Coronavirus pandemic
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Ren Zhiqiang has been out of contact with his friends for several days. Photo: AP

Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang goes missing after criticising Beijing’s response to coronavirus outbreak

  • Friends of former property mogul and Communist Party critic say they have not heard from him for several days
  • ‘Organisations responsible should say what happened as soon as possible,’ friend says
Friends of Ren Zhiqiang, the Chinese former property tycoon and outspoken critic of the Communist Party, are concerned about his whereabouts after losing contact with him for several days.
The 69-year-old has been out of touch for several days since an article he wrote criticising the way in which Chinese authorities responded to the coronavirus outbreak was widely circulated online, they said.

“I haven’t been able to reach Ren Zhiqiang since Thursday night … it’s been over 72 hours already,” Wang Ying, an entrepreneur and friend, said.

“The disappearance of Ren as a public figure is known to many. Organisations responsible should say what happened as soon as possible,” she said.

It is not known if Ren’s disappearance is linked to the strongly worded article, which was critical not only of the initial cover-up of the virus outbreak, but also of the way in which Beijing is now seeking to promote its success in handling it and the growth of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s personal power.

The South China Morning Post has independently confirmed that the article was written by Ren.

Ren, who until 2013 was a member of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, had been under surveillance by the authorities for the past four years, but had always been able to talk to his friends, Wang said.

Zhang Ming, a history professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said he too had been unable to contact Ren.

“A citizen can’t just disappear, we need to know if he’s been taken by any department and where,” he said. “His family and friends should know.”

The South China Morning Post called Ren’s phone but it had been switched off.

Ren is a longstanding critic of the Communist Party, and earned the nickname “Ren the Big Cannon” for his bold comments. As a businessman he frequently spoke out against the government’s efforts to control the property market.

In 2016, he openly challenged Chinese President Xi Jinping’s view that the country’s state media should be aligned to the party.

After Xi visited the headquarters of state broadcaster CCTV, Ren posted on Weibo: “When does the people’s government turn into the party’s government? ... Don’t waste taxpayers’ money on things that do not provide them with services.”

The message was promptly deleted, Ren’s Weibo account was blocked and he was placed under a year’s probation by the party, which said his social media posts “repeatedly contrasted” with its policies.

Ren went missing soon after writing an article in which he was critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Xinhua

Prior to his account being deleted, Ren had 37 million followers on the Twitter-like platform. His family background added to his popularity. Ren’s father was among the first generation of revolutionaries that founded the People’s Republic of China, which left his son with good links to the country’s political elite.

Despite the punishment, Ren was undeterred and soon after his probation ended, he resumed his attack on the Communist Party, comparing China’s household registration policy to that of North Korea.

While he has been rarely seen in public since then, Wang said Ren had attended charity events and met regularly with his friends.

Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Fears tycoon is missing after criticismof Beijing’s response to virus outbreak