Ren Zhiqiang appears to be the latest government critic silenced by the Communist Party as it cracks down on dissent over the epidemic.
Date: March 14, 2020
By: Javier C. Hernández
His nickname in China was “The Cannon,” and Ren Zhiqiang’s latest commentary was among his most explosive yet.
Mr. Ren, an outspoken property tycoon in Beijing, wrote in a scathing essay that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, was a power-hungry “clown.” He said the ruling Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech had exacerbated the coronavirus epidemic.
Now Mr. Ren, one of the most prominent critics of Mr. Xi in mainland China, is missing, his friends said on Saturday.
His disappearance comes amid a far-reaching campaign by the party to quash criticism of its slow, secretive initial response to the epidemic, which has killed over 3,100 people in China and sickened more than 80,000.
The Chinese government is working to portray Mr. Xi as a hero who is leading the country to victory in a “people’s war” against the virus. But officials are contending with deep anger from the Chinese public, with many people still seething over the government’s early efforts to conceal the crisis.
Mr. Ren, a party member, is well known for his searing critiques of Mr. Xi. In 2016, the party placed him on a year’s probation for denouncing Mr. Xi’s propaganda policies in comments online.
The government has monitored Mr. Ren’s movements intensely ever since, friends said, preventing him from leaving the country and deleting his social media accounts, where he had built a wide following.
His whereabouts was unclear on Saturday, and the police in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We’re very worried about him,” said Wang Ying, a retired entrepreneur and friend of Mr. Ren’s. “I will continue to look for him.” [FULL STORY]