A prominent Communist Party member has disappeared in China after insinuating that President Xi Jinping was "a clown who had no clothes but was still determined to be emperor." Ren Zhiqiang—the son of a former deputy commerce minister and a longtime friend of Vice President Wang Qishan, per the New York Times—penned an essay in February blaming party leaders for the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. While Xi isn't named, Ren—who has 37 million followers on Weibo—described a leader who values praise of himself over free speech, per the Washington Post. "He couldn't cover up his ambition to be emperor, and his ambition to destroy whoever might want to stop him," he wrote.
The 69-year-old tycoon disappeared in Beijing a month ago, per the Times, which reports his assistant and son vanished, too. "When there is no media to represent the people and go report the real situation, we are only left with people losing their lives from the virus, and the collective harm from the seriously-ill political system as the results," the real estate developer wrote in February. He said party leaders use the media "to firmly shut down all calls for finding out what really happened." The party announced Tuesday that Ren was under investigation for "serious violations" of the law and party doctrine in "the first official acknowledgment that Ren was being held by the authorities," per CNN. Friends believe he's being held in west Beijing. (Read more China stories.)