Speculation and rumors that former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin may have died have led government Internet censors to quash any such discussion of the subject online.

Zemin, 84, missed a recent important event in Beijing commemorating the founding of China’s Communist Party, prompting talk about his health. Jiang’s absence was noteworthy since other top former officials, including former prime ministers Li Peng and Zhu Rongji, attended that function.

Indeed, Hong Kong and other foreign media sources reported Jiang has suffered a heart attack and is seriously ill in a Beijing military hospital.

Apparently, all this chatter became too much for the authorities. According to Agence France Presse, on Wednesday, China’s Weibo service (similar to Twitter in the U.S.) censored such phrases as Jiang Zemin, myocardial infarction and general secretary.”

The foreign ministry in Beijing declined to comment on Jiang’s health.

Despite his advanced age, Jiang is believed to wield considerable influence over the party. Any questions about his health might be viewed as compromising the stability and dominance of the party itself.

AFP noted that a positing on Weibo stated: About the news that Jiang Zemin has passed away, news organizations can't do reports on their own, all news reports should be in accordance with news releases from Xinhua [official state news agency].”

Jiang has not been seen in public since he attended a celebration with President Hu Jintao in October 2009 commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of Communist China.