Jiang Zemin (UK: / /, US: / /; born 17 August 1926) is a retired Chinese politician who served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1989 to 2002, as Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1989 to 2004, and as President of the People's Republic of China from 1993 to 2003. Jiang has been described as the "core of the third generation" of Communist Party leaders since 1989.
Jiang Zemin came to power unexpectedly as a 'compromise candidate' following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, when he replaced Zhao Ziyang as General Secretary after Zhao was ousted for his support for the student movement. With the waning influence of Eight Elders due to old age and with the death of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang consolidated his hold on power and became the "paramount leader" of the country in the 1990s.
Under Jiang's leadership, China experienced substantial economic growth with the continuation of reforms, saw the peaceful return of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom and Macau from Portugal, and improved its relations with the outside world while the Communist Party maintained its tight control over the government. His contributions to party doctrine, known as the "Three Represents," were written into the party's constitution in 2002. Jiang vacated the post of party General Secretary and Politburo Standing Committee in 2002, but did not relinquish all of his leadership titles until 2005, and continued to influence affairs until much later. At the age of 91 years, 230 days Jiang Zemin is currently the oldest living former General Secretary and President.
Jiang Zemin was born in the city of Yangzhou, Jiangsu. His ancestral home was Jiangwan (江湾) in Wuyuan County, Jiangxi. This was also the hometown of a number of prominent figures in Chinese academic and intellectual establishments. Jiang grew up during the years of Japanese occupation. His uncle, also his foster father, Jiang Shangqing, died fighting the Japanese in World War II and is considered in Jiang Zemin's time to be a national hero. Since Shangqing had no heirs, Shangqing's elder brother, Jiang's biological father Jiang Shijun, the vice officer of the publicity department of Japanese-ruled Nanking government, let Jiang become the adopted son of Shangqing's wife, his aunt, Wang Zhelan, whom he referred to as "Niang" (Chinese: 娘; "Mom"). There is some doubt if Jiang was really adopted at the time:
Jiang attended the Department of Electrical Engineering at the National Central University in Japanese-occupied Nanjing before being transferred to National Chiao Tung University. He graduated there in 1947 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
He claims that he joined the Communist Party of China when he was in college. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Jiang received his training at the Stalin Automobile Works in Moscow in the 1950s. He also worked for Changchun's First Automobile Works. He was eventually transferred to government services, where he began to rise in prominence and rank, eventually becoming a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Minister of Electronic Industries in 1983.
In 1985 he became Mayor of Shanghai, and subsequently the Party Secretary of Shanghai. Jiang received mixed reviews as mayor. Many of his critics dismissed him as a "flower pot", a Chinese term for someone who only seems useful, but actually gets nothing done. Many credited Shanghai's growth during the period to Zhu Rongji. Jiang was an ardent believer, during this period, in Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms. In an attempt to curb student discontent in 1986, Jiang recited the Gettysburg Address in English in front of a group of student protesters.
Jiang was described as having a passable command of several foreign languages, including Romanian, Russian, and English. One of his favorite activities was to engage foreign visitors in small talk on arts and literature in their native language, in addition to singing foreign songs in the original language. He became friends with Allen Broussard, the African-American judge who visited Shanghai in 1987 and Brazilian actress Lucélia Santos.
Jiang was elevated to national politics in 1987, automatically becoming a member of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee because it is customarily dictated that the Party Secretary of Shanghai would also have a seat in the Politburo. In 1989, China was in crisis over the Tiananmen Square protest, and the central government was in conflict on how to handle the protesters. In June, Deng Xiaoping dismissed liberal Zhao Ziyang, who was considered to be too conciliatory toward the student protestors. At the time, Jiang was the Shanghai Party secretary, the top figure in China's new economic center. In an incident with the World Economic Herald, Jiang closed down the newspaper, deeming it to be harmful. The handling of the crisis in Shanghai was noticed by Beijing, and then by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. As the protests escalated and then Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang was removed from office, Jiang was selected by the Party leaders as a compromise candidate over Tianjin's Li Ruihuan, Premier Li Peng, Li Xiannian, Chen Yun, and the retired elders to become the new General Secretary. Before that, he had been considered to be an unlikely candidate. Within three years, Deng had transferred most power in the state, party and military to Jiang.
