Former premier Li Peng has thrust himself into the public eye before next week's party congress by donating 3 million yuan (HK$3.7 million) to a scholarship for poor university students in Yanan, the Communist Party's old revolutionary base in Shaanxi.
The source of the money was the proceeds of books Li wrote in retirement, CCTV reported yesterday.
Li's public foray came just a few days after his successor, Zhu Rongji, and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan met the advisory board of Tsinghua University's business school last Wednesday. Zhu is the school's founding dean; Wang, a front runner for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee, is an honorary board member.
Retired leaders traditionally stay out of the limelight, except on politically symbolic events such as National Day. But Li, Zhu and former president Jiang Zemin have re-emerged several times in recent months.
Analysts said the public appearances showed the retired leaders still wielded considerable power and wanted to influence decision-making before the party's 18th national congress, which will open on November 8.
Liu Kang, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University in the United States, said the latest publicity about Li could indicate the complexity and difficulty of the leadership transition and related policymaking decisions.
"His appearance might indirectly send a message that jockeying over positions and ideological issues is still going on," Liu said. "And it also provides further evidence that the fight is more intense than we could have thought."
Zhang Lifan, a mainland-based political affairs analyst, said: "The publicity suggests, whether deliberately or not, that not every important thing has been finalised and thus they show up to support their protégés or their favourite policies," Zhang said.
Liu said those hoping for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee, the party's top decision-making body, were in for a long bargaining process. The most important factor was bargaining between current and former leaders, who continued to pull strings in retirement, he said.
Zhang said Jiang and Li were the two most influential retired leaders. They had received the most media exposure recently and had made no secret of their desire to influence policymaking.
Overseas media speculated that Li was a key player in the reported exclusion of the Guangdong party chief, Wang Yang, from promotion to the Standing Committee. He was also rumoured to oppose the promotion of the party organisation chief Li Yuanchao, a protégé of President Hu Jintao , to the committee.
Some analysts said Li Peng, a key supporter of the June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, also appeared to be attempting to protect his family's business interests from scrutiny by the new leadership.