Hand-picked by Deng Xiaoping to be built up as China's future leader, Jiang Zemin (born 1927) became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee in 1989.
Jiang Zemin was born in July 1926 in Yangzhou city, Jiangsu Province, a small town on the banks of the Chang River west of Shanghai. After one of his uncles joined the then-outlawed Communist party and was killed in combat, his biological father offered him for adoption to the surviving family members so that they would have an heir to continue the Shinquing's bloodline. Jiang joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1946 and graduated from the electrical machinery department of Jiaotong University in Shanghai the following year.
After the Communists took over power in China in 1949, Jiang assumed several positions in Shanghai: CCP committee secretary and first deputy director of the Yimin No. 1 Foodstuffs Factory; first deputy director of the Shanghai Soap Factory; and chief of the electrical machinery section of the Shanghai No. 2 Designing Division of the First Ministry of Machine-Building Industry.
In 1955 Jiang was sent to work as a trainee at the Stalin Automobile Factory in Moscow. After returning to China the following year, his career advanced steadily as an engineer and a technocrat under the First Ministry of Machine-Building Industry. From 1971 to 1979 he was appointed deputy director, later director, of the Foreign Affairs Bureau under the same ministry.
He moved into a new field of work (import and export) in August 1980 and became vice-minister of the State Foreign Investment Commission in March 1981. His job changed in May 1982 as he was appointed vice-minister of electronics industry. Later that year he was elected a member of the CCP Central Committee at the 12th Party Congress. In June 1983 he was promoted to minister of electronics industry and in September 1984 he was concurrently appointed the deputy head of the Leading Group for Electronics Industry under the state council. After 1985 Jiang's career was boosted as he returned to Shanghai as its deputy party secretary, later secretary and mayor. In 1987 he entered the Politburo at the 13th CCP Congress.
In June 1989, in the aftermath of the Beijing massacre, Jiang was chosen elder statesman by Deng Xiaoping to succeed the disgraced Zhao Ziyang as the general secretary of the CCP. In November 1989 Jiang also took over the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission when Deng stepped down. Like Deng Xiaoping, Jiang advocated economic reform, but he was also a conservative insofar as political reform was concerned. As mayor of Shanghai, Jiang initiated and implemented a series of economic reforms. For example, Shanghai was the first city in China to auction land-use rights, even though such a measure clearly violates the Communist dogma. Jiang was quite responsive to foreign investors' concerns, and hence won praise from them. Nevertheless, during the 1989 pro-democracy movement, he brusquely dismissed Qin Benli from the post of the editor-in-chief of The World Herald, a Shanghai publication well known for its outspoken and candid criticism of the regime's policies as well as economic and political conditions in China; the pretext was that the paper published a long article deviating from the CCP's line. Jiang's action and his skillful handling of student protests in Shanghai, where few students were killed, enhanced his political career.
After Jiang became party general secretary, he faithfully followed the new party line. For example, he blamed hostile external forces for China's domestic political turmoil in the late 1980s. In the 1989 National Day address, which was a required reading for all Chinese, Jiang asserted that the international reactionary forces "adopt political, economic, and cultural means to infiltrate and influence socialist countries, exploiting their temporary difficulties and reforms. They support and buy over so-called 'dissidents' through whom they foster blind worship of the Western world and propagate the political and economic patterns, sense of values, decadent ideas and lifestyle of the Western capitalist world…. They fabricate rumors, provoke incidents, plot turmoil, and engage in subversive activities against socialist countries." Likewise, he put a renewed emphasis on "redness" over expertise in selecting and promoting party officials. He was prominently quoted in a People's Daily front-page commentary on June 24, 1990, as saying, "In choosing people, in assigning people, in educating people, we must take a revolutionary outlook as the prerequisite to insure that party and government leaders at every level are loyal to Marxism."
In spite of Deng Xiaoping's efforts to build him up as China's future leader, Jiang may end up as another transitional leadership figure like Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang before him. Xiaoping officially retired in 1989, the same year of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Jiang did not have a base of support within the party or the army, and in 1990 still lacked leadership stature. Capitalistic ventures undertaken since the 1980s have emphasized economic class disparity. The widening class gap is only agitated by the constant inflation. Tokyo Business Today reported that the Chinese Central Committee's commission on general measures for maintenance of social order notes 1.67 million disturbances in rural farming villages. These disturbances resulted in more that 8,000 deaths and rising ill will between farmers and government. Concurrently, urban areas are experiencing increased crime and revolutionary groups have sprung up. In the autumn of 1994, a militant group placed explosives on train tracks, derailing a train carrying troops from China's 13th Army. The explosion killed 170 and injured 190. Moreover, China's relationship with the rest of the world grows increasingly strained with widespread reports of human rights abuses, including prison labor and political imprisoning.
In April 1996, in an attempt to reestablish law and order, Jiang launched an anticrime drive, known as "Strike Hard" (Yanda in Chinese). Within six months Strike Hard had resulted in more than 160,000 arrests and more than 1,000 executions. Though many were critical of the initiative, the government claimed that it was well received by the Chinese citizens who were alarmed by the rising crime statistics. Jiang is also known for reclaiming Hong Kong and attempting to convince Taiwan to follow.
Additional information on Jiang Zemin can be found in Parris H. Chang, "The Power Game in Beijing" in The World & I (October, 1989). Lee Feigon, China Rising: The Meaning of Tiananmen (1990) is an eyewitness report as well as a scholarly analysis of the 1989 military assault on Chinese students. Yi Mu and Mark V. Thompson (both are pseudonyms), Crisis at Tiananmen: Reform and Reality in Modern China (1990), report what the CCP leaders were thinking and doing during the 1989 events.