China holds Jiang Zemin’s funeral

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Senior Chinese Communist Party officials gathered in Beijing on Tuesday for a memorial service for former President Jiang Zemin, in a show of unity and strength at a time when Chinese leader Xi Jinping is facing a widespread frustration with its strict coronavirus restrictions and iron fist.

On Monday, a funeral ceremony for Jiang, who led China through a period of meteoric economic development from 1989 to 2002, was held at a military hospital in Beijing before being cremated at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, the site of the west of Beijing where many senior leaders are buried.

The Tuesday morning ceremony at the imposing Great Hall of the People in central Beijing concludes a week of national mourning. The country’s stock exchanges were suspended for three minutes as air raid sirens sounded and people honked their horns.

In China, the death of former President Jiang comes at a volatile time

News of Jiang’s death on November 30 from leukemia and multiple organ failure at the age of 96 came as Chinese security forces cracked down on frustrated and mostly young people who took to the streets of more than a dozen cities to protest mainly against the “zero”. covid restrictions”, but also Xi’s repressive policies.

Chinese authorities have barely acknowledged the biggest show of public discontent since the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. But a gradual easing of coronavirus testing and quarantine requirements has accelerated in recent days.

In a televised eulogy, Xi said Jiang had been an inseparable part of China’s progress during his tenure, calling him a great Marxist, revolutionary and statesman. He also made a rare unspoken mention of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square when he noted that Jiang had made “correct strategic decisions” to ensure stability in Shanghai during what the party calls a period of “serious political turmoil.” “.

Chinese authorities have carefully managed the bereavement over the past six days. Websites turned gray and well-wishers gathered in an unusually orderly line in Shanghai and separately arrived one by one to lay flowers outside the gate of Jiang’s ancestral home in the city of Yangzhou. Police presence on the streets remains high to guard against vigils that could turn into protests.

Despite security concerns, Xi wanted to ensure Jiang received the highest honours, in part to repay the former leader for his support when Xi was chosen to be the party’s new leader in 2012, Victor Shih said. expert on elite Chinese politics at the University of California. , San Diego.

Xi may, however, be wary of leaving too much nostalgia for the Jiang era: the country reached its highest rate of growth, there was a relatively open cultural, if not political, atmosphere, and relations with the United States s mostly improved.

“It’s the last breath of 1990s China where a lot of positive things happened,” Shih said. “Those days are really finally over.”

In 1997, the death of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader often seen as key to bringing the country out of Mao-era isolation, sparked a wave of grief across the country that lasted for days. It ended with Jiang delivering a eulogy, during which his voice cracked several times. At one point he took a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his nose and eyes.

Jiang’s commemoration this week was more restrained. Xi ended his remarks by speaking slowly and with only a hint of emotion as he bid his final farewell to Jiang and said the former leader’s achievements would be “carved into the hearts of all people across the generations”.

Historically, the death of former top leaders has often been a troubling time in Chinese politics, when internal divisions among the party elite escalate and public grievances against the current leadership are aired. The deaths of Premier Zhou Enlai in 1976 and General Secretary Hu Yaobang in 1989 fueled student protests and calls for deeper reform.

But since the evening of June 3 and the morning of June 4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army used tanks and bullets to clear protesters from Tiananmen Square and surrounding streets in Beijing, the party has been determined to avoid similar crises.

Jiang, who was chosen by Deng and hardliners as a compromise candidate during the turmoil of 1989, led a patriotic education campaign teaching schoolchildren of all ages to love the party, while pursuing a crackdown continues against the Tiananmen leaders.

At the same time, he led an effort to rebuild China’s image in the world after the massacre and pushed forward economic changes and the gradual opening of Chinese markets to the world, culminating in his membership in the Organization. world trade in 2001.

A more pragmatic Xi ​​Jinping launches a global charm offensive for China

Throughout the process of internationalization, however, Jiang has continued to openly reject Western-style multi-party democracy and to warn against “hostile forces” trying to undermine party power – a line that has been used frequently. under Xi, including during the recent wave of discontent.

Despite Jiang’s tougher side, his death created a certain nostalgia for a leader who could be spontaneous and who showed a keen interest in the Western world. He was known for being able to recite the Gettysburg Address in English from memory and once publicly endorsed “Titanic”, helping the film become a hit in China.

As the country’s most powerful leader in decades, Xi has stepped up a campaign of cultural and political self-confidence that belittles the idea that China still has lessons to learn from the Western world. He expanded national security, promoted ideas of “common prosperity” and sought to curb excessive wealth as part of a “new era” of Chinese development.

Yet the funeral is also a time for Xi to present a united face to the country and the world.

Jiang’s eldest son, Jiang Mianheng, a physicist and director of ShanghaiTech University, led the proceedings on Monday, carrying a portrait of his father and receiving a hug from Xi.

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who ruled after Tiananmen, dies at 96

Current and former leaders, including Hu Jintao, who ruled the country between Jiang and Xi, paid their last respects to Jiang before he was cremated.

Hu’s sudden departure amid the final day of the 20th National Party Congress in October sparked much speculation about his health and his relationship with Xi, who had just won a defiant third term as leader and has authorized the senior leadership of Hu’s proteges in favor of his own lieutenants.

In official footage from Monday’s ceremony, Hu was shown walking unaided past wreaths, although he was assisted at all times by an assistant.

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