China's Xi returns to public eye
Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping appeared in public today for the first time in about two weeks, visiting a Beijing university in what appeared to be an effort to dispel rumours of serious illness and a troubled succession.
In a brief English-language report that broke the official silence on his whereabouts, the Xinhua news agency said vice president Xi had arrived at China Agricultural University in the morning for activities to mark National Science Popularisation Day.
A picture on the government's website showed a healthy-looking Mr Xi, with a slight smile and wearing a black informal jacket over a white shirt, walking around the university.
A second picture, from Xinhua, showed a relaxed, laughing and gesticulating Mr Xi inspecting ears of corn.
Sources said Mr Xi hurt his back while swimming earlier this month and that he had been obeying doctors' orders to get bed rest and undergo physiotherapy.
A full description of Xi's visit by Xinhua said he inspected exhibitions on growing drought-resistant corn and a talk on how to fight food adulteration, a perennial problem in the world's second-largest economy.
"Food is the people's first necessity, and food safety is an important issue for people's livelihood," the report quoted him as saying.
There was a light security presence around the university, but a building housing a science exhibition was closed off.
Hundreds of students applauded, some shouting "vice president Xi" or even "president Xi".
A roar went up when his car rushed by and Mr Xi waved his hand out the window.
"It was him for sure," said one student, who had taken a blurry shot of the car on his smart phone. "He must be better." The student refused to give his name.
The news spread rapidly on China's popular Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo, with users referring to Xi as the "crown prince" to avoid the usual censorship associated with the names of top leaders.
"He looks well," wrote one user.
"In the future he should take better care when he goes swimming," added another.
Mr Xi had been out of the public eye for almost two weeks and had skipped meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries, including US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Chinese government officials repeatedly refused to say what had happened to him, fuelling speculation that has included Mr Xi supposedly suffering a heart attack, a stroke, emergency cancer surgery and even an attempted assassination.
The ruling Communist Party's refusal to comment on his disappearance from public view and absence from scheduled events was in keeping with its traditional silence on the question of the health of top leaders - long considered a state secret - but it had worried or mystified most China watchers.