Connect with us

China Insight

Hu Jintao Leaves the Stage: Empty Seat Next to Xi Jinping after Unusual Party Congress Exit

An empty chair could be seen after Hu Jintao left the stage during the closing session of the 20th Party Congress.

Manya Koetse



Chinese leader Hu Jintao was unexpectedly led away by aides during the closing session of the 20th CPC National Congress. While there is much speculation in English-language media on the whys and hows regarding the incident, any mention of it has been scrubbed from the Chinese internet. China’s official evening news, however, made no attempts to hide the empty chair next to Xi Jinping.

It is an eventful Saturday as the 20th CPC National Congress concluded and the Communist Party elected a new Central Committee. The official name list was also released through Chinese online media channels on the morning of October 22.

There are a few issues regarding the 20th Party Congress that have triggered discussions on Twitter today. One of them is the seemingly premature retirement of China’s Premier Li Keqiang (李克强), as his name was left off the new Party Central Committee members list.

Li Keqiang’s name came up with zero new results on social media platform Weibo on Saturday, despite the Central Committee name list being top trending (#二十届中央委员会委员名单#). Before the end of the afternoon, China time, the topic had already received over 120 million views on Weibo.

But the most noteworthy incident of the day occurred shortly after 11 am, when former Chinese leader Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) was seen escorted out of the Party Congress.

The incident happened after reporters had been let into the hall and when voting on the Central Committee was completed. The meeting still went on after he left.

Hu Jintao is Xi Jinping’s immediate predecessor and was president from 2003 to 2013. On Saturday morning, he was seated next to Xi Jinping.

As Hu Jintao was led away, he seemed reluctant to go and also seemed to pause to say something to Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on the way out (see the video here).

Was it a health-related issue? Was it a political move? Was it planned or not? Some on Twitter said Hu Jintao did not look well and mentioned his frail health, others had no doubts it was a display of power.

With a lack of official statements about the issue, there could be all kinds of possible reasons why Hu might have been escorted out this way.

CNN wrote that its channel was censored on air in China when reporting on Hu’s exit from the meeting Saturday. This led some on Twitter, including the Chinese author Cao Changqing, to conclude that Hu’s incident was not a medical issue, or else the footage would not have been banned.

But CNN segments are censored more often in China and regardless if the Hu incident is related to medical issues or not, it is bound to be delicate. The Party Congress is a particularly sensitive time for Beijing, and news narratives that reach people within China are always tightly controlled, especially when they affect the representation of the Party in any way.

While the unusual Hu incident was discussed all over Twitter, the name ‘Hu Jintao’ came up with zero new results on major Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo, Douyin, WeChat or Zhihu, although the 20th Party Congress itself was top trending on all of these platforms. This also made people speculate that the issue must have been political.

20th Party Congress top trending on Chinese Q&A platform

But it is important to note that virtually all Chinese social media posts about the 20th Party Congress are published by official media and government accounts. Critical discussions on the event itself, Party Congress decisions, or unexpected occurrences are always strictly regulated.

Hu Jintao and Li Keqiang do not show up in any new (within 24 hours) results on social media, but neither do top leaders such Li Zhanshu (栗战书), Wang Qishan (王岐山), or Han Zheng (韩正).

Although the lack of any mentions regarding Hu Jintao therefore might not be that noteworthy, it does show that, unsurprisingly, the incident has not been addressed by any official channels nor Chinese media bloggers and that individual posts, images, and videos about the incident are tightly censored. It is clear that Hu Jintao’s early departure is not something the Party wants to explain to Chinese audiences – in whatever context – at the time of writing.

On the evening of October 22, CCTV’s daily news program Xinwen Lianbo aired a nearly 40-minute show about the 20th CPC National Congress Closing Session. The Evening News program also featured Hu Jintao next to Xi Jinping and later showed him casting his ballots.

While the program still shows Hu sitting next to Xi at the 7.30 mark, there is an empty seat next to Xi Jinping at the 7.50 mark.

Later on in the program, the empty seat is clearly visible multiple times. (See the short video below which we edited for the purpose of showing how Hu Jintao and his absence are shown in the official 40-min news program).

Although Hu’s sudden absence, therefore, is clearly not secret or hidden in China, it is also not something that leaves room for discussion or speculation in Chinese online media spheres.

Despite the video being shared hundreds of times on Weibo, only a small selection of comments was allowed to appear underneath the Xinwen Lianbo video. “I wish the Motherland glory and prosperity,” one top comment said: “It’s only getting better.”

Update: A new tweet by the official state media outlet Xinhua claims that they learnt from one of their reporters that Hu was “not feeling well during the session,” leading to his staff “accompanying him to a room next to the meeting venue for a rest.” Xinhua writes: “Now, he is much better.” The statement was only posted in English language on Twitter, and similar statements were not posted on Weibo at the time of writing.

For more about the Party Congress, check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse 


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

Continue Reading


  1. Avatar


    October 23, 2022 at 6:57 am


  2. Avatar


    October 26, 2022 at 5:47 am

    very clear and good article easy to understand. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse



On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading

China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse



Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.


Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading



Got any tips? Or want to become a contributor or intern at What's on Weibo? Email us as at

Become a member

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What's on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles.    

Support What’s on Weibo

What's on Weibo is 100% independent. Will you support us? Your support means we can remain independent and keep reporting on the latest China trends. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our website. Support us from as little as $1 here.

Popular Reads