BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec. 1 (Reuters) – Chinese newspapers turned their front pages black on Thursday and flags were flown at half-mast in mourning for the death of former President Jiang Zemin, as well-wishers laid piles of bouquets outside his childhood home.
Jiang died just after noon on Wednesday in his home city of Shanghai at the age of 96 from leukemia and multiple organ failure.
His death has sparked a wave of nostalgia for the relatively more liberal times he oversaw.
A date for his funeral has yet to be set.
The front page of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily devoted its entire front page to Jiang, and carried a large photo of him wearing his trademark “toaded goggles”.
“Beloved comrade Jiang Zemin will never be forgotten,” read the headline above an article republishing the official announcement of his death.
Flags flew at half-mast on key government buildings and Chinese embassies abroad, while the homepages of e-commerce platforms Taobao and JD.com also went black and white.
Mourners placed piles of bouquets of white chrysanthemums, a traditional Chinese symbol of mourning, outside Jiang’s childhood home in the eastern city of Yangzhou, a witness told Reuters.
Some people knelt in front of his house out of respect, the person added.
“Grandpa Jiang, rest in peace,” a bouquet read.
In Shanghai, where Jiang died, police closed the streets, but hundreds of people still tried to catch a glimpse of a vehicle believed to be carrying his body, according to images shared on Chinese social media.
In one photo, people held up a black and white banner that read “Comrade Jiang Zemin, you will live in our hearts forever”.
FOREIGNERS NOT INVITED
But foreign governments, political parties and “friendly characters” will not be invited to send delegations or representatives to China to attend the mourning activities, the official Xinhua news agency said.
At one of China’s largest foreign banks, employees have been asked to wear black during meetings with regulators, senior staff have been asked not to be photographed at parties and the bank has put marketing activities on hold for 10 days, a senior executive at the lender told to Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Jiang’s death comes at a tumultuous time in China, where authorities are grappling with rare widespread street protests among residents fed up with heavy-handed COVID-19 restrictions nearly three years into the pandemic.
China is also mired in an increasingly ill-tempered standoff with the United States and its allies over everything from Chinese threats to democratically-ruled Taiwan to trade and human rights issues.
While Jiang could have a fierce temper, his funny side, where he sometimes sang to foreign dignitaries and joked with them, was in stark contrast to his stiffer successor Hu Jintao and current president Xi Jinping.
“Having someone trained as a leader is a really good thing, RIP,” one user wrote on WeChat, adding a candle emoji.
Some Chinese social media users have posted photos and videos of Jiang speaking or smiling and articles about his 1997 speech at Harvard University in English, which reminisce about a time when China and the West got along better.
Both the US and Japanese governments have expressed their condolences.
Adrienne Watson, spokesman for the US National Security Council, said that during his two visits to the United States as president and during multiple other meetings with US officials, Jiang worked to strengthen ties “while managing our differences – a necessity that continues today”.
Even Taiwan, which threatened Jiang with war games in the run-up to the island’s first direct presidential election in 1996, said it had sent its “best wishes” to Jiang’s family, though he added that he would “advance the development of the democratic system of Taiwan and foreign exchange with force”.
Reporting by Beijing and Shanghai Editorials; Additional reporting by Engen Tham; Written by Yew Lun Tian and Ben Blanchard; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Michael Perry
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