Jiang Zemin, China’s former President, was killed Wednesday. He led China out of its isolation following the 1989 army crackdown on Tiananmen Square protestors for democracy and supported economic reforms that resulted in a decade of rapid growth. He was 96.
Jiang, who was a Shanghai mayor and Communist Party secretary and a former mayor, died from leukemia and multiple organ failure. He was also reported by state TV and the official Xinhua News Agency.
Jiang was a surprise choice to lead the Communist Party’s divided Communist Party following the 1989 turmoil. He saw China through historic changes, including the revival of market-oriented reforms and the return of Hong Kong under British rule in 1997. In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization.
China was opening up to the outside world, but Jiang’s government repressed dissent within China. It jailed labour, human rights and pro-democracy activists. The government also banned Falun Gong, a spiritual movement it considered threatening the Communist Party’s power monopoly.
Jiang lost his last title in 2004 but remained a key figure behind the scenes of the wrangling that resulted in the rise to power of President Xi Jinping in 2012. Jiang’s mixture of economic liberalization, strict political control has been maintained by Xi.
Jiang was initially seen as a transitional leader. However, he was drafted just before his retirement and given a mandate by Deng Xiaoping for the unification of the nation and party.
He was a transformative figure. He was the Communist Party’s general secretary for 13 years, and he led China’s rise as a global economic power. This included welcoming capitalists to the Communist Party, and attracting foreign investment after China joined WTO.
He was responsible for the nation’s rise to global manufacturing, the return of Hong Kong from Britain and Portugal as well as the realization of a long-cherished dream: hosting the Olympic Games.