Former president Jiang Zemin has made his fourth foray into the public eye in a month, with a People's Daily article hailing him as the "core of the third-generation leadership".
Analysts see the praise as a reminder that the octogenarian may have cast a few decisive votes at the recent Beidaihe leadership summit.
The lengthy article yesterday was ostensibly a review of a newly published book about Jiang's time in charge of the mainland's electronics industry, but the state newspaper hailed his role in leading "the party and nation to sail through a historic wave".
Incumbent and retired leaders have just completed their informal summer summit at Beidaihe, a seaside resort near Beijing, to finalise decisions on the Communist Party's new leadership, to be announced at a congress later this year, and major policies for the coming decade.
The article, penned by Li Ting , a former minister of the electronics industry, portrayed Jiang as an open-minded reformist with a "sharp historic sense and deep strategic thinking".
Jiang retired as party general secretary in late 2002 and as president in March 2003, handing over the reins to Hu Jintao , the "core" of the fourth-generation leadership.
The article said Jiang played a crucial role in shaping China's electronics industry and its information-technology development strategy.
Jiang was appointed first deputy minister of the electronics industry in 1982 and was made minister in 1983.
Retired leaders traditionally stay out of the limelight, except for politically symbolic events such as National Day.
Analysts said the frequency of Jiang's recent appearances showed that he still wielded considerable power over decision-making at the Beidaihe summit.
"His publicity is aimed at wielding his influence over the leadership changes at the 18th party congress," said Zhang Lifan , a political affairs analyst.
Zhang, formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Jiang and former premier Li Peng were the two retired leaders who received the most media exposure recently, suggesting they were trying to flex their political muscles before the party enclave.
Early this month, the People's Daily reported that Jiang had telephoned the city party chief of his hometown, Yangzhou in Jiangsu province, following a mild earthquake.
Late last month, Jiang sent flowers to the funeral of former propaganda chief Ding Guangen , and a few days earlier he wrote a preface for a history textbook which was extensively reported, including on national broadcaster China Central Television's main evening newscast.
Analysts said Jiang had made similar moves ahead of the previous party congress in 2007.