Jiang Zemin was the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 1989 until 2002, and the president of the People’s Republic of China from 1993 until 2003. Jiang was born in 1926, at Yangzhou, Jiangsu (Kiangsu) Province. He joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1946. In the same year he studied at Jiaotong (Chaio-t’ung) University in Shanghai, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering.
At the end of the Chinese civil war Jiang was appointed commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy in Moscow, a post he held until 1956. He was appointed assistant to the minister, First Ministry of Machine Building, running the Changchun First Automobile Plant. In September 1978, he became vice chairman of the Society of Mechanical Engineering, the position he held before the Cultural Revolution. He then became vice minister on the State Commission on Imports and Exports in 1980, and vice minister of the electronics industries two years later. In 1983 he became minister of electronics industries, a post he held until 1985, when he became mayor of Shanghai.
In 1982 Jiang became a member of the Central Committee of the CCP, and in 1987 he joined the Politburo. A supporter of China’s then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsaio-p’ing), Jiang was also a political ally of the premier Li Peng during the suppression of the pro-democracy student demonstrations in 1989. Subsequently Jiang succeeded Zhao Ziyang (Chao Tzu-jang) as general secretary of the CCP on June 24, and was also elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee. Later that year he succeeded Deng as chairman of the CCP’s central military commission. Four years later, on March 27, 1993, Jiang became president of the National People’s Congress, and hence the head of state of China.
When Deng Xiaoping died in 1997, Jiang rose to become paramount leader. He was economically more conservative than Deng, who had been critical of the slow pace of some reforms. However, he started a program of privatization, which loosened state control over 300,000 industrial concerns. The massive economic growth that resulted saw the Chinese economy boom and the emerging business class flourigh, many of whom were encouraged to join the CCP. In December 2001 China gained membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), a move that would have been unimaginable only 10 years earlier. The Chinese economy then started growing at an even faster pace.
In foreign affairs, Jiang improved Chinese relations with the United States and many other countries in the West. In 1997 he took part in the first U.S.-China summit conference, and at a follow-up meeting in the next year he openly defended China’s human-rights record. In 2001 Beijing won the contest to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, a move that marked China’s emergence from the self-imposed policy of isolation of previous decades.
On November 15, 2002, Jiang resigned as general secretary of the CCP and, on March 15, 2003, from the presidency of the National People’s Congress. He was succeeded by Hu Jintao in a remarkably smooth transition, but remained the chair of the central military commission until September 2004. He remained an influential figure in Chinese politics.
- Kuhn, Robert Lawrence. The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin. New York: Random House, 2005;
- Lam, Willy Wo-Lap. The Era of Jiang Zemin. Singapore: Prentice Hall, 1999.
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