BEIJING (AP) — Former President Jiang Zemin, who brought China out of isolation after the military crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and backed economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth, died Wednesday. He was 96 years old.
Jiang died of leukemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai, where he was a former mayor and Communist Party secretary, state television and the official Xinhua news agency reported.
A surprise choice to lead a divided Communist Party after the troubles of 1989, Jiang has seen China go through historic changes, including a revival of market-oriented reforms, the return of Hong Kong from British rule in 1997 and the entry of Beijing in the World Trade Organization in 1997. 2001.
Even as China opened up to the outside world, Jiang’s government stifled 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 in the feuds that led to the rise of current President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012.
Xi has tightened political control, crushed China’s little remaining dissent and reasserted the dominance of state industry.
Rumors that Jiang may be in poor health spread after he missed a ruling party congress in October in which Xi, China’s most powerful figure since at least the 1980s, broke with tradition and s granted a third five-year term as Chief.
Jiang was about to retire as Shanghai Party leader in 1989 when he was recruited by then-Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping to bring the party and the nation together. He succeeded Zhao Ziyang, who was fired by Deng due to his sympathy for student-led protesters in Tiananmen Square and was placed under house arrest until his death in 2005.
In 13 years as general secretary of the party, China’s most powerful post, Jiang guided the country’s rise to economic power by welcoming capitalists into the ruling party and attracting foreign investment after joining of China at the WTO. China overtook Germany and then Japan to become the second largest economy after the United States.
Jiang won a political prize when Beijing was chosen as the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics after failing in a previous bid.
A former director of a soap factory, Jiang capped off his career with the first orderly succession of the communist era, handing over his post as party leader in 2002 to Hu Jintao, who also assumed the ceremonial title of president the following year.
Jiang has tried to retain his influence by remaining chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the party’s military wing, the 2 million-strong People’s Liberation Army. He gave up this position in 2004 following complaints that he could split the government.
Even after leaving office, Jiang had influence over promotions through his network of proteges.
He was reportedly frustrated that Deng chose Hu as the next leader, preventing Jiang from installing his own successor. But Jiang was seen as successful in elevating allies to the party’s seven-member Standing Committee, China’s inner circle of power, when Xi became leader in 2012.
Bold and owlish in oversized glasses, Jiang was an exuberant figure who played the piano and loved to sing, unlike his more reserved successors, Hu and Xi.
He spoke enthusiastic if hesitant English and recited the Gettysburg address for foreign visitors. During a visit to Britain, he tried to entice Queen Elizabeth II to sing karaoke.
Jiang had disappeared from public view and appeared publicly for the last time alongside current and former leaders atop Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate during a military parade in 2019 celebrating the ruling party’s 70th anniversary.
Jiang was born on August 17, 1926 in the wealthy eastern city of Yangzhou. Official biographies downplay his family’s middle-class origins, instead emphasizing his uncle and adoptive father, Jiang Shangqing, an early revolutionary who was killed in action in 1939.
After graduating from the electrical machinery department of Shanghai Jiaotong University in 1947, Jiang rose through the ranks of state-controlled industries, working in a food factory, then in soap manufacturing and the largest factory. car from China.
Like many technocratic officials, Jiang spent part of the ultra-radical Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 as a farmhand. His professional rise resumed, and in 1983 he was appointed minister of the electronics industry, then a key but backward sector which the government hoped to revive by inviting foreign investment.
As mayor of Shanghai from 1985 to 1989, Jiang impressed foreign visitors as the representative of a new breed of outward-looking Chinese leaders.
A fierce political fighter, Jiang defied predictions that his tenure as ruler would be short-lived. He consolidated power by promoting members of his “Shanghai Faction” and granting the military annual double-digit percentage increases in spending.
Foreign leaders and CEOs who fled Beijing after the crackdown have been persuaded to return.
When Deng came out of retirement in 1992 to push for the revival of market-like reform in the face of conservative opposition after the Tiananmen crackdown, Jiang followed suit.
He backed Premier Zhu Rongji, the party’s No. 3, who pushed through painful changes that cut up to 40 million jobs in state industry in the late 1990s.
Zhu spearheaded the privatization of urban housing, sparking a building boom that turned Chinese cities into forests of skyscrapers 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, cementing its position as a magnet for foreign investment.
Despite a brilliant public image, Jiang dealt harshly with the ruling party’s challenges to power.
Its most publicized target was Falun Gong, a meditation group founded in the early 1990s. Chinese leaders were spooked by its ability to attract tens of thousands of followers, including military officers.
Activists who attempted to form an opposition party for Chinese democracy, a move permitted by Chinese law, were sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for subversion.
“Stability above all else,” ordered Jiang, in a phrase his successors have used to justify intensive social controls.
It fell to Jiang, standing alongside 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 neighboring Portuguese territory of Macau was returned to China in 1999.
Hong Kong was promised autonomy and has become a springboard for mainland businesses overseas. Meanwhile, Jiang has turned to coercion with Taiwan, the self-governing island Beijing says is its territory.
In 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 region in support.
At the same time, trade between the mainland and Taiwan has increased to billions of dollars annually.
China’s economic boom has divided society into winners and losers as waves of rural residents migrated to factory jobs in cities, the economy grew sevenfold and urban incomes nearly as much.
The once rare protests have spread as millions lost jobs in the state and farmers complained about rising taxes and fees. Divorce rates have soared. Corruption flourished.
One of Jiang’s sons, Jiang Mianheng, courted controversy in the late 1990s as a telecommunications trader and later chairman of the telephone company China Netcom Co.
Critics have accused him of abusing his father’s status to promote his career, a common complaint against the children of party leaders.
Jiang Mianheng, Ph.D. from Drexel University, went on to hold senior academic positions, including president of ShanghaiTech University in his father’s former power base.
Jiang is survived by his two sons and his wife, Wang Yeping, who worked in government bureaucracies in charge of state industries.
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