State-run Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday that Jiang Zemin, the Chinese communist leader who prepared the path for his nation to become a worldwide superpower, has passed away. He was 96.
The former chief of the ruling Communist Party and state president died of leukemia and associated multiple organ failure. He passed away on Wednesday in Shanghai. He is survived by his wife, two sons and two grandchildren.
After being shunned by the West following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, China – with Jiang as its top leader – successfully reintegrated itself into the international community by regaining sovereignty over Hong Kong, winning the bid to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and, perhaps most importantly, joining the World Trade Organization.
“That was probably the key catalyst to the great growth spurts of double-digit growth for a decade or more – because of that integration,” said Robert Lawrence Kuhn. Kuhn author of a 2005 biography, “The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin.”
“In terms of the economic trajectory that was set, it’s absolutely clear to me it was established during that time; and it became irreversible toward the end of his term to hold office.”
Many observers, though, also see Jiang’s reign as having sown the seeds of widespread corruption; which remains a lightning rod for massive discontent to this day. He touted the benefit of “everyone making a fortune quietly” amid continued emphasis on one-party rule instead of political reform.
Initially considered a transitional figure, the relatively unknown Jiang was handpicked in 1989 by then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. He was to head the party after the bloody military suppression of the pro-democracy movement nationwide that same year.