China has dismissed reports that retired former president Jiang Zemin, who led the country through massive changes after the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement, has died.
The reports were "pure rumour", said the official Xinhua News Agency.
The one-sentence dispatch in English was not carried by the Chinese-language service of the state-run agency, indicating it was meant for overseas audiences.
While state media are under tight control, foreign reports seep into China via the internet, giving Chinese access to news - and rumours - the leadership dislikes.
When asked about Mr Jiang's alleged death, an official from the Cabinet's information office said only: "It's a rumour."
The denials followed days of intense online conjecture over whether Mr Jiang, 84, had died or was close to death, fuelled by his failure to appear at last Friday's celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party.
A Hong Kong TV station and Japanese and South Korean media had reported that Mr Jiang had died. The internet speculation sent censors into overdrive to remove the comments.
Searches for "Jiang Zemin" in Chinese or simply "Jiang" - which means "river" - drew warnings on Sina Corp's popular Twitter-like service that said the search was illegal. Some posts then began appearing on Sina Weibo about former leader "River" in English.
News that some overseas media had reported Mr Jiang's death whizzed around the social networking site, with some mainland users puzzling over how Hong Kong media could have received the news first.
The government is very secretive about the health of top leaders and is particularly sensitive ahead of a looming leadership transition that kicks off late next year at a major Communist Party congress.