Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping addresses the opening ceremony of the autumn semester of the Party School of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on Sept. 1.
Credit Xinhua, Li Tao / AP
In the rarefied air of China's leadership circle, anything that strays from strict protocol becomes grist for the rumor mill.
So it is with the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Xi Jinping, the presumptive heir to President Hu Jintao.
Xi, 59, has inexplicably missed a series of important meetings with foreign dignitaries in the past week, including one with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Beijing. The last time anyone saw him in public was Sept. 1.
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, shown here delivering a speech at a Canada-China business forum in Beijing, on Feb. 9, 2012, is expected to become the country's next premier. In contrast to most other Chinese leaders, Li speaks English and has had considerable exposure to Western ideas.
The man who's expected to become China's president next year, Xi Jinping, is considered a princeling, the son of a prominent Chinese political figure. But the man who's likely to become premier, Li Keqiang, comes from very different stock.
The son of a minor party official, Li worked as a farmer for four years, before studying law at university.
In northwestern China's Shaanxi province, a neatly manicured and landscaped memorial park the size of six soccer fields is one sign of the revolutionary lineage of Xi Jinping, the man set to become China's next leader.
Known as a Communist Party princeling, Xi is the 58-year-old son of Xi Zhongxun, a deputy prime minister and revolutionary hero who died in 2002.
The elder Xi was born in Fuping county in Shaanxi, more than 600 miles southwest of Beijing, and is considered a hometown hero.