No, Xi Jinping is not under house arrest, despite online rumours

There were no credible sources for the story at all.

Tan Min-Wei | September 28, 2022, 06:39 PM

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Over the weekend of Sep. 24 and 25, rumours of a "palace coup" taking place in Beijing spread on social media.

Several conspiracists alleged, without evidence, that a People's Liberation Army general had taken control of China's government and that Chinese President Xi Jinping had been put under house arrest.

Those rumours were not accurate.

Wild allegations

Over the weekend, a number of news outlets on social media began circulating rumours of a coup in China.

The allegations were consistent in a few major points.

Xi was supposedly under house arrest, People's Liberation Army General Li Qiaoming was leading the coup, and that over 6,000 flights had been cancelled.

Evidence for this was scant to the point of being non-existent, short of one very poorly shot video of a highway, allegedly in Beijing, with a handful of military jeeps passing by.

However, this story began to spread throughout Sep. 24 and began to be picked up by Indian social media.

Indian media outlets such as Outlook reported on the subject seriously, if not entirely believing it.

In public view

While Xi's whereabouts were unknown, it was just as easy to conceive of him under house arrest surrounded by crack units of the PLA, as it was to think of him binging on Game of Thrones.

That came to an end of Sep. 27 when Xi was seen in public.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Xi visited the "Forging Ahead into the New Era" exhibition at the Beijing Exhibition hall.

This was more than a week after his last public appearance at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan. He had returned to China on Sep. 16.

But according to AP, such an extended time period out of the public eye would not normally be considered notable.

Furthermore, if Xi had complied with established Covid procedures in China, he would have been under quarantine for at least a week.

So what's going on?

When CNA reported on Xi's reappearance in a segment on Sep. 27, their China correspondent Olivia Soong mentioned the rumours.

It's perhaps not hard to imagine why, as this analysis by MIT's Technology Review stated:

"Social media is still a mess of misinformation -- but you might not notice that mess if you are not familiar with the issue being discussed."

Technology Review traced the origin of the rumour, supposedly to a contributor to a Falun Gong backed media network.

The Falun Gong characterise themselves as a spiritual group persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party, but are considered by China's government to be a dangerous cult.

The historic animosity between the group and China's government is notable.

The contributor was also described by Technology Review as having a history of misinformation, as well as having actively played up the "coup" throughout the day of Sep. 24.

But the rumour arguably took off when picked up by some of  India's social media users and news outlets.

India and China are undergoing a period of increased geopolitical tension; and Technology Review notes that the average Indian social media user is not particularly knowledgeable about China.

This appears to have contributed to some having a lower threshold to accept the rumours.

Satirical tweets later reported straight

Perhaps the most alarming indication of this fact is this series of parody tweets that were reposted as fact.

The tweets, by Der Spiegel's Beijing Correspondent Georg Fahrion, who visited several notable Beijing landmarks and sarcastically suggested that ordinary scenes were secret symptoms of the non-existent coup.

But they were picked up the Republic Bharat TV channel and aired at face value.

Even the seemingly alarming number 6,000 cancelled flights did not appear to make a difference in the air traffic over China.

Speculation about Xi's position was perhaps inevitable in the lead up to an important Party Congress, where Xi is expected to be anointed party leader for a third term, an unprecedented event since the days of Mao Zedong.

But in the end, these incredible rumours were just that: not credible.

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Top image via @CCTV/Twitter