BEIJING– With China approaching a leadership transition this year, and suggestions that various factions are still jockeying for key positions, enter; Jiang Zemin.

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, center, shares a light moment with delegates as Chinese President Hu Jintao, left, and Premier Wen Jiabao, watch at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on March 3, 2004. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

The 86-year-old Jiang was China’s paramount leader from 1989 until 2002, and is still believed to wield considerable behind-the-scenes influence inside the Communist Party. According to most analysts’ interpretations, Jiang – who is frail and rarely seen in public these days – wants to let it be known that he still has clout, and wants a say in the new leadership line-up to be unveiled in a few weeks time.

So China-watchers – and the active community of Internet users on Twitter-like microblogging sites known as “weibo” — took considerable interest in photos of Jiang that suddenly appeared on overseas Chinese Web sites this week, attending a recent concert at Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts, affectionately called “The Egg.”

One photo shows Jiang in a dark suit entering the theater to applause, being assisted by an aide holding his arm, with his wife, Wang Yeping, a few steps in front. He was attending a performance of “The Beautiful Blue Danube; the Story of Johann Stauss’ 1872 U.S. Tour,” a musical drama.

The performance lasted two and a half hours, with one intermission, and afterward, Jiang was said to have stood onstage with the performers for photographs.

Jiang is rarely seen in China, his last public appearance coming one year ago, on Oct. 9, for an annual celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the Qing dynasty. And that appearance came just three months after China’s Internet was filled with rumors that Jiang was gravely ill, with one Hong Kong television station erroneously reporting that Jiang had died.

Jiang was only known to surface once after that, in April, in a meeting in Beijing with Howard Schultz, the visiting CEO of Starbucks Corp. That meeting came just a week after the Party’s purge of former Chongqing Communist chief Bo Xilai, for whom Jiang was considered a patron. That meeting, leaked to the media, suggested Jiang was sending the signal that even after Bo’s ouster, he still intended to play a role in the coming leadership transition.

Could Jiang’s appearance at “The Egg” be sending a similar signal?

But China’s ubiquitous Internet censors have tried to squash the swirling speculation by blocking Jiang’s names from the weibo search engines. The photos only appeared on overseas Chinese media Web sites.

But that hasn’t stopped China’s Netizens from talking, mostly by using more oblique references, like; “Old comrade and his wife went to a concert.”