China holds memorial service for late leader Jiang Zemin

STORY: “A figure engraved in the hearts of all Chinese.”

That’s how President Xi Jinping described former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, at a memorial service for the late statesman on Tuesday (December 6).

Jiang died last Wednesday of leukemia and multiple organ failure at the age of 96.

His decade in power is remembered for overseeing China’s economic boom – and breaking the country out of the diplomatic isolation it faced following the Tiananmen Square protests.

On Tuesday, air raid sirens sounded for three minutes across the country at 10 a.m. when the ceremony began.

And stock, currency and bond markets suspended trade, also for three minutes.

Speaking at the Great Hall of the People, Xi paid tribute to Jiