Jiang Zemin

Jiang Zemin
Jiang Zemin
Hanyu PinyinJiāng Zémn
Wade-GilesChiang Tse-min
Simplified Chinese江泽民
Traditional Chinese江澤民
Order:3rd President
Term of Office:March 27, 1993 - March 15 2003
Predecessor:Yang Shangkun
Successor:Hu Jintao
Date of Birth:August 17, 1926
Place of Birth: Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China
Wife:Wang Yeping
Political Party:Communist Party of China

Jiāng Zémn (born August 17, 1926) was the "core of the third generation" of Communist Party of China leaders, serving as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1989 to 2002, as President of the People's Republic of China from 1993 to 2003, and as Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1989 to 2004. His theory of the Three Represents has been written into the party and state constitutions. Under his tutelage, China experienced meteoric economic growth with reforms and improved its relations with the outside world while the Communist Party maintained its tight control over the government.


Background & Ascendancy

A native of Yangzhou, Jiangsu, Jiang grew up during the years of Japanese occupation. His uncle died fighting the Japanese, and he was given by his father to his uncle's family to become their male heir. His position as the son of a revolutionary martyr would later prove useful in his own political career.

Jiang was a member of the Communist student underground after participation in the nationwide university movement in 1947, achieving party membership in 1946. After graduation from Yangzhou Middle School in 1943 he entered the Nanjing Central University. In 1946 he transferred to Shanghai Jiaotong University and graduated there in 1947. A mechanical engineer, Jiang received his training at the Stalin Automobile Works in Moscow in the 1950s. He worked for Changchun's First Automobile Plant. He eventually got transferred to government services, where he began rising in rank, becoming the Minister of Electronic Industries in 1983. In 1985 he became the Mayor of Shanghai, and subsequently the Shanghai Party boss.

Jiang received mixed reviews as mayor. Many of his critics dismissed him as a "flower vase", a Chinese term used to describe a decorative but useless person. Many credited Shanghai's growth during the period to Zhu Rongji.

Jiang, fluent in Romanian and Russian, and somewhat capable of engaging foreign dignitaries with his grounding in Japanese, French, and English language and literature, had served as Ambassador to Romania.

Jiang was elevated to national politics in 1987, becoming a member of the CPC Central Committee. In 1989, China was in crisis over the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the Central Government was in conflict on how to handle the pro-democracy protesters. In June, Deng Xiaoping dismissed liberal Zhao Ziyang, who was considered too conciliatory to student protestors. Jiang was chosen as a compromise candidate over Tianjin's Li Ruihuan by Deng Xiaoping, Premier Li Peng, Chen Yun, and the retired elders following the Tiananmen crisis. Although not directly involved with the crackdown, he was elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee, and finally General Secretary, after the protests in Beijing had ended, for his role in averting similar protests in Shanghai.


Jiang Zemin and
Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton

Unlike Deng, Jiang was believed to be neo-conservative in ideology, and halted some progress from Dengist reforms. Deng died in early 1997, and China was not fully out of the Deng era. Jiang had inherited a China with rampant government corruption, and regional economies growing too fast for stability. Deng's ideas that "some areas can get rich before others" gave rise to an opening wealth gap between coastal regions and the hinterlands. The unprecedented economic growth had inevitably led to the closing of many State-owned Entreprises (SOE's), and a staggering unemployment rate, which had become common household talk of complaining against the government. Jiang's biggest aim in the economy was stability and equality, and he believed that a stable government with highly centralised power would be a prerequisite.

Jiang is believed to be the first Chinese leader to truly manipulate the media to his advantage, and using many ways at that. Beginning in 1996, Jiang began a series of reforms in the state-controlled media aimed at promoting the "core of leadership", and at the same time crushing his opponents. The People's Daily and CCTV-1's 7PM News all had Jiang-related events as the front-page or top stories. He appeared casual in front of Western media, and would often use foreign languages in front of the camera. Since 1999, the media had played an integral role in the campaign against the Falun Gong movement. Jiang had also began arresting leaders and breaking up demonstrations, despite protests by human rights groups. He has also been criticized by human rights groups for not continuing political reform.

Jiang did not specialize in economics, and in 1997 handed a big chunk of the economic governance of the country to Zhu Rongji, who became Premier. 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. This was mostly achieved by continuing the process of a transition to a market economy. Strong Party control over economic affairs, however, remained. The achivements during Jiang's presidency are cemented by the PRC's successful bids to join the World Trade Organization and 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.

16th Party Congress and retirement

Missing image
Jiang Zemin speaking at the 16th Party Congress

In 2002, Jiang stepped down from the powerful Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China to make way for a younger "fourth generation" of leadership led by Hu Jintao. Hu assumed Jiang's title as party chief, becoming the new General Secretary of the Communist Party. Hu succeeded Jiang as President of the People's Republic of China on March 15, 2003. Jiang remained chairman of the Central Military Commission, and six out of the nine new members of Standing Committee, Wu Bangguo, Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong, Huang Ju, Wu Guanzheng, and Li Changchun are linked to Jiang's so-called "Shanghai Clique." The 22-member Politburo is elected by the Party's central committee.

After the Sixteenth Party Congress, Jiang has maintained a low profile and refrained from making public statements. He was conspicuously silent during the SARS crisis especially when compared to the very public profile of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Although many expected Jiang to maintain continuing influence, his influence on Chinese policy has not been apparent. It has been argued that the institutional arrangements left by the Sixteenth Congress have actually left Jiang in a position where he cannot exercise much influence.

Although many of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee are associated with him, the Standing Committee does not have command authority over the civilian bureaucracy. Furthermore, his position as Chairman of the Central Military Commission was limited by the fact that most of the members of the CMC were professional military, and there was an extraordinary article in the Liberation Daily which argued against forming "two centers" and was taken as a sign that the military did not want Jiang to exercise policies independent from those of his successors. Finally, while Deng Xiaoping was only one of several leaders of his generation who attempted to influence political affairs after their retirement, others within the third generation of Chinese leadership, most notably Zhu Rongji pointedly refused to become involved in current political issues.

Missing image
Jiang Zemin with wife Wang Yeping and George W. Bush with wife Laura in Crawford, Texas

On September 19, 2004, after a four-day meeting of the 198-member Central Committee, Jiang resigned as Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission, his last party post. This followed weeks of speculation that Hu Jintao's supporters in the Communist Party leadership were pressuring Jiang to step aside. Signs of a widening split between Jiang and Hu had appeared weeks before, including a published photograph of President Hu with the late leader Deng Xiaoping, with the image of Jiang Zemin washed out. The term was supposed to have lasted until 2007. As expected, Jiang was also succeeded by Hu Jintao as the CMC Chairman, but in an apparent political defeat for Jiang, Xu Caihou and not Zeng Qinghong was appointed to succeed Hu as Vice Chairman. This power transition officially marks the end of Jiang's era in China, and is the first time that a power transfer was completed in peace since the formation of the People's Republic in 1949.

In the March 2005 meeting of the National People's Congress, Jiang gave up his last official post, Chairman of the State's Central Military Commission, to Hu Jintao.

Jiang's Legacy

Missing image
Jiang Zemin with Hu Jintao

Many have disputed what can be accounted into "Jiang Zemin's legacy". 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 who economic reform has left behind. Many of the policies of this 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.

Jiang is known for his Theory of Three Represents, which justifies the incorporation of the new capitalist business class into the party. Conservative critics within the party have quietly denounced this as betrayal of the communist ideology, while reformers have praised Jiang as a visionary. Some have suggested that this is the part of Jiang's legacy that will last, at least in name, as long as the communists remain in power.

Related topics

Further reading

  • Kuhn, Robert Lawrence = The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin, Random House (English edition) 2005. Century Publishing Group, Shanghai (Chinese edition) 2005.
  • China Daily (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-03/02/content_420886.htm) = English language review of biography by Dr. Kuhn.

Offices held

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