Back injuries are much more than a health problem in China now. The illness has acquired the status of a State secret ever since Xi Jinping, the countryís vice-president, was reported to have suffered from it. The state of his health is no ordinary matter because Mr Xi is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as Chinaís next president and also as the general-secretary of the Communist Party of China. But Beijingís anxiety to shut out all news about Mr Xiís health says much about its rulers and the system they preside over. China may not be the only country that is secretive about the health and private lives of the leaders. But, as the last major communist country, it continues a legacy that has been typical of totalitarian states. This culture of secrecy is, however, integral to a system that survives on a cloak-and-dagger approach to governance and public policy. The CPC has some 80 million members and claims to represent the entire Chinese population. But the people have very little to do with the choice of the leaders or with their ways of ruling the country. It is thus not difficult to see why the leaders need a wall of secrecy between themselves and the people.
Things are changing, though, even in China. The surge of commentary on the leaders on the Chinese social media is a measure of that change. The common people in China are increasingly vocal about their leaders and their many misdeeds. This was evident in the waves of responses to the fall of Bo Xilai, the once-powerful party boss, and to the trial of his wife, Gu Kailai, in a sensational murder case. Beijingís internet censors blocked all searches relating to the disgraced power couple much in the same way they have now shut out all queries on Mr Xi. The official action has only provided more fodder to the rumour mill. Some of the rumours go far beyond Mr Xiís health. One of these suggests that Mr Xiís sudden disappearance from public programmes may have much to do with the reported differences between him and Mr Hu. But the official secrecy and the intense popular interest in Mr Xiís whereabouts are a sign of the growing chasm between the Chinese people and their rulers. An opaque system like this is primarily the reason why China, despite its spectacular economic success, does not enjoy the worldís trust. It could eventually prove to be the regimeís worst enemy.