Jiang was elevated to the country's top job in 1989 with a fairly small power base inside the party, and thus, very little actual power. His most reliable allies were the powerful party elders – Chen Yun and Li Xiannian. He was believed to be simply a transitional figure until a more stable successor government to Deng could be put in place. Other prominent Party and military figures like Yang Shangkun and his brother Yang Baibing were believed to be planning a coup. Jiang used Deng Xiaoping as a back-up to his leadership in the first few years. Jiang, who was believed to have a neo-conservative slant, warned against "bourgeois liberalization". Deng's belief, however, stipulated that the only solution to keeping the legitimacy of Communist rule over China was to continue the drive for modernization and economic reform, and therefore placed himself at odds with Jiang.
At the first meeting of the new Politburo Standing Committee, after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, Jiang criticized the previous period as "hard on the economy, soft on politics" and advocated increasing political thought work. Anne-Marie Brady wrote that "Jiang Zemin was a long time political cadre with a nose for ideological work and its importance. This meeting marked the beginning of a new era in propaganda and political thought work in China." Soon after, the Central Propaganda Department was given more resources and power, "including the power to go in to the propaganda-related work units and cleanse the ranks of those who had been supportive of the democracy movement."
Deng grew critical of Jiang's leadership in 1992. During Deng's southern tours, he subtly suggested that the pace of reform was not fast enough, and the "central leadership" (i.e. Jiang) had most responsibility. Jiang grew ever more cautious, and rallied behind Deng's reforms completely. In 1993, Jiang coined the new "socialist market economy" to move China's centrally-planned socialist economy into essentially a government-regulated capitalist market economy. It was a huge step to take in the realization of Deng's "Socialism with Chinese characteristics". At the same time, Jiang elevated many of his supporters from Shanghai to high government positions, after regaining Deng's confidence. He abolished the outdated Central Advisory Committee, an advisory body composed of revolutionary party elders. He became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 1989, followed by his election to the Presidency in March 1993.
In the early 1990s, post-Tiananmen economic reforms had stabilized and the country was on a consistent growth trajectory. At the same time, China faced a myriad of economic and social problems. At Deng's state funeral in 1997, Jiang delivered the elder statesman's eulogy. Jiang had inherited a China rampant with political corruption, and regional economies growing too rapidly for the stability of the entire country. Deng's policy that "some areas can get rich before others" led to an opening wealth gap between coastal regions and the interior provinces. The unprecedented economic growth and the deregulation in a number of heavy industries led to the closing of many state-owned enterprises (SOEs), breaking the iron rice bowl.
As a result, unemployment rates skyrocketed, rising as high as 40% in some urban areas. Stock markets fluctuated greatly. The scale of rural migration into urban areas was unprecedented anywhere, and little was being done to address an ever-increasing urban-rural wealth gap. Official reports put the figure on the percentage of China's GDP being moved and abused by corrupt officials at 10%. A chaotic environment of illegal bonds issued from civil and military officials resulted in much of the corrupted wealth ending up in foreign countries. The re-emergence of organized crime and a surge in crime rates began to plague cities. A careless stance on the destruction of the environment furthered concerns voiced by intellectuals.
Jiang's biggest aim in the economy was stability, and he believed that a stable government with highly centralised power would be a prerequisite, choosing to postpone political reform, which in many facets of governance exacerbated the ongoing problems. Jiang continued pouring funds to develop the Special Economic Zones and coastal regions. Beginning in 1996, Jiang began a series of reforms in the state-controlled media aimed at promoting the "core of leadership" under himself, and at the same time crushing some of his political opponents. The personality enhancements in the media were largely frowned upon during the Deng era, and had not been seen since the Mao era in the late 1970s.
