Jiang Zemin, the Shanghai Communist kingpin who was handpicked to lead China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and presided over a decade of meteoric economic growth, died on Wednesday. He was 96. From a report: A Communist Party announcement issued by Chinese state media said he died in Shanghai of leukemia and multiple organ failure. His death and the memorial ceremonies to follow come at a delicate moment in China, where the ruling party is confronting a wave of widespread protests against its pandemic controls, a nationwide surge of political opposition unseen since the Tiananmen movement of Mr. Jiang’s time.
Mr. Jiang was president of China for a decade from 1993. In the eyes of many foreign politicians, Mr. Jiang was the garrulous, disarming exception to the mold of stiff, unsmiling Chinese leaders. He was the Communist who would quote Lincoln, proclaim his love for Hollywood films and burst into songs like “Love Me Tender.” Less enthralled Chinese called him a “flowerpot,” likening him to a frivolous ornament, and mocking his quirky vanities. In his later years young fans celebrated him, tongue-in-cheek, with the nickname “toad.” But Mr. Jiang’s unexpected rise and quirks led others to underestimate him, and over 13 years as Communist Party general secretary he matured into a wily politician who vanquished a succession of rivals. Mr. Jiang’s stewardship of the capitalist transformation that had begun under Deng Xiaoping was one of his signal accomplishments. He also amassed political influence that endured long past his formal retirement, giving him a big say behind the scenes in picking the current president, Xi Jinping.