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In The New York Times, an article titled “Chinese Tycoon Who Criticized Xi’s Response to Coronavirus Has Vanished” outlines the story of Ren Zhiqiang, whose nickname in China was “The Cannon.”

Mr. Ren was an outspoken property tycoon in Beijing who wrote “a scathing essay that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, was a power-hungry ‘clown,'” writes Javier C. Hernández in the NYTimes.

Ren argued the Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech had exacerbated the coronavirus epidemic.

However, the most disturbing part of the article comes as Hernández reveals that friends of Mr. Ren say that he is missing as of Saturday.

“Mr. Ren, one of the most prominent critics of Mr. Xi in mainland China, is missing, his friends said on Saturday.”

“His disappearance comes amid a far-reaching campaign by the party to quash criticism of its slow, secretive initial response to the epidemic, which has killed over 3,100 people in China and sickened more than 80,000.”

Police in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the NYTimes writes, as Mr. Ren’s whereabouts were unclear.

“We’re very worried about him,” said Wang Ying, a retired entrepreneur and friend of Mr. Ren’s.

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“I will continue to look for him,” Wang Ying added.

More from the Times:

The Chinese government is working to portray Mr. Xi as a hero who is leading the country to victory in a “people’s war” against the virus. But officials are contending with deep anger from the Chinese public, with many people still seething over the government’s early efforts to conceal the crisis.

Mr. Ren, a party member, is well known for his searing critiques of Mr. Xi. In 2016, the party placed him on a year’s probation for denouncing Mr. Xi’s propaganda policies in comments online…

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In recent weeks, an essay by Mr. Ren began circulating among elite circles in China and abroad. In it, he blamed the government for silencing whistle-blowers and trying to conceal the outbreak, which began in the central city of Wuhan in December.

While he did not explicitly use Mr. Xi’s name in the commentary, Mr. Ren left no doubt he was speaking about China’s leader, repeatedly referencing Mr. Xi’s speeches and actions.

“I see not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing to be an emperor,” he wrote.

Addressing Mr. Xi, he wrote: “You don’t in the slightest hide your resolute ambition to be an emperor and your determination to destroy anyone who won’t let you.”

Mr. Ren, 69, is the retired chairman of Huayuan Properties, a real estate developer. In 2016, Mr. Ren came under scrutiny after writing on his microblog that China’s news media should serve the people, not the party, contradicting one of Mr. Xi’s high-profile pronouncements. His remarks offered a window into growing frustration among Chinese intellectuals and entrepreneurs over Mr. Xi’s increasingly authoritarian rule.