The People's Daily and CCTV-1's 7 pm Xinwen Lianbo each had Jiang-related events as the front-page or top stories, a fact that remained until Hu Jintao's media administrative changes in 2006. Jiang appeared casual in front of Western media, and gave an unprecedented interview with Mike Wallace of CBS in 2000 at Beidaihe. He would often use foreign languages in front of the camera, albeit not always fluently. In an encounter with a Hong Kong reporter in 2000 regarding the central government's apparent "imperial order" of supporting Tung Chee-hwa to seek a second term as Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Jiang scolded the Hong Kong journalists as "too simple, sometimes naive" in English. The event was shown on Hong Kong television that night.
In June 1999, Jiang established an extralegal department, the 6-10 Office, to expel Falun Gong from mainland China. On 20 July, security forces abducted and detained thousands of Falun Gong organizers they identified as leaders. The persecution that followed was characterized a nationwide campaign of propaganda, as well as the large-scale arbitrary imprisonment and coercive reeducation of Falun Gong organizers, sometimes resulting in death.
Jiang went on a groundbreaking state visit to the United States in 1997, drawing various crowds in protest from the Tibet Independence Movement to supporters of the Chinese democracy movement. He made a speech at Harvard University, part of it in passable English, but could not escape questions on democracy and freedom. In the official summit meeting with US President Bill Clinton, the tone was relaxed as Jiang and Clinton sought common ground while largely ignoring areas of disagreement. Clinton would visit China in June 1998, and vowed that China and the United States were partners in the world, and not adversaries. When American-led NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999, Jiang seemed to have put up a harsh stance for show at home, but in reality only performed symbolic gestures of protest, and no solid action. Jiang's foreign policy was for the most part passive and non-confrontational. A personal friend of former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Jiang strengthened China's economic stature abroad, attempting to establish cordial relations with countries whose trade is largely confined to the American economic sphere. Despite this, there were at least three serious flare-ups between China and the US during Jiang's tenure: the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996, the above-mentioned NATO bombing of Serbia, and the Hainan Island incident in April 2001.
Jiang did not specialize in economics, and in 1997 handed most of the economic governance of the country to Zhu Rongji, who became Premier, and remained in office through the Asian financial crisis. Under their joint leadership, Mainland China has sustained an average of 8% GDP growth annually, achieving the highest rate of per capita economic growth in major world economies, raising eyebrows around the world with its astonishing speed. This was mostly achieved by continuing the process of a transition to a market economy. Strong party control over China was cemented by the PRC's successful bid to join the World Trade Organization and Beijing winning the bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Before he transferred power to a younger generation of leaders, Jiang had his theory of Three Represents written into the Party's constitution, alongside Marxism–Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and Deng Xiaoping Theory at the 16th CPC Congress in 2002. Critics believe this is just another piece added to Jiang's cult of personality, others have seen practical applications of the theory as a guiding ideology in the future direction of the CPC. Largely speculated to step down from all positions by international media, rival Li Ruihuan's resignation in 2002 prompted analysts to rethink the man. The theory of Three Represents was believed by many political analysts to be Jiang's effort at extending his vision to Marxist–Leninist principles, and therefore elevating himself alongside previous Chinese Marxist philosophers Mao and Deng.
In 2002, Jiang stepped down from the powerful Politburo Standing Committee and as General Secretary to make way for a "fourth generation" of leadership headed by Hu Jintao, beginning a transition of power that would last several years. Hu assumed Jiang's title as party head, becoming the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. At the 16th Party Congress held in the autumn of 2002, observers noted at the time that six out of the nine new members of Standing Committee were considered part of Jiang's so-called "Shanghai Clique", the most prominent being Vice President Zeng Qinghong, who had served as Jiang's chief of staff for many years, and Vice Premier Huang Ju, a former party chief of Shanghai.
