Chinese authorities are officially denying that Jiang Zemin is dead after days of speculation about the health of the former president.
Reports that the former leader, 84, had died began spreading across the Internet following his failure to appear at ceremonies Friday marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.
A Hong Kong television station carried a report that Jiang had died for several hours Wednesday evening. Similar reports have appeared in Japanese and South Korean media.
After a day of seeking to censor the story on the Internet, officials issued a formal denial of the reports on Thursday. In a report attributed to "authoritative sources," the official Xinhua news agency said the reports of Jiang's death "are pure rumor."
The Xinhua report follows unsuccessful attempts to silence the speculation in more subtle ways. Beginning Wednesday, Internet users found searches using the words "Jiang Zemin" and related words were blocked on popular microblogging sites.
China's foreign ministry refused to comment on the rumors Wednesday. However Reuters news agency on Thursday quoted three sources with ties to China's leadership saying Jiang suffered a heart attack and is in intensive care at a military hospital in Beijing.
China has long guarded information on the health of the nation's top leaders as a state secret.
Jiang is one of China's most influential political figures since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who died in 1997. Jiang oversaw the return of Hong Kong from British rule in July of that year, and is credited with reforms that helped turn China into a global economic power.