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Chinese media little help with Chongqing mystery

Wang Lijun, until recently a deputy mayor and police chief, has been put on a medical "vacation." (Reuters)

The website of Xinhua News, China's state media flagship, leads today with EU's threats of sanctions against Syria. Elsewhere on their Chinese-language site, one can read about Wen Jiabao's remarks to the visiting Canadian prime minister, or look at photos of pretty white ladies lounging around, if that's your style. 

What you won't find is any explanation of a recent mystery in the southwestern city of Chongqing: a famous cop has disappeared. According to a terse announcement on the city's microblog, Wang Lijun, until recently the deputy mayor and police chief and something of a national celebrity, has been put on a medical "vacation." This followed an unexplained reassignment, less than a week ago, to a new job overseeing municipal education, science, and environmental affairs.

Wang won national attention and praise by spearheading an anti-crime campaign that led to the arrest and eventual execution of his superior in the police department, Wen Qiang. He's also a close associate of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party chief in Chongqing and a candidate for a top leadership post in the coming political transition.

So what happened? The full announcement from today's Chongqing microblog, according to a translation by BBC News, is this: "It is understood that Vice-Mayor Wang Lijun, who has suffered overwork and immense mental stress for a long time, is seriously physically indisposed. After agreement, he is currently taking holiday-style medical treatment."

Huh?

With no help from newspapers or broadcast news outlets in China, citizens who come across this mystifying tidbit are left to make their own conclusions. The WeiboScope, a marvelous invention of Hong Kong University's Journalism and Media Studies Center, allows a quick search of individual microblogs in China on the topic.

"At this point, I firmly support him," says one netizen. "Of course his anti-crime campaign provoked the interest of certain people. It's within reason that he's suffering retaliation."   

There are rumors that Wang has come under investigation for corruption, and that he has sought asylum at the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu. The Christian Science Monitor notes a larger than usual police presence at the consulate.

International news outlets have speculated that Wang's "vacation" is a sign that his patron, Bo, has come under attack by his political rivals.

You can bet that, if they were allowed to chime in, China's professional journalists would have plenty to say on the matter.

But it's clear that they can't talk. Caixin, a Beijing-based news outlet, comes closest. In a lengthy article, Caixin examines Wang's legacy, describing his aggressive anti-crime campaign and raising questions about the strength of Chinese rule of law in relation to some of the resulting prosecutions. It's a smart story. But it's not the story. 

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