Although Jiang retained the chairmanship of the powerful Central Military Commission, most members of the commission were professional military men. Liberation Army Daily, a publication thought to represent the views of the CMC majority, printed an article on 11 March 2003 which quotes two army delegates as saying, "Having one center is called 'loyalty', while having two centers will result in 'problems.'" This was widely interpreted as a criticism of Jiang's attempt to exercise dual leadership with Hu on the model of Deng Xiaoping.
Hu succeeded Jiang as party leader in November 2002. To the surprise of many observers, evidence of Jiang's continuing influence on public policy abruptly disappeared from the official media. Jiang was conspicuously silent during the SARS crisis, especially when compared to the very public profile of Hu and the newly anointed Premier, Wen Jiabao. It has been argued that the institutional arrangements created by the 16th Congress have left Jiang in a position where he cannot exercise much influence. Although many of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee were associated with him, the Standing Committee does not necessarily have command authority over the civilian bureaucracy.
On 19 September 2004, after a four-day meeting of the Central Committee, Jiang relinquished his post as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, his last post in the party. Six months later he resigned his last significant post, chairman of the Central Military Commission of the state. This followed weeks of speculation that forces inside the party were pressing Jiang to step aside. Jiang's term was supposed to have lasted until 2007. Hu also succeeded Jiang as the CMC chairman, but, in an apparent political defeat for Jiang, General Xu Caihou, and not Zeng Qinghong was appointed to succeed Hu as vice chairman, as was initially speculated. This power transition formally marked the end of Jiang's era in China, which roughly lasted from 1993 to 2004.
Jiang continued to make official appearances after giving up his last title in 2004. In China's strictly defined protocol sequence, Jiang's name always appeared immediately after Hu Jintao's and in front of the remaining sitting members of the Politburo Standing Committee. In 2007, Jiang was seen with Hu Jintao on stage at a ceremony celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army, and toured the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution with Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, and other former senior officials. On 8 August 2008, Jiang appeared at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. He also stood beside Hu Jintao during 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China mass parade in October 2009.
Beginning in July 2011, false reports of Jiang's death began circulating on the news media outside of mainland China and on the internet. While Jiang may indeed have been ill and receiving treatment, the rumours were denied by official sources. On 9 October 2011, Jiang made his first public appearance since his premature obituary in Beijing at a celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. Jiang reappeared at the 18th Party Congress in October 2012, and took part in the 65th Anniversary banquet of the founding of the People's Republic of China in October 2014. At the banquet he sat next to Xi Jinping, who had then succeeded Hu Jintao as party General Secretary. In September 2015, Jiang attended the parade celebrating 70 years since end of World War II; there, Jiang again sat next to Xi Jinping and Hu Jintao. He appeared on 29 May 2017 at Shanghai Technology University.
After Xi Jinping assumed power, Jiang's position in the protocol sequence of leaders retreated; while he was often seated next to Xi Jinping at official events, his name was often reported after all standing members of the Communist Party's Politburo. Jiang reappeared at the 19th Party Congress on 18 October 2017.
Jiang's legacy is subject to the debate of historians and biographers. Jiang has come under quiet criticism from within the Communist Party of China for focusing on economic growth at all costs while ignoring the resulting environmental damage of the growth, the widening gap between rich and poor in China and the social costs absorbed by those whom economic reform has left behind. By contrast, the policies of his successors, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, have widely been seen as efforts to address these imbalances and move away from a sole focus on economic growth toward a broader view of development which incorporates non-economic factors such as health and the environment.
Domestically, Jiang's legacy and reputation is mixed. While some people attributed the period of relative stability and growth in the 1990s to Jiang's term, others argue that Jiang did little to correct systemic imbalance and an accumulation of problems which resulted from years of breakneck-pace economic reforms, leaving the next administration facing innumerable challenges, some of which may have been too late to solve.
