Former President Jiang Zemin, who led China’s rise, dies

BEIJING — Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who led the country out of isolation after suppressing pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and supported economic reforms that led to A decade of explosive growth has passed, the state broadcaster said. He was 96.

Jiang died in Shanghai, state television reported on its website.

An unexpected choice to lead a Communist Party divided following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Jiang has seen China undergo historic changes including a resurgence of market-oriented reforms, Hong Kong’s return from British rule in 1997 and Beijing’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Even as China opened up to the outside, Jiang’s government quelled dissent at home. It jailed human rights, labor and democracy activists, and banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which it saw as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

Jiang gave up his last official post in 2004 but remained a behind-the-scenes force in the controversy that led to the rise of incumbent President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2012. Xi has stuck with Jiang’s combination of economic liberalization and strict political control.

Originally seen as a transitional leader, Jiang was drafted into retirement with the mandate of then-supreme leader Deng Xiaoping to bring the party and the nation together.

But he has proven transformative. During his 13 years as general secretary of the Communist Party, the highest position in China, he guided China’s rise to become a global economic power by welcoming capitalists to the Communist Party and attracting capitalists. foreign investment after China’s accession to the WTO.

He presided over the nation’s rise as a global producer, the return of Hong Kong and Macao from Britain and Portugal and the achievement of a long-cherished dream: winning the right to host the Olympics. Olympic after being rejected earlier.

A former soap factory manager, Jiang ended his career with the first orderly succession of the communist era, handing over the post of party leader in 2002 to Hu Jintao, who assumed chairmanship next year.

Giang has managed to maintain influence by continuing to serve as Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the body that controls the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army with 2.3 million members. He resigned that post in 2004 after complaints that he might split the government.

Even after leaving office, Jiang still wields influence over promotions through his network of patrons.

He is said to be disappointed that Deng chose Ho as his next leader, preventing Giang from installing his own successor. But Jiang was seen as successful in getting allies into the seven-member Standing Committee of the party, China’s inner power group, when Xi became leader in 2012.

Plump and dapper in oversized glasses, Jiang is a bubbly character who plays the piano and loves to sing, in contrast to his more reserved successors, Hu and Xi.

He speaks enthusiastically if he pauses in English and will give the Gettysburg Address to foreign visitors. During a visit to England, he tried to convince Queen Elizabeth II to sing karaoke.

Jiang disappeared from public view and made his last public appearance with current and former leaders on Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate at the 2019 military parade marking the 70th anniversary of China’s rule. party. He was absent from a major party congress last month, where former leaders were awarded seats in recognition of their service.

Jiang was born on August 17, 1926 in the wealthy eastern city of Yangzhou. Official biographies downplay his family’s middle-class background, emphasizing instead his uncle and adoptive father, Jiang Shangqing, an early revolutionary who died in battle in 1939.

After graduating from Shanghai Jiaotong University’s electrical machinery department in 1947, Jiang rose through the ranks of state-controlled industries, working in a food factory, then a soap factory. China’s largest room and car.

Like many technocrats, Jiang experienced part of the radical Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 as a farm worker. His career rose again, and in 1983 he was appointed minister of the electronics industry, then a key but backward industry that the government hoped to revive by soliciting investment. foreign.

As mayor of Shanghai in 1985-89, Jiang impressed foreign visitors as the representative of a new generation of outward-looking Chinese leaders.

He was preparing to retire when Deng selected him in 1989 to replace General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was purged for his sympathies with the Tiananmen protesters and was placed under house arrest until he was released. passed away in 2005.

A staunch political fighter, Giang defied predictions that his leadership would be short. He consolidated power by promoting members of his “Shanghai faction” and increasing annual spending on the military by double digits.

Foreign leaders and CEOs who had shunned Beijing after the crackdown were persuaded to return. When Deng emerged from retirement in 1992 to push for the revival of market-style reforms in the face of conservative opposition following the Tiananmen crackdown, Jiang followed.

He supported Premier Zhu Rongji, the party’s No. 3 leader, who was forced to undergo painful changes that cut up to 40 million jobs in state industry in the late 1990s.

Zhu also kicked off the privatization of urban housing, sparking a construction boom that turned China’s cities into a forest of tall buildings and spurred economic growth.

After 12 years of negotiations and Zhu’s flight to Washington to lobby the Clinton administration for support, China joined the WTO in 2001, cementing its position as a magnet for foreign investment.

Despite his good public image, Jiang handled challenges to the ruling party’s authority severely.

His highest target was Falun Gong, a meditation group founded in the early 90s. Chinese leaders were appalled at the group’s ability to attract tens of thousands of followers, including even military officers.

Activists trying to form the opposition China Democratic Party, a move allowed by Chinese law, have been sentenced to up to 12 years in prison on subversion charges.

“Stability first,” Jiang ordered, in a phrase his successors have used to justify tight social controls.

Giang, standing beside Britain’s Prince Charles, presided over the handover of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, symbolizing the end of 150 years of European colonialism. The nearby Portuguese territory of Macao was returned to China in 1999.

Hong Kong was promised autonomy and became a springboard for mainland companies to go overseas. Meanwhile, Jiang turned to forcibly Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing says is part of its territory.

During Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, Jiang’s government attempted to intimidate voters by firing missiles at nearby shipping lanes. The United States responded by sending warships to the area to show support.

At the same time, trade between the mainland and Taiwan has grown to billions of dollars a year.

China’s economic boom has divided society into winners and losers, as waves of rural residents migrated to factory jobs in the cities, the economy grew sevenfold and incomes increased. It’s almost the same in urban areas.

Protests, once rare, have spread as millions have lost their jobs and farmers have complained about rising taxes and fees. Divorce rate escalated. Corruption flourished.

One of Jiang’s sons, Jiang Mianheng, was controversial in the late 1990s as a telecommunications trader and later chairman of telephone company China Netcom Co.

Critics accuse him of abusing his father’s position to advance his career, a common complaint among children of party leaders.

Jiang Mianheng, who holds a Ph. from Drexel University, went on to hold prominent academic positions, including president of Shanghai University of Technology in his father’s former power base.

Jiang left behind two sons and his wife, Wang Yeping, who worked in government agencies in charge of state industries.


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