Who was Jiang Zemin? Former China leader dies aged 96

Who was Jiang Zemin? Former China leader dies aged 96

Jiang Zemin, China’s former leader, has died aged 96. State media said he died in Shanghai on Wednesday morning of leukaemia and multiple organ failure.

A letter from the Communist party to the people of China read: “Comrade Jiang Zemin’s death is an incalculable loss to our Party and our military and our people of all ethnic groups,” as reported by the BBC.

Jiang came into power following the Tiananmen Square protests and would go on to rule the country for a decade.

His death comes at a difficult time for China, which is seeing widespread protests amid political opposition not seen since the protests in 1989.

Who was Jiang Zemin?

Political achievements

Jiang Zemin was the leader of China from 1993 until 2003, and was the general secretary of the Communist party from 1989 until 2002. He was also the head of the military from 1989 until 2004.

He was elected leader after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 with the hopes that he would unify the Communist Party.

At the time, he was seen by some as potentially a transitional leader, but under his leadership, the Communist Party gained more control and the country saw remarkable economic growth.

During his time as leader, he oversaw the peaceful handover of Hong Kong in 1997 and China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

Jiang Zemin was the president of China from 1993 until 2003 (Getty Images)
Jiang Zemin was the president of China from 1993 until 2003 (Getty Images)

However, he was also criticised for the government’s crackdown on the Falun Gong religious sect in 1999 and for his hardline stance on Taiwan.

Jiang came up with his own political ideology, the “Three Represents” theory, with the hopes of modernising the Communist Party.

David Shambaugh, wrote in his 2021 book, China’s Leaders: From Mao to Now,: “When compared with Xi Jinping’s hardline repression today, or Hu Jintao’s relatively limited impact, we look back wistfully on Jiang Zemin’s rule as relatively liberal and tolerant politically, socially and economically,” as reported by the FT.

He continued to wield political power for nearly 20 years after his official exit from politics, which undermined his successor Hu Jintao’s rule.

Zemin’s personal life

Jiang Zemin was born in Yangzhou, a city in eastern China’s Jiangsu province where he was raised in a family with Communist party roots.

He married his wife in 1949 and together they had two sons, Jiang Mianheng and Jian Miankang, born in 1951 and 1956 respectively. Jiang Mianheng is a physicist and has served as vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Colourful personality

Jiang Zemin was considered to be a colourful character, known for enjoying Hollywood films and bursting into Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender.

Critics labelled him a “flowerpot”, comparing him to a useless ornament, while in more recent years,  younger fans celebrated him with the nickname “toad”, as reported by the New York Times. The “toad” nickname was born out of a wave of viral memes, in which young fans would affectionately liken his appearance – particularly his large glasses – to a toad.