Speculation on Qin Gang remained rampant on Wednesday, a day after he was removed as foreign minister just seven months into the job.
No reason was given for Qin’s removal, which was announced after an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
His predecessor Wang Yi has been reappointed to the post.
Official silence over his mystery disappearance to date had sparked speculation both in China and abroad.
Social media on Wednesday was full of searches and speculation over his abrupt dismissal.
Tuesday’s brief announcement on state media which said only “China’s top legislature voted to appoint Wang Yi as foreign minister,” has only added fuel to the fire.
It is unusual for rumours about such a senior official to be discussed on the Chinese internet without complete censorship, observers say.
“The absence of censorship makes people wonder if there is any truth to rumours about power struggles, corruption, the abuse of power and positions, and romantic relationships,” Ian Chong from the National University of Singapore told the BBC last week.
This was reflected in the top search terms on Weibo which included queries about his wife and his alleged mistress.
The 57-year-old, seen as a close associate of Chinese President Xi Jinping and is one of the youngest appointees to the post in China’s history.
Just over a month ago, he met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Beijing as the two sides sought to restore diplomatic contacts at the highest level.
Qin Gang was one of the best-known faces of the Chinese government.
When he disappeared from his normal duties a month ago and failed to attend a summit in Indonesia, the very brief official explanation given was unspecified health problems.
His meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, initially scheduled for July 4, was then pushed back by China with no explanation, further fuelling rumours.
Asked about Qin’s whereabouts on Tuesday before news of his removal, a ministry spokeswoman repeated her earlier line that she had no information – highlighting China’s secrecy and the opacity of its system of government.
Qin is one of the most high-level officials in the Chinese Communist Party to have been absent for this long.
But it is not uncommon for high-profile figures in China to go out of public view for long periods of time, only to surface later as the subject of a criminal investigation. Or they could reappear with no explanation.
Xi Jinping himself vanished for a fortnight shortly before becoming China’s leader in 2012, prompting speculation about his health and possible power struggles within the party. (BBC)