The fact that Jiang rose to power as the direct beneficiary of the political aftermath of Tiananmen has shaped the perception of Jiang in the eyes of many. Following the Tiananmen protests, Jiang threw his support behind elder Chen Yun's conservative economic policies, but subsequently changed his allegiance to Deng Xiaoping's reform-oriented agenda following the latter's "Southern Tour". This shift was not only seen as the exercise of a political opportunist, it also sowed confusion among party loyalists in regards to what direction the party was headed or what the party truly believed in. While continued economic reforms resulted in an explosion of wealth around the country, it also led to the formation of special interest groups in many sectors of the economy, and the exercise of state power without any meaningful oversight. This opened the way for the sub-optimal distribution of the fruits of growth, and an expanding culture of corruption among bureaucrats and party officials.
Historian and former Xinhua journalist Yang Jisheng wrote that Jiang may well have been given a positive historical assessment had it not been for his decision to 'overstay his welcome' by remaining in the Central Military Commission post after Hu had formally assumed the party leadership. Moreover, Jiang took credit for all the gains made during the 13 years "between 1989 and 2002," which not only evoked the memories of Jiang being a beneficiary of Tiananmen, but also neglected the economic foundations laid by Deng, whose authority was still paramount until the mid-1990s. Additionally, Jiang was also criticized for his insistence on writing the "Three Represents" into the party and state constitutions (see below), which Yang called Jiang's attempt at "self-deification", i.e., that he saw himself as a visionary along the same lines as Deng and Mao. Yang contended, "The 'Three Represents' is just common sense. It is not a proper theoretical framework. It's what any ruler would tell the people to justify the continued rule of the governing party."
Formally, Jiang's theory of "Three Represents" was enshrined in both Party and State constitutions as an "important thought," following in the footsteps of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory. However, the theory lacked staying power. By the time of the 17th Party Congress in 2007, the Scientific Outlook on Development had already been written into the constitution of the Communist Party, a mere five years after the Three Represents, overtaking the latter as the guiding ideology for much of Hu Jintao's term. While his successors paid lip service to "Three Represents" in official party documentation and speeches, no special emphasis was placed on the theory after Jiang left office. There was even speculation following Xi Jinping's assumption of power in 2012 that the Three Represents would eventually be dropped from the party's list of guiding ideologies.
The Three Represents justified the incorporation of the new capitalist business class into the party, and changed the founding ideology of the Communist Party of China from protecting the interests of the peasantry and workers to that of the "overwhelming majority of the people", a euphemism aimed at placating the growing entrepreneurial class. Conservative critics within the party, such as hardline leftist Deng Liqun, denounced this as betrayal of "true" communist ideology.
Some have also associated Jiang with the widespread corruption and cronyism that had become a notable feature of the Communist power apparatus since Jiang's years in power. In the military, the two vice-chairmen who sat atop the Central Military Commission hierarchy – nominally as assistants to then Chairman Hu Jintao – Vice-Chairmen Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, were said to have obstructed Hu Jintao's exercise of power in the military. Xu and Guo were characterized as "Jiang's proxies in the military." Eventually, both men were reported to have taken massive bribes, and both fell under the axe of the Anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping.
Jiang's time in office also saw a notable increase of collusion between business and political elites. A lack of checks and balances in the cadre promotion system also meant that personal loyalty often trumped skill and merit in ensuring advancement. Many people in top ranks of the military and political elites were seen to have gotten to their high positions through securing the patronage of Jiang. Prominent examples often cited include Jiang's former secretary Jia Ting'an and Shanghai clique member Huang Ju.
At the same time, many biographers of Jiang have noted his government resembled an oligarchy as opposed to an autocratic dictatorship. Many of the policies of his era had been attributed to others in government, notably Premier Zhu Rongji. Jiang was also characterized as a leader who was mindful to seek the opinion of his close advisers. Jiang is often credited with the improvement in foreign relations during his term, but at the same time many Chinese have criticized him for being too conciliatory towards the United States and Russia. The issue of Chinese reunification between the mainland and Taiwan gained ground during Jiang's term, but more substantial talks regarding Cross-Strait talks and the eventual Three Links occurred during the term of Hu Jintao. The construction of the Qinghai–Tibet Railway and the Three Gorges Dam began under Jiang.