Jiang Zemin: Xi Jinping calls for unity at former president’s memorial service

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China’s Xi Jinping on Tuesday called on the country to unite around his leadership as he addressed a memorial service for former leader Jiang Zemin, following an unprecedented dissent over his policies zero-Covid and its authoritarian regime.

At the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi led hundreds of Chinese political and military elites to pay their last respects to Jiang, who died last Wednesday at the age of 96.

The ceremony, broadcast live on national television, capped a week of commemorations for Jiang, who died of leukemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai at a particularly sensitive time in China.

The weekend before his death, thousands of people took to the streets across China to demand an end to strict Covid restrictions, in the most widespread protests since the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement in 1989, which has immediately preceded Jiang’s rise to power.

In a somber speech, Xi hailed Jiang as “an outstanding leader with great prestige” and “a long-proven communist fighter”, calling his death an “incalculable loss” for the country.

Standing in front of a giant image of Jiang and a row of white chrysanthemum wreaths, Xi called on the nation to “turn sorrow into strength.”

“The whole party, the whole army and the people of all ethnic groups in the country should unite more closely around the central leadership of the party” to achieve a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, he said. he declared.

Sirens sounded across the country as citizens marked three minutes of silence. Stock, money and bond markets suspended trading during the official quiet period, while public entertainment – including some popular online games – was halted throughout the day on Tuesday.

Watch Jiang Zemin’s Career Highlights

It was a stark contrast to recent rowdy scenes of protests as young protesters called for an end to Covid lockdowns and Xi’s repressive policies, from ever-tighter censorship to global ideological checks.

The boldest political challenge came from Shanghai, where crowds openly called on Xi to “step down” for two consecutive nights. The site of the Shanghai protests is just a stone’s throw from Huadong Hospital, where Jiang died.

Given China’s history of people taking to the streets to mourn the deaths of former leaders while voicing their grievances against incumbent governments, observers had warned that Jiang’s death could reinvigorate protests.

But his death did not lead to an obvious outpouring of anger, as Chinese security forces had already moved quickly to quell street protests in major cities with a heavy police presence as well as a campaign of surveillance and intimidation. . Local authorities have also started easing some Covid restrictions, after the country’s top health official said its pandemic checks had entered a “new stage and mission”.

As of Monday, more than 20 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, had scrapped requirements for negative Covid tests on public transport. Beijing further relaxed the rules on Tuesday, no longer requiring tests to enter supermarkets, offices, malls, residential communities and airports, although the requirement still stands for restaurants, gyms and restaurants. indoor entertainment venues.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping leads other officials in a bow during an official memorial for the late Chinese leader Jiang Zemin in Beijing on December 6, 2022.

Tuesday’s service followed another closed-door ceremony attended by Xi and other senior leaders at a military hospital on Monday, before Jiang’s body was cremated.

All members of the party’s Politburo Supreme Standing Committee attended the farewell ceremony, along with retired leaders – including former President Hu Jintao, who was abruptly ousted from a late Communist Party congress. october.

The proceedings were led by Jiang’s eldest son, Jiang Mianheng, who held a portrait of his father and received a hug from Xi – in a rare show of emotion from the supreme leader.

Jiang’s death sparked a flood of memories on China’s tightly controlled social media, with many mourning the former leader – and a bygone era when China was seen as freer and more open to the world.

Coming to power following the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, Jiang brought China out of its international isolation and guided its integration into the global market. He presided over a decade of explosive economic growth, during which the party retreated from many aspects of private life and made room for independent journalism, the expression of dissent and a nascent civil society. .

Under Xi, however, many of these freedoms have been curtailed. The party is now dictating what people are allowed to watch, read, listen to and buy in their private lives to an extent not seen in decades.

But Jiang’s decade in power has been blighted by the brutal enforcement of the now abandoned one-child policy, harsh suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and rampant corruption. China’s Great Internet Censorship Firewall project was also launched during Jiang’s tenure.

“When you have no hope for the future, you will turn the past into a paradise,” read a widely circulated comment on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

Still, experts say the wave of Jiang-era nostalgia is a veiled critique of the country’s authoritarian turn under Xi.

BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 08: Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin attends the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People on November 8, 2012 in Beijing, China.  The Communist Party Congress will meet Nov. 8-14 and determine the party's next leaders.  (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

How Jiang Zemin’s death could impact protests in China

“It is used as a contrast to the present. Because they can’t criticize Xi,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

On Tuesday, in his first public address since the protests, Xi praised Jiang for ensuring the party’s survival in the face of the “political storms” of his day.

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, serious political storms arose at home and abroad, and world socialism experienced serious complications. Some Western countries have imposed so-called ‘sanctions’ on China, and the development of our country’s socialist cause has faced unprecedented difficulties and pressure,” Xi said in reference to international isolation. of China after the Tiananmen crackdown.

But Jiang led the party to adhere to reform and opening up, strengthen ties with the people, strengthen ideological work, proactively engage in “diplomatic struggles” and uphold independence. , dignity, security and stability of China, Xi said.

He cited Jiang’s words – such as “We must have a heroic spirit that crushes all enemies” and “Men cannot bend our noble heads” – as a rallying call for the country to maintain its “spirit of struggle”.

“We need to build the ambition, the backbone and the confidence of the whole party, the whole country and all the ethnic groups. We will not believe in heresies, we will not be afraid of ghosts or succumb to pressure, and we will overcome all difficulties and challenges in the journey ahead,” Xi said.


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