At the closing meeting of the 20th CCP Congress, Hu Jintao, former Chinese leader between 2003 and 2013, visibly frail and aged, was forced to leave by one of the stewards of the ceremony. Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who was at his side, only watched on but then turned to the front, expressionless. It was the first time that a senior member of the CCP was removed during a political Party event.

The images are all over the world as Xi watched his predecessor being removed from the venue. It is an unprecedented event, in front of the CCP-sanctioned media cameras—totally unexpected.

China experts and analysts pointed out that Hu’s forced retirement could reveal some infighting within the CCP. Others commented that former leader Hu’s health was not good and that could be one of the reasons.

However, it is strange that it occurred at the 20th Party Congress, where Xi hopes to strengthen his power with a third term as head of the CCP.

Moreover, Hu’s gestures while being removed, such as approaching Xi, whispering something to him and then touching Li Keqiang’s shoulder, could be interpreted as political signals. Party members sitting next to Xi and Hu remained unmoved as the former leader withdrew.

Hu’s departure left the seat next to Xi empty.

A few seats to the side was Song Ping, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, who was an architect of Hu’s career and boosted him within the Party. Song is 105 years old and Hu is 79 years old.

Repercussions of Hu’s departure on Chinese social networks

It is striking that Hu Jintao’s departure was publicly televised during the closing meeting of the Congress, in front of foreign media and international news agencies.

For this reason, the video showing what happened with Hu quickly went viral on Twitter, among specialized media and analysts commenting on all kinds of interpretations of the event.

However, Chinese social networks, firmly controlled by the communist regime, only show references to Hu Jintao prior to October 18. The former leader had participated in the opening of the 20th CCP Congress.

Weibo, a Chinese social network similar to Twitter, only shows search results prior to October 18. Baidu, an internet search engine, shows similar results for Hu Jintao, and he only appears on one official page.

As reported by Reuters, the video of Hu’s departure was not released by Chinese state media. In addition, some social media users commented on the incident on older posts featuring Hu, a common tactic used to circumvent Chinese Internet censorship. However, a few hours later, comments on nearly all Weibo posts containing Hu’s name were no longer visible, according to a Reuters review.

Signals against Hu

Since Xi assumed power, the link with Hu demonstrated the new Chinese leader’s ambitions for Party reform.

Hu was a leading leader of the Communist Youth League, a political organization with almost 90 million supporters. Since 2012 Xi has been restructuring the league. Several leaders loyal to Hu were removed, and in a book published in 2017, which compiles comments by the current Chinese leader, he showed his dissatisfaction with the organization. He criticized the Youth League for “chanting empty slogans” and castigated its officials for their “bureaucratic and arrogant air.”

At a meeting in 2013, Xi said that the Youth League’s grassroots organizations “may seem to have covered [a large part of the population] but, in fact, they serve no purpose and exist in name only.”

Years later, to reaffirm his words, Xi ordered the demolition of a landmark building, the China Youth Political Studies University, a way station for Youth League cadres. The institution was commonly known as the League’s China Central School.

Before taking power, Hu and Xi were close

Under Jiang Zemin, the decline of the Chinese Communist Party accelerated. Rampant corruption reached all branches of the Party and was further accentuated by Jiang’s 1999 order to initiate one of the most terrifying religious persecutions in CCP history, the persecution of Falun Gong. It is a spiritual discipline of the Buddha School that teaches the universal principles of truthfulness, benevolence and tolerance, as well as improving physical and mental health through the practice of qigong exercises and meditation.

To achieve his goals, Jiang used all military and police resources against the Chinese people, and generated a spiral of degeneration and depravity within the Party. The group loyal to the former CCP leader is still active and religious persecution of Falun Gong continues, as well as of political dissidents and activists. 

As the date of the CCP National Congress approached in 2012, Hu and Xi joined forces to counter Jiang. At that time, Hu was already general secretary of the Party and, after the Congress, was appointed leader of the country.

However, Jiang remained the head of the Military Commission, controlling the People’s Liberation Army for two more years and with a lot of power within the CCP.

After serving the two terms allowed by the constitution, Hu ceded all his positions to the then-elected Xi, and Xi became general secretary of the Party, leader of China and also chairman of the Central Military Commission. Hu reportedly said, “I will not stand in the way of my successor.”

Xi initiated an anti-corruption campaign within the CCP, cleaning house of those members who did not show him loyalty, and thus reflects the historical pattern of communist parties with political purges.

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