Guest post: The many (imagined) lives of Xi Jinping

BEIJING -- Where is Xi?

On this, the eleventh day since Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping has disappeared from public view, speculation has yet to abate over the senior leader's condition and whereabouts. The 59 year-old heir apparent has not been spotted since Sept. 1, causing many to wonder whether the absence is merely health-related, or if it is tied into the leadership succession next month. Over the past two weeks, scheduled meetings between Xi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong were abruptly canceled. When asked to confirm whether Xi was alive, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei retorted, "I hope you have serious questions to ask."

As expected, the Chinese government's information blackout (which is no isolated incident - see the government's period of silence over the rumored death of former President Jiang Zemin a year ago) has only fanned the flames of speculation over what has actually befallen the ascendant leader. Censors have clamped down tightly on Chinese social media, blocking searches for "vice-president" or "Xi Jinping," while rapidly removing related posts on Sina Weibo -- China's version of twitter. One Weibo user reports that his link to a Wall Street Journal article on Xi's disappearance was deleted within ten minutes of publication. Chinese netizens have sought to circumvent censors by using the pseudonym "crown prince" -- though this was later blocked as well. Currently, the best way to search for Xi-related news is by inputting his given name, Jinping, which censors have not targeted just yet.

Rumors accounting for his disappearance range from the sensational to the mundane. Some allege Xi was hurt in a car crash or even an assassination attempt by forces from a rival faction, fueled by a story suggesting as much that was published and later retracted by the gossip site Boxun. "Jinping hasn't emerged in ten days. Does this mean a big domestic crisis is about to hit China??" one netizen asked. "Internal Party struggles are incredibly heated!" another poster remarked, "...[Xi] Jinping has disappeared for so many days, now you know why." Others have suggested that Xi hurt his back while swimming or playing soccer in Zhongnanhai, the senior leadership compound in Beijing. This aligns with the most recent account offered by Reuters, which quoted two anonymous sources suggesting that Xi had indeed injured himself while swimming.

Most of the listings that pop up after searching "Jinping" on Weibo are either expressions of sympathy for the leader's wellbeing, or plain, inoffensive queries as to why the vice-president has yet to emerge. More "inflammatory" posts have probably already been censored out. "X.i. jinping, where are you?" asked one concerned netizen. "[W]hy haven't we seen you for so many days? Are you okay? What happened?" Another post asks simply: "Jinping, where are you? You've almost been gone for 8 days, even the New York Times is looking for you..." With tensions running high over the disputed Diaoyutai islands, Weibo users have also combined their pleas for Xi's whereabouts with demand for Chinese escalation against Japan. In response to an article about Japan's "nationalization" of the islands, one netizen urged that, "Jinping, you should attack! We will support you."

The clock, however, continues to tick. The longer Xi waits before emerging, the greater the domestic and international speculation over the severity of what has befallen him.  Some netizens, who have seen this drama play out many times before, have expressed weariness over the government's default approach to handling incidents like this.  "Typical in a year of Chinese top political circle mysteries," one poster commented. "I'm sure we'll find it less exciting if our glorious party just tells us what is going on honestly." "A back injury from swimming? Football?" another poster asked, "They try so hard to hide this. At least this sounds like he's only human. But of course, being human is not acceptable for Chinese party leadership."

Mark Jia is a graduate student in politics at Oxford, where he is a Rhodes Scholar.

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What's actually in the Mohammed video?

Sam Bacile has reportedly gone into hiding after his film, the “Innocence of Muslims,” provoked yesterday's violence in Egypt in Libya, including the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

According to the Israeli-American* Bacile, the movie was filmed in 2011 with a crew of 59 actors and about 45 people behind the camera. The full two-hour film was reportedly shown once at a nearly empty theater in L.A., but the controversy was caused by a 14-minute "trailer" on YouTube, which was at some point translated into Arabic. Bacile also claims to have had a $5 million budget provided by more than 100 donors, which judging by the quality of the final product indicates that he's either lying or perpetrating a massive fraud on his investors.

One of Bacile's advisors told the Associated Press that he had warned Bacile he was in danger of becoming "the next Theo van Gogh," referring to the Dutch filmmaker murdered in 2004 after codirecting an anti-Islam film with Somali-Dutch writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That's a pretty bold aspiration for a product that makes the Danish Mohammed cartoons look like high art.

So you don't have to watch it, "highlights" include:

An introduction featuring a Muslim mob in fake beards slaughtering Christians in modern-day Egypt as police look on. The rest of the film seems to be a flashback in which a father explains the roots of Islamic extremism to his daughter.

The insinuation that Mohammed is a "bastard of an unknown father"

Khadija comforting Mohammed by placing his head between her legs

Mohammed calling a donkey "the first Muslim animal"

Mohammed telling his followers they should feel free to molest children

Mohammed having sex with the wives of his followers

Mohammed also being gay. (When a follower asks if he is "dominant or submissive," he replies, "both.")

An old lady -- with a mysterious New York accent -- being drawn and quartered by camels

Lots of terrible overdubbing, cheesy green screen backgrounds, and The Room-level dialogue and acting. 

In the end, it's something that should be pretty embarrassing for all involved,  and would have been rightfully ignored if extremists in Egypt and Libya hadn't decided to use it as a pretext for violence.

Update: The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg interviews "militant christian activist" Steve Klein, a consultant on the film: 

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know "Bacile"'s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California. "After 9/11 I went out to look for terror cells in California and found them, piece of cake. Sam found out about me. The Middle East Christian and Jewish communities trust me." 

He said the man who identified himself as Bacile asked him to help make the anti-Muhammad film. When I asked him to describe Bacile, he said: "I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no. I can you tell this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the radical Christian Quran-burning pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign." 

If that's true, "Bacile" has managed to smear another religion as well.