Jiang Zemin, who guided China’s economic rise, dies

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BEIJING (AP) — Jiang Zemin, who led China out of isolation after the military crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and supported economic reforms that led to a decade of booming growth, died Wednesday. He turned 96.

Jiang, who served as president for 10 years until 2003 and led the ruling Communist Party for 13 years until 2002, died of leukemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai, state media reported.

His death comes after the party faced its most widespread public opposition in decades when crowds called for leader Xi Jinping to resign during weekend protests over anti-virus checks keeping millions at home.

A surprising choice to lead a divided communist party after the 1989 turmoil, Jiang saw China through historic changes, including a resurgence of market-oriented reforms, Hong Kong’s return from British rule in 1997, and Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Even as China opened up to the outside world, Jiang’s government suppressed dissent. It jailed human rights, labor and pro-democracy activists and banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which the ruling party saw as a threat to its monopoly on power.

Jiang relinquished his last official title in 2004 but remained a behind-the-scenes force behind the feud that led to Xi’s rise to power in 2012. Xi has tightened political controlcrushed China’s few remaining disagreements and reasserted the dominance of state industry.

Chinese state television devoted 48 minutes of an extensive evening news broadcast to Jiang’s death. He was shown chatting with farmers, touring factories and meeting foreign leaders.

The party declared him a “great proletarian revolutionary” and “long-tested communist fighter.”

Jiang was responsible for China “getting on a global platform and rehabilitating itself after 1989,” said Kerry Brown, a Chinese political expert at King’s College London. “He will be remembered as someone who probably made quite a positive contribution.”

Rumors that Jiang could be in poor health spread after he missed a ruling party congress in October at which Xi, China’s most powerful figure since at least the 1980s, broke with tradition and awarded himself a third five-year term as leader.

Jiang was about to retire as party secretary of Shanghai in 1989 when he was called upon by then leader Deng Xiaoping to bring the party and the nation together. He succeeded Zhao Ziyang, who was fired by Deng for his sympathy for the student-led Tiananmen protesters.

In 13 years as general secretary of the party, China’s most powerful post, Jiang led the country’s rise to economic power by welcoming capitalists into the party and bringing in foreign investment after China joined the WTO. China passed Germany and then Japan to become the second largest economy after the United States.

Jiang captured a political prize when Beijing was selected as the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics after failing in an earlier bid.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Jiang “a steadfast advocate for international engagement” and recalled his “personal warmth and openness”. The UN Security Council marked his death with a minute of silence.

Fat and owlish with oversized glasses, Jiang was an exuberant figure who played the piano and loved to sing, unlike his more reserved successors, Hu Jintao and Xi.

He enthusiastically spoke English when he stopped and recited the Gettysburg address to foreign visitors. During a visit to Britain, he tried to persuade Queen Elizabeth II to sing karaoke.

Jiang, a former manager of a soap factory, concluded his career with the first orderly succession of the communist era and handed over his post as party leader in 2002 to Hu, who also assumed the ceremonial title of president the following year.

Still, he would be frustrated that Deng chose Hu and prevented Jiang from installing his own successor. Jiang tried to maintain influence by staying on as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the 2 million-member People’s Liberation Army. He relinquished that post in 2004 after complaints that he could divide the government.

After leaving office, Jiang influenced promotions through his network of protégés. When Xi became leader in 2012, he was considered successful in elevating allies in the party’s seven-member Standing Committee, China’s inner circle of power.

Jiang disappeared from view and made his last public appearance alongside current and former leaders atop Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate during a 2019 military parade to celebrate the party’s 70th anniversary in power.

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

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

Like many technocratic officials, Jiang spent part of the ultra-radical Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 as an agricultural worker. His career revived after that, and in 1983 he was appointed minister of the electronics industry, then an important but backward sector that the government hoped to revitalize by attracting foreign investment.

As mayor of Shanghai between 1985 and 1989, Jiang impressed foreign visitors as representative of a new breed of outward-looking Chinese leadership.

Jiang, a tough political warrior, defied predictions that his reign as leader would be short-lived. He consolidated power by promoting members of his “Shanghai faction” and giving the military double-digit annual percentage increases in spending.

Foreign leaders and CEOs who avoided Beijing after the Tiananmen Square crackdown were persuaded to turn back.

When Deng came out of retirement in 1992 to push for a resurgence of market-like reforms, Jiang also took up the cause.

He supported Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, the party’s third leader, who introduced painful changes in the late 1990s that cut as many as 40 million jobs from state industry.

Zhu launched the privatization of urban housing, sparking a construction boom that turned Chinese cities into high-rise forests and propelled economic growth.

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

China’s economic boom divided society into winners and losers as waves of rural residents migrated to urban factory jobs, the economy increased sevenfold and urban incomes nearly matched.

Protests, once rare, spread as millions of state jobs were lost and farmers complained about rising taxes and fees. Divorce rates rose. Corruption flourished.

Despite a friendly public image, Jiang dealt harshly with challenges to the ruling party’s power.

His most famous target was Falun Gong, a meditation group founded in the early 1990s. Chinese leaders were shocked by its ability to attract tens of thousands of followers, including military officers.

Activists who attempted to form an opposition China Democracy Party, a move allowed under Chinese law, were sentenced to up to 12 years in prison on charges of subversion.

“Stability above all else,” Jiang commanded, in a phrase his successors have used to justify intense social controls.

It fell to Jiang, standing next to Britain’s Prince Charles, to preside over Hong Kong’s return on July 1, 1997, symbolizing the end of 150 years of European colonialism. The nearby Portuguese territory of Macau was returned to China in 1999.

Hong Kong was promised autonomy and became a springboard for mainland companies looking to do business abroad. Meanwhile, Jiang turned to coercion with Taiwan, the self-governed island 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 its support.

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

One of Jiang’s sons, Jiang Mianheng, sparked controversy as a telecommunications dealmaker in the late 1990s when critics accused him of abusing his father’s status to promote his career, a common complaint against the children of party leaders.

Jiang is survived by his two sons and his wife, Wang Yeping, who worked in government bureaucracies responsible for state industries.

___

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations contributed.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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