Xi Jinping Health Rumors Swirl As China's COVID Battle Continues

Rumors about the alleged poor health of China's leader, Xi Jinping have resurfaced once more, this time propelled to a fever pitch by a diasporic Chinese community that's as certain as ever about his unfitness to rule.

Xi, a 68-year-old smoker, is said to have been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm but has refused surgery because of the risks, according to speculation carried by British tabloids the Daily Mail and The Sun last week. The head of state has chosen treatment with traditional Chinese medicines, said the reports.

According to India-based Asian News International, Xi's condition was discovered late last year. His every move has been scrutinized in the months since, with observers drawing parallels with the physical and mental state of Russian President Vladimir Putin —who is said to be "quite seriously ill."

The Mail and Sun reports are unsurprisingly unwelcome on China's main social media websites, including Weibo and WeChat, where a search for related keywords returned no results at the time of publication. But that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from spinning among the Chinese diaspora residing in the West, especially in North America.

Xi Jinping Health Rumors Re-emerge Amid COVID
Unverified reports have claimed Chinese President Xi Jinping is suffering from a brain aneurysm. In this picture Xi attends a ceremony honoring contributions to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 8, 2022. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

An objective viewing would suggest the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is overweight. As the country fights its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, the vaccination status of its paramount leader remains unknown, despite China's development of several WHO-backed shots.

But the reality of Xi's physical condition, like that of Putin's, would be considered something of a state secret, known only to a few. In the Chinese dissident community in the United States, rumors about Xi's health have been around for years, making regular reappearances since at least 2017.

The viral gossip often revolves around the way he stands or sits. A perceived change in his gait is always notable, as are instances where he is seen or heard coughing.

The latest news, which trended over the weekend, went on to claim the swollen blood vessel in Xi's brain was affecting his hearing. The unverifiable reports emerged from familiar and often dubious sources within the Chinese diaspora community in the U.S., among dissidents who are on the record as anti-CCP.

In the past few years alone, the associations these members have developed within certain circles of American conservatives have led to their promotion of conspiracies such as 2020 election fraud, vaccine skepticism and COVID as Chinese-made bioweapon.

What's categorically not speculation is the enormous challenge Beijing faces in its ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Just last week, the Chinese government lashed out at the WHO on May 11 after senior agency officials said China's pursuit of a zero-COVID policy was unsustainable.

The zero-tolerance approach has had a sizable impact on China's society and economy, evident from the sporadic protests and grim GDP forecasts from within the country. Zero COVID is a conscious choice made by the Chinese leader for what many see as political reasons.

All signs point to the Chinese leadership's awareness of the social and economic impact of its COVID policy, but top officials this month argued the country would take an even bigger hit if the virus was allowed to run rampant in its major cities.