When former President Hu Jintao inspected an ancestral family home this week, state media failed to cover a rare appearance of the man who led China for the last decade. But his visit was reported by social media.
The lack of reporting by official media outlets is unusual as visits by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, and other former state leaders receive regular media attention. The local Huangshan Daily, the provincial Anhui Daily and Xin’an Evening News have so far not reported the visit.
Despite the lack of media coverage, Hu's visit was anything but low key. Roads were blocked for his convoy, photos point to a heavy security presence and a sustantial entourage.
A jovial Hu, 70, is seen leaving a bus in a car convoy in photos shared by a photographer from the Anhui Daily on his private microblog. The retired leader was walking through an historic street in the city centre of Huangshan, accompanied by bodyguards and a woman, who appeared to be a tour guide.
The city is about an hour’s drive south of Hu family’s ancestral home in Jinxi in Anhui province.
The photos have since disappeared from the microblog, but were picked up by commercial media outlets. Comments on the photos were blocked by Sina.
On Friday, more photos emerged of Hu visiting the ancestral home with his wife, Liu Yongqing. Hu visited the refurbished home of his grandfather, Hu Bingheng, a tea trader in the last days of the Qing dynasty.
The photos, which have the watermark of the Jixi county, show a convoy of five vehicles driving through blocked roads; people are waving to the convoy and police officers are seen on patrol.
The visit is his first public appearance since his retirement as China’s head of state in March. In December, he visited his birthplace in Taizhou in Jiangsu province. He was also spotted in Shanghai in late July.
Hu's retirement mirrors his low-profile leadership over the last decade, said Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, adding that Hu still wants "to show that he is everything Jiang Zemin never was - discrete, loyal and low key".