Former president Jiang Zemin made a rare public appearance over the weekend, in a move widely seen as an attempt to demonstrate his lingering influence ahead of the Communist Party's once-in-a-decade leadership succession.
Although the 86-year-old is rumoured to have been active in behind-the-scenes manoeuvring ahead of the party's 18th national congress, due next month or so, it was Jiang's first public appearance in months.
Analysts said his reappearance at this sensitive time was a calculated move, which could boost support for party factions under his stewardship.
According to online postings and photos circulated on mainland internet forums and overseas Chinese websites, Jiang and his wife on Saturday attended a musical drama celebrating Austrian musician John Strauss' visit to the US in 1872 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts.
They were accompanied by former vice-president Zeng Qinghong , Jiang's closest protégé, and former vice-premier Li Lanqing , who wrote the musical.
Photos posted online showed Jiang, although in need of some assistance, in relatively good health and enjoying the 150-minute show, which had only one short interval.
He shook hands and took a group photo with performers after the show and made a short speech praising Li's drama, said witnesses and postings.
Beijing-based independent political analyst Chen Ziming said Jiang's move served as an obvious reminder he was still able to influence key personnel decisions ahead of the national congress.
Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk