Jiang Zemin was the leader of China for 13 years, from 1990, when Deng was still powerful behind the scenes, to 2003. He was at the height of his power after Deng’s death in 1997 through the early 2000s. At one time he held nine major party, government and military titles, including President, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and Communist Party General Secretary. It was initially thought that Jiang would only serve a short time as a transition figure. Everyone was surprised that he hung on as long as he did.
Jiang’s rule was not absolute. He shared power to a large degree with others. He was neither reviled nor loved. He did not come from a peasant family and had no real revolutionary pedigree. He came across as an nerdy but affable bureaucrat. His policies had little obvious impact; change seemed to occur in spite of him rather than because of him; and he never really captured the imagination of the Chinese people. Even so, Jiang is generally credited with steering China on a positive course and bringing stability, economic prosperity, international prestige and some personal freedom to Chinese. He is given bad marks for the corruption, growing gap between rich and poor and social unrest that increased under his watch.
Jiang Zemin's Early Life
Jiang was born into an educated family in Yangzhou City in Jiangsu in 1926. Although he lacked the revolutionary background of the first Communist party leaders and never served in the military, he had one thing his predecessors didn't have: a university degree. He got an engineering degree from Jiatong University in Shanghai in 1947.
Jiang didn't join the Communist Party until he was 21, in 1947. In 1949 he went to Moscow for training at the Stalin Automobile Plant. He returned and worked at the state-run China No. 1 Automobile Factory. After that he worked as an administrator at several soap and food factories, including a popsicle factory, and then rose through the ranks of the Communist bureaucracy.
In the 1960s, Jiang worked at an atomic reactor institute and was head of the Ministry of the Electronics Industry. These were both targeted in Cultural Revolution campaigns. It is not known how much Jiang was affected. By 1970 he was out of harms way, working at the Ministry of Machine Building in Romania.
Jiang has often been described as bland and uncharismatic. Early during his tenure as China’s leader he often appeared wooden and seemed most comfortable in choreographed situations. When he first met U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1993 he spent most of their face-to-face meeting reading from a prepared text. Later in his tenure he appeared more relaxed and anxious to show off his singing an swimming ability when given the chance.
Jiang was described by people who knew him as witty, gracious and shrewd, a natural politician. He has been widely praised for having a common touch and relating to the problems of ordinary workers and the unemployed. One aid said "Jiang has a deep desire to make everyone like him."
As time went in Jiang seemed to enjoy being in the public eye and pressing the flesh. He hugged children in public appearances, wept at funerals, played the piano on television, danced the hula and played a steel guitar in Hawaii and had a reputation for telling unfunny jokes Describing Jiang at a dinner, Norman Pearlstine wrote in Time, "He has a wonderful voice that ranges—both in Chinese and his near fluent English—from low and deep to high pitched and animated when he gets worked up over an idea or joke. He is a good listener, leaning back in his chair with a cocked head, leaning forward to respond. His eyes...full of mirth.”
Jiang wore saucer-size glasses and had a large paunch and sometimes wore his pants, embarrassingly, with his belt secured above his stomach. He also known for combing his hair in front world leaders. Jiang and his wife, Wang Yeping, have two sons. The oldest son got a Ph.D in solid state physics at Pennsylvania's Drexel University.
Jiang's Hobbies and Interests
Jiang speaks Russian, English, German and Romanian and worked hard to maintain his language skills. Sometimes when he went on vacation he brought along ten language experts. Once on a trip to Chile, he delivered a 40 minute speech in Spanish, a language that he was previously not known to have spoken.
Jiang was widely versed in a number of subjects. He discussed computer technology with the chairman of IBM and quoted Shakespeare to the U.S. Secretary of State. He liked to recite Tang dynasty poetry and sing Beijing Opera in Chinese, quote and the opening lines of Anna Karenina in Russian and cite Lincoln's Gettysburg address or the Declaration of Independence in English when he met with U.S. officials.
In his free time Jiang liked to watch American movies, read Dickens, Goethe, Emily Brönte and Mark Twain and write poetry. One of Jiang's poems, "Feelings on Climbing Huang Mountain", was published on the front page of the People's Daily, China's largest daily newspaper, and was included in student textbooks. At his banquets, shark fin soup, hot pot, and coconut juice were served.
Jiang, Music and Swimming
Jiang is a self taught musician, who plays the piano, the flute, the ukelele, the organ, the Hawaiian guitar, and Chinese ehru. In 1982 he waltzed and sang "One Day When We Were Young” and “Wonderful Morning in May” with Dianne Feinstein, then mayor of San Francisco and now a U.S. senator. He gave president Clinton a Shanghai-made saxophone in 1993 and played church organs on trips to Finland and Holland.
Jiang liked to sing “Love Me Tender” and “Swanee River”. He sang “Love Me Tender” while cruising in Manila Bay with Philippine President Fidel Ramos and serenaded U.S. President Bush at a banquet and waltzed with his security advisor Condoleezza Rice. As President of China he met with director of MTV.
Like Mao and Deng, Jiang took to the water to show his good health and vigor when people had doubts about his health. He went swimming at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu in 1998, accompanied by 17 bodyguards, before meeting with Clinton. He did the breaststroke for an hour and swam more than a kilometer. On a trip to the Middle East he enjoyed floating on his back in the Dead Sea.
Jiang Zemin's Political Career
Jiang was the first Chinese leader without a military or revolutionary background. He spent most of his life in the cities with technocrats and rose through the ranks as a kind of "bureaucratic dilettante," rising as high as he did by "backing winners rather than attacking losers." His experience in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe won him a reputation as an internationalist.
Jiang was made party chief (a position higher than mayor) in Shanghai in 1985 at time when Shanghai was regarded as breeding ground for party talent. Jiang won brownies points when he managed to defuse huge pro-democracy demonstrations in Shanghai around the time of Tiananmen Square without ordering the military to open fire. Instead he closed down the Economic Herald, a Shanghai newspaper that allegedly fanned unrest in Beijing, and convinced Shanghai students to go home peacefully. During a speech at Jiantong University he saw a poster quoting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and surprised students by reciting passages from the address in English.
Jiang Zemin peaceful resolution of the demonstrations caught Deng's eye. Deng had just jettisoned the ultra liberal Zhao Ziyang and was looking for fresh blood but not one that rocked the boat too much. Jiang fit the bill. Within a matter a months he was brought to Beijing and promoted to the number 2 position in China in 1989.
Later as leader Jiang admitted mistakes were made at Tiananmen Square. Answering question about the use of force at Tiananmen Square after a speech at Harvard university, he said, "It goes without saying that naturally we may have shortcoming and even make some mistakes in our work. However we've been working on a constant basis to improve our work."
Jiang Becomes the Leader of China
In 1989, Jiang replaced Zhao Ziyang—who had been purged for being too sympathetic to the students at Tiananmen Square—as Deng’s successor. Largely regarded as a compromise candidate, Jiang was named head of the party in 1990. In 1993, he was named president and chairman of the Cental Military Commission, a position that formally belonged to Deng. When he was offered the job, Jiang's wife reportedly burst into tears and told him not to take the job.
Jiang ran the day to day operations of the government during the years when Deng Xiaoping's health was declining. In the early 1990s he "wooed military leaders and moved his allies into key party and government positions" and surprised everyone by outmaneuvering rivals and securing his position in 1994. Jiang may have lacked charisma and revolutionary pedigree background but so did his rivals.
To increase his standing in the Party, Jiang Zemin reportedly "muscled his way" to Bill Clinton's side in a "class photo" at the United Nation's 50th anniversary. Jiang outmaneuvered one rival—Chen Xitong, the mayor of Beijing—by expelling him from the party for corruption in 1995.
After Deng's death in February 1997, Jiang dismissed scores of civilian, military and security officials, including his main Politburo rival Qiao Shi, and filled the positions people who were loyal to him, many of them from his Shanghai Gang. The Shanghaiese were so well represented in the upper echelons of power people joked that Politburo meetings were conducted in the Shanghai dialect.
People were surprised by the way Jiang seized the moment and took the bull by the horns. Still regarded as a transitional figure mocked with names like "weather vane" and a "flower pot” and "Comrade Caretaker," he displayed great skill outmaneuvering his rivals, networking, cultivated ties in the military and avoided making mistakes. He was often so cautious that he only read prepared speeches in public so he wouldn’t say anything wrong. One Hong Kong political analyst told Time, "We just didn’t believe Jiang was capable of commanding the necessary respect after Deng is gone." One official "I was predicting he would last one year or so" after Deng died.
Rumors of Jiang's Death
Jiang did not appear at a Communist Party event in July 2011, sparking speculation on the internet that he had died. Authorities in Beijing dismissed reports of his death, and criticised the media for broadcasting the report. Jonathan Watts wrote the The Guardian, “Reports of the death of the former president Jiang Zemin have been greatly exaggerated, the Chinese state media has insisted, amid a frenzy of speculation online and overseas. In an unusual move, state news agency Xinhua issued a brief denial that the 84-year-old statesman had passed away to quell rumours that began on Friday when Jiang failed to attend the biggest political event of the year a 90th anniversary celebration to mark the founding of the Chinese Communist party. [Source: Jonathan Watts The Guardian, July 7, 2011]
Asia Television of Hong Kong broadcast a report on Wednesday claiming Jiang had died of an unnamed illness. Japanese and South Korean media issued similar bulletins. Chinese journalists said they had been told to expect news on Thursday, but the only comment was a single line from Xinhua. "Recent reports of some overseas media organisations about Jiang Zemin's death from illness are pure rumour," the newswire said, quoting unnamed "authoritative sources".
Despite the denial, speculation is unlikely to fully die down until Jiang is seen again in public. The last such big occasion was in October 2009 for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. Jiang was also present at an event in Sichuan last year, where his car was reportedly followed by an ambulance. Jiang is said to be suffering from an illness and possibly hospitalised, although it is hard to confirm because China treats the health of its leaders as a state secret. Until today, censors have tried to quell speculation by blocking references to related words on blogs and search engines: "Jiang", "myocardial infarction", "hung" a euphemism for death and "301 Hospital" a reference to the medical facility where he was said to be treated. Searches for "jiang", which means river, resulted in the warning: "Search results are not shown due to relevant laws and policies." Netizens sidestepped the prohibition by using English words and allusions.
The US-based dissident news site Boxun.com said Shandong News in eastern China had its website disabled by authorities for reporting Jiang's death, though the newspaper dismissed Boxun's report. Boxun showed what it said was a screenshot of Shandong News with a banner headline reading "Venerable Comrade Jiang Zemin Will Never Be Forgotten" next to a photo of the former leader.
A woman in the news department at Shandong News said the newspaper's site went offline on Wednesday because its servers crashed and it was still trying to fix the problem. The woman, who would only give her surname, Wang, said the website never posted news saying Jiang had died. "That's a rumour," she said. "Maybe someone with ulterior motives made that screenshot." The internet cat-and-mouse game over the possible death of a former leader underscores how secretive China's Communist party leadership remains and the difficulties of maintaining that secrecy in a well-wired society.
Jiang's Appearance Ends Rumors
In October 2011, The Guardian reported: “Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin has made a rare public appearance in Beijing after months of speculation that he had died or was close to death.The 85-year-old appeared on stage with other former and current top Chinese leaders in the Great Hall of the People at an event commemorating the centennial of the 1911 revolution that overthrew imperial rule in China. Dressed in a dark blue suit and red tie, Jiang wore his signature large, square-rimmed glasses as he sat listening to speeches with his hands on the table in front of him. At times he appeared tired. [Source: The Guardian, October 19, 2011]
Jiang's failure to appear at a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist party in July prompting intense speculation that he had died. While the rumours were suppressed on the mainland, they were widely reported in Hong Kong. The Chinese government dismissed the reports as rumours.
Beijing's traditional secrecy on the health of top leaders is particularly marked ahead of next year's party congress, which is expected to confirm a transition in China's leadership.The death of Jiang, a retired but still influential figure, could cause some of his proteges to shift allegiance, affecting the jockeying for power among China's political elites. China prefers to keep such machinations behind the scenes.
Willy Lam wrote, “At the 17th Party Congress in 2007, Jiang also played a pivotal role in the selection of Vice President Xi Jinping, another princeling, as Hu’s presumptive successor as party chief and state president. Before he fell sick earlier this year, Jiang reportedly gave strong backing to Vice Premier Wang Qishan’the son-in-law of late Vice Premier Yao Yilin’to replace Wen Jiabao as premier shortly after the 18th Party Congress. This was despite the tacit understanding at the 17th Party Congress that Executive Vice Premier Li Keqiang, a stalwart of the CYL Faction and a key protégé of President Hu’s, would be given Wen’s job. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, Jamestown Foundation, October 28, 2011]
In December 2011, the BBC reported: Regulators have fined a Hong Kong TV station $39,000 (£25,000) for airing a report suggesting that former Chinese President Jiang Zemin had died. The Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority said Asia Television (ATV) had failed to ensure the accuracy of reports of the ex-leader's death on 6 July. ATV also took too long to correct the mistake, said the regulators. The Broadcasting Authority (BA) upheld a complaint against ATV, and said in a statement on its website on Monday that the channel had taken an "irresponsible approach in its response to BA's inquiry". [Source: BBC, December 6, 2011]
Jiang Zemin and the 2012 Party Congress
At the 18th Party Congress, where Xi Jinping was selected leader of China, former President Jiang Zemin appeared to have played a big role behind the scenes. Tom Hancock of AFP wrote: "He was wrongly reported dead last year, and his political influence was said to have faded as a younger generation assumed control of China, but former President Jiang Zemin has made a surprise comeback. As the Communist Party unveiled its new leadership line-up, Jiang's fingerprints—or at least those of the faction for which he is a leading figure—seem increasingly clear on the transition. [Source: Tom Hancock, AFP, November 13, 2012]
Jiang entered Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People for the opening of the party's congress last week directly behind outgoing general secretary Hu Jintao and sat next to him, dozing intermittently. Analysts say the 86-year-old Jiang's prominence at the congress reflects his continued impact on behind-the-scenes negotiations to pick China's next crop of top leaders. Jiang loyalists made up the core of China's most senior decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, headed by current Vice President Xi Jinping who is widely viewed as a consensus figure. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, of Hong Kong Baptist University, said: “It is a bit of a Jiang Zemin clique. Hu Jintao has lost a lot of influence.
The New York Times reported: “Mr. Jiang wielded heavy backstage influence in choosing the new leadership team under Mr. Xi that was appointed at the Communist Party’s 18th Congress in November. The seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, which sits at the apex of party power, is now dominated by protégés and allies of Mr. Jiang, and short on officials close to Mr. Hu, the departing leader who succeeded Mr. Jiang. “I think that everyone was amazed that at 86 he still had the ability to achieve the influence that he wielded at the 18th Party Congress,” said Mr. Fewsmith. “Having helped put in place the leadership that he wanted, it seems likely that he will now seek a lower profile.” [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, January 23, 2013] After the Party Congress, Mr. Jiang has kept himself in the news. In addition to publishing a book about his ideas on economic reform, he has written a preface to an anthology of verses about bamboo, which included one of his own poems, and the preface to a picture book about a deceased protégé, according to state media.
As the party congress has neared, Jiang has emerged from relative seclusion, making his presence felt with several highly public appearances. One of the first came in April, with reports of a meeting between Jiang and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, just a week after the party began its purge of former Chongqing communist chief Bo Xilai, for whom Jiang was considered a patron. That outing was seen as an early signal that Jiang intended to play a large role in the transition. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, November 5, 2012 ]
Jiang Zemin Still a Major Force Behind Scenes in 2012
Tom Hancock of AFP wrote: "Jiang was pronounced dead by a Hong Kong TV station in 2011 after a period of illness, prompting furious speculation. But a healthy-looking Jiang has made several high-profile appearances in 2012, in what analysts see as an attempt to display his political credentials ahead of the congress — where he sported a shock of nut-brown dyed hair. His leverage on party negotiations was boosted by a recent scandal involving Hu's close political ally Ling Jihua, who according to reports attempted to cover up a Ferrari crash that killed his son, who had two young women in the vehicle. [Source: Tom Hancock, AFP, November 13, 2012]
"Jiang plays the role of kingmaker," said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the University of Hong Kong who wrote a biography of Jiang. "He has been very effective in this factional struggle." Jiang's motivation for reasserting his influence is likely to be more about protecting family interests than promoting a political agenda, analysts said. "In the run up to the congress Jiang wants more of his proteges to be promoted to ensure his legacy and protect his two children," Lam said. Jiang's son Jiang Mianheng, the high-profile head of an investment firm, has brokered deals with foreign firms including Microsoft and Nokia. His younger son is the director of a research centre. "Because his two sons are doing a lot of business, they might be exposed to allegations of corruption," Lam said. "Jiang wants to make sure he can protect them from that."
Jiang has jockeyed into place several allies on the Politburo Standing Committee, leaving outgoing Hu with fewer loyalist on the body. "In terms of people who will unquestioningly do Hu's bidding there's only one: Li Keqiang," Lam said, referring to the man expected to become China's new premier. But Hu has ensured that his own loosely connected group of allies will have long term influence, by promoting his associates into top posts in the military and as regional party chiefs.
"I suspect Jiang's influence might not last beyond the Congress. He is trying to pull some strings but is not a powerful figure," said Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at Britain's University of Nottingham. Jiang's power is also threatened by continuing doubts about his health, and a likely push by Xi to assert himself once he assumes the top party post, observers say.
Battle Between Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin
Jiang is associated with more business-friendly, free-market economic policies while Hu's camp is said to favour a greater role for the state in the economy, and emphasises fairer distribution as well as economic growth. When Hu was in the process of stepping down as president in 2012, William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “Hu’s biggest challenge is the same one he has faced throughout his tenure: his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, 86, who continues to be the dominant force in Chinese politics. According to several current and former officials, party intellectuals, advisers and analysts — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of heightened party sensitivities ahead of the once-a-decade leadership transition — Jiang is trying to secure key spots for his allies during the upcoming transition and, by many accounts, is succeeding. The most important appointments, to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. “Hu is trying to do with his successor what Jiang did to Hu and what even earlier Deng Xiaoping did to Jiang,” said an editor of a party publication. “Each generation tries to hold sway over the next.” [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, November 5, 2012 ]
“Some analysts caution against viewing China’s politics solely through the prism of Jiang vs. Hu. “It’s not always so clear-cut to say who is in which group,” one retired party official said. There are also other players: the military, powerful state-owned enterprises and the rising class of “princelings” to which Xi belongs — leaders descended from former senior officials. But there is widespread agreement that the two biggest centers of power in China today are Jiang and Hu.
“Both were plucked from relative obscurity by Deng after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Deng hoped a clearer succession plan would add stability to the system; he appointed Jiang as his immediate successor and elevated Hu so that he could later take Jiang’s place. Jiang built his camp of allies — called the “Shanghai gang” — drawing from his old base as the city’s party chief. He was known for a showman’s flair that remains rare among the party’s mostly wooden personalities. Hu is more subdued. People who have met him describe a bland bookworm with a photographic memory, a stiff smile and an overriding sense of caution. His faction is often referred to as “tuanpai,” for the Communist Youth League he once led and mined for allies.
“But one person with access to senior Chinese leaders warned that it is “not entirely fair to say this is a fight between two men.” “It would also be a mistake to interpret the competition as personal hostility or disagreement,” the person said. “This is primarily a battle over personnel.” A former party official agreed. Although Hu and Jiang had different focuses during their tenures, past leaders tend not to meddle directly in policy once retired, the former official said. “That’s why the appointments of their allies matter so much; it becomes their primary way of exerting any influence and protecting their interests.”
“Hu has lost at least one major fight, failing to see his protege Li Keqiang named as his successor. Instead, Xi, a compromise candidate with Jiang’s approval, was chosen for the job in 2007, party experts say, and Li was positioned for the lower job of premier. And if lists being circulated among party officials and experts are to be believed, Jiang has been similarly successful in elevating his allies over Hu’s into many of the next Standing Committee’s seats.
“But some political watchers caution that Hu may be playing a deeper game, bargaining away slots on the Standing Committee for seats on the less powerful but more plentiful Politburo or perhaps preserving a seat for himself or Li on the commission that oversees the military. A few also theorize that Hu is looking at this period in his presidency differently than Jiang — that he may want to leave the incoming leadership less vulnerable to the machinations of elders. “You could argue that Hu sees himself as a selfless representation of the party, its integrity and institutionalization. He wields power but doesn’t play the game quite the same way Jiang does,” said Chris Johnson, a former top CIA analyst for China who is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Jiang Zemin Steps Back
In January 2013, Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “ Jiang Zemin has used the death of a former rival to signal that he may allow his political shadow to recede and give the nation’s newest leader more room to consolidate his authority. The sign came in official accounts of mourning for Yang Baibing, a general who was pushed from office after being implicated in efforts to challenge Mr. Jiang. A report on General Yang’s funeral by Xinhua, the state news agency, ranked Mr. Jiang last among a dozen party luminaries who had offered words of comfort and condolences. [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, January 23, 2013]
As recently as late November, Mr. Jiang, 86, was placed third in rank in a similar mourning announcement, behind Hu Jintao. For some political analysts seeking to fathom the undercurrents of power in China’s secretive elite, Mr. Jiang’s reduced protocol ranking suggested something more — that he may finally curb any impulses to exert influence behind the red walls of Zhongnanhai, the party leadership’s compound in central Beijing. “In China, the saying goes that you must live up to your title to give your words sway, so if Jiang Zemin meddles in politics again after making this step, his reputation will be badly damaged,” said Yao Jianfu, a retired party official and researcher in Beijing. “It’s a change in protocol, but now he’ll be expected to live up to it and stop being such a political busybody,” said Mr. Yao.
That may not come easily to Mr. Jiang, whose later career was marked by the flamboyant gestures of a politician who had grown to enjoy attention. He retired as party general secretary in November 2002, and stepped down from his final major post, chairman of the Central Military Commission, nearly two year later. Since then he has used public appearances, books, poems, essays and calligraphy inscriptions as reminders that he remained healthy and engaged enough to exert influence, said analysts.
Mr. Jiang’s concession regarding protocol appeared calculated to signal that he is ready to step away from the political fray, but in a way that does not exclude renewed efforts to exert influence, said Joseph Fewsmith, a specialist in Chinese politics at Boston University. Yet even in announcing Mr. Jiang’s lowered ranking, state news media suggested that he remains a figure who expects deference. “After the 18th Party Congress, Comrade Jiang Zemin submitted a request to the Party’s central leadership that in the future he be ranked alongside the other old comrades in the protocol ranking,” Xinhua reported. “This embodies the noble integrity and generous spirit of a Communist.”
Mr. Jiang’s step comes while the new leader, Mr. Xi, has been trying to consolidate his power and win public confidence through repeated vows to eradicate corruption and impose discipline on lax officials. An official with a state media organization said that when Mr. Xi vowed in early December to curb the perks and fanfare lavished on serving leaders, he remained deferential to Mr. Jiang and other retired leaders and stressed that the strictures did not apply to them. “This was a way of showing respect to old comrades,” added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing bans on disclosing internal party discussions. An editor with another party media organization cited an official circular that conveyed the same message from Mr. Xi. The editor said Mr. Jiang’s protocol concession appeared intended to indicate “he won’t get in the involved in the arrangements for the 19th Party Congress, whether he’s dead or alive.”
Mr. Jiang sees Mr. Xi as an ally. “Jiang could still exert influence, and he has publicly made the point that he volunteered to the protocol change, that he wasn’t forced,” said Chen Ziming, an independent scholar in Beijing who closely follows politics. “But I don’t think he’ll pose a major impediment to Xi. He generally supports him.”
Happy 90th Birthday, Uncle Toad
Fans of Jiang Zemin showed their love for him with ‘Happy birthday, Uncle Toad’ Pop art tributes on Chinese social media to mark his 90th birthday. The forum was also used to mock the current leader Xi Jinping. Jun Mai wrote in the South China Morning Post: “He may have been ridiculed while in power but Jiang Zemin has inspired a wave of nostalgic political pop art on his 90th birthday. ““Happy birthday, Uncle Toad! One more second!” a WeChat user wrote on Wednesday under a cartoon of a rectangular pair of glasses in the shape of a “90”. The meaning of the post is well understood on the mainland, despite complete official media silence on the milestone. [Source: Jun Mai South China Morning Post, August 17, 2016]
““Uncle Toad” is a nickname originally used to poke fun at his physical appearance and the glasses are the shape of the emblematic eyewear Jiang wore throughout his time at the top. “One more second” is a slogan used by a growing group of his admirers to wish him long life, after repeated reports about Jiang’s ailing health. “The message was one of many posted on the country’s biggest social media platforms by a half-joking group of admirers who have grown since a blogger based in Jiangsu province started in 2014 to write extensively and seriously about the former president, calling Jiang “our toad”. Among the online birthday cards was a video of Jiang’s presidential highlights, including his hot-tempered lecturing of a Hong Kong journalist in 2004.
“Jiang’s popularity online is also set against the public portrayal of President Xi Jinping as a highly knowledgeable leader, despite interruptions to his formal education when he was a teen. Even Jiang’s once widely ridiculed singing and idiosyncratic diplomatic style have come in for praise. “Jiang didn’t think singing in public was indecent ... He shows the world the humane site of China, that its top leader is an ordinary person, not an emperor,” the Jiangsu blogger wrote last year. “A slightly ridiculous leader is much better than an arrogant ... and self-centered leader.” Soon after Xi convened a key meeting in 2014 to urge writers and artists to serve the Communist Party’s political ends, the blogger wrote: “Literature and arts [in Jiang’s time] were not interfered with, the spirit of life was still alive.”
Spanish Judge Orders Arrest of Jiang Zemin Over Tibet Policy
In 2014, a Spanish judge sought international arrest warrants for Jiang Zemin and four other top Chinese officials as part of a probe into alleged genocide in Tibet. AFP reported: High Court Judge Ismael Moreno ordered Interpol to issue the arrest warrants for the five for genocide, torture and crimes against humanity as part of a case brought against them in Spain by human rights groups. "Jiang exercised supervisory authority over the people who directly committed abuses, which makes him responsible for acts of torture and other major abuses of human rights perpetrated by his subordinates against the people of Tibet," Moreno wrote in his ruling. "He promoted and actively implemented policies whose objective was to populate the Autonomous Region of Tibet with a majority from the Han ethnic group, detain thousands of Tibetans during lengthy periods, torture the detained and submit them to other illegal abuses." [Source: AFP, February 11, 2014]
“In addition to Jiang, the judge ordered the arrest of former Prime Minister Li Peng; former security and police chief Qiao Shi; Chen Kuiyan, a former Communist Party official in Tibet; and Peng Pelyun, a former family planning minister. The High Court in November said it had accepted arguments from Spanish pro-Tibet human rights groups that international reports indicate that the five men may have had a role in human rights abuses and should be questioned.
“The case against the Chinese officials was brought by the rights groups under Spain's recognition of "universal jurisdiction", a doctrine that allows judges to try certain cases of human rights abuses committed in other countries. The doctrine allowed Spain's former judge Baltasar Garzon to try to arrest and try the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. While very few probes opened under the doctrine have seen people brought to trial in Spain, investigations have irked some countries.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2021