuters reported was the service's most-discussed topic yesterday--the rumored demise of former President Jiang Zemin, whose surname, Jiang, means "river," and who may or may not have suffered a heart attack that was being treated at top leaders' hospital of choice in Beijing. 

Jiang's supposed expiration was first whispered because he failed to turn out for a 90th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on Friday. Baidu search engine requests for his name jumped more than 4,000 percent this week, according to Reuters. Then, Asia Television in Hong Kong interrupted programming to declare his death on Wednesday night, a report it later withdrew because there was no official confirmation, according to Reuters.

Instead came official denial via state media today. Here it is in full:

Recent reports of some overseas media organizations about Jiang Zemin's death from illness are "pure rumor," Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday, citing authoritative sources.

For many of the rumor-mongers, this insubstantial and defensive statement merely affirmed their suspicions. Censorship and denials do not quell rumors in China's tightly-controlled media environment; they corroborate them.

And the truth? Who knows for now. But if the 84-year old former leader is safe at home, he'd better not log on to Sina in case of unexplained chest pains. The phrase "myocardial infarction" is blocked. 

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