Childhood & Early Life
Jiang Zemin was born on August 17, 1926, in Yangzhou, Jiangsu. His ancestral home was in Jiangwan, a Chinese province that was home to several prominent Chinese intellectuals and politicians. Jiang was born at the peak of the Japanese occupation of China, right after the First World War. His uncle, who was also his foster father, was in the Chinese army and was considered a national hero after his death in the Second World War.
Zemin’s father, Jiang Shijun, worked at the publicity department of the Nanking regime, which was a Japanese puppet government. Shijun severed all ties with his family, and following this incident, Zemin’s uncle took him under his custody. After his uncle’s death in the World War, Zemin and the family experienced hard times. His father Shijun was a wealthy man but never came ahead to help.
Zemin enrolled in the electrical engineering program at the ‘National Central University’ in Nanjing and was later transferred to the ‘National Chiao Tung University.’ He finally graduated in 1947 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
His political aspirations grew while he was in college, and he is said to have become a worker of the ‘CPC’ while he was in college. He received his training at the ‘Stalin Automobile Works’ in Moscow. He frequently switched jobs and eventually acquired a spot on the ‘Central Committee of the Communist Party’ in 1983, as the ‘Minister of Electric Industries.’
In the mid-80s, he was offered the position of the ‘Mayor’ of Shanghai, one of the busiest metropolitan cities in China. His reign was considered to be very weak at that time. His haters believed that although he seemed useful, he was mostly an “empty vessel.”
Although he had a chaotic early political career, Jiang was known as an accomplished orator, who spoke several foreign languages, such as Russian, Romanian, and English. These skills helped him become popular with the foreign delegates and celebrities who visited China.
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Ascension to National Politics
Jiang Zemin’s foray into national politics happened in 1987, when he acquired a seat in the ‘Politburo’ of the ‘CPC Central Committee.’ However, his place was not earned, as it was a custom to have a seat reserved for the ‘Party Secretary’ of Shanghai. Soon, intense protests broke out in in Tiananmen Square, and the central government did not know the right way to handle the protestors.
The general secretary of the party, Zhao Ziyang, had liberal tendencies. He was not in tune with the principles of the ‘CPC.’ He was sympathetic toward the protestors. This made the party supreme Deng Xiaoping search for a replacement. Jiang had shut down the newspaper ‘World Economic Herald,’ which was a significantly brave step. Deng noticed this, and Jiang, who was serving as the ‘Shanghai Party Secretary’ at that time, was given the position of the general secretary of the ‘CPC.’
Although Jiang was now given the top position in the party’s leadership, he was not given enough power. Over time, he earned the respect of the party’s elders and propagated against the liberalization. He stated that in order for the ‘CPC’ to maintain its hold over the country, modernization and economic reforms needed to be put in place.
1993 was the year of economic reforms in China, as Jiang brought introduced a “socialist market economy,” which was step forward from the existing socialist economy toward a government-regulated capitalist market economy. With his effective policies, he earned the confidence of Deng and diminished the ‘Central Advisory Committee.’ In 1993, he contested the ‘Presidency’ elections.
In March 1993, he was named the fifth president of the ‘Republic of China.’ In the 90s, following the economic reforms, the country faced many issues related to corruption and unequal distribution of wealth. It further gave rise to a growing rate of unemployment in the country. The migration of people from rural areas to urban areas was taking place in great numbers, and the entire country was on the verge of collapsing.
Determined to turn the course of the events around, Jiang introduced reforms to bring stability to China, in 1996. He used the media, which was mostly state-controlled, to his benefit. He gave interviews to foreign media houses too and further halted the activities of almost all his political rivals. This helped him take complete control of the country, and the death of Deng Xiaoping further elevated his position.
Well aware of the requirement of a strong economic wave in the country, he handed over the economic governance of the country to his close ally Zhu Rongji, and they went through the Asian financial crisis of 1997. However, with time, China turned into a strong economic nation and maintained an annual GDP growth of 8%, eventually becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
China ended up becoming the fastest-growing nation in terms of per-capita income, and this rapid development further raised eyebrows around the world. The remarkable growth of China helped it become a superpower within two decades. What further strengthened China’s hold in the international arena was its membership of the ‘World Trade Organization’ and subsequently, China’s win of the bid to host the 2008 ‘Olympic Games’ in Beijing.
In 2002, Jiang finally vacated the post of the general secretary of ‘CPC,’ but retained his position as the chairman of the ‘Central Military Commission.’ In September 2004, he resigned from that post too, thereby losing all of his official power in the party. However, he remained a key figure and an advisor to the party’s new leadership.
Jiang has been a controversial figure in Chinese politics. He has faced several charges of corruption and inefficiency during his tenure as the president and the general secretary of his party. Jiang’s term has also seen a lot of instability due to the introduction of economic reforms, which took place at a rapid pace.