China’s former president Hu Jintao has been unexpectedly escorted out of the closing ceremony of a congress of the ruling Communist Party.
Xi Jinping’s predecessor was seated to the left of China’s current president who has gained an even greater concentration of power as he begins his historic third term.
Mr Hu was led off the stage of the main auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing by two stewards, with footage showing a steward repeatedly trying to lift the 79-year-old from his seat.
The dramatic moment drew concerned looks from officials seated nearby as Hu at first appeared reluctant to leave.
Mr Hu then put his hand on a sheet of paper placed on Mr Xi’s folder but Mr Xi quickly put his hand on the sheet.
China’s top legislator Li Zhanshu, seated to Mr Hu’s right, gave the former president’s folder to a steward, wiping his own head with a cloth after Mr Hu finally stood up.
Looking distressed, Mr Hu appeared to resist leaving as the stewards escorted him out, turning back to his seat at one point.
On his way out, he exchanged words with Mr Xi and patted Premier Li Keqiang, seated to the right of Mr Xi, on the shoulder.
China has since attributed the incident to concerns for Mr Hu’s health.
Video of the incident, highly unusual given the meticulous stage management of most such events, was widely shared on Twitter but could not be found on China’s heavily censored social media platforms.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, a few social media users alluded to the incident by commenting on old posts featuring Mr Hu, a common tactic used to evade cyberspace censors.
By Saturday evening, however, the comments section of almost all Weibo posts containing Mr Hu’s name were no longer visible, according to a Reuters review.
State media coverage of the ceremony did not include the scene, which occurred as journalists were entering the hall.
Mr Hu had appeared slightly unsteady last Sunday when he was assisted onto the same stage for the opening ceremony of the congress.
The once-in-five-years congress concluded with amendments to the party’s constitution that cements the core status of Mr Xi and the guiding role of his political thought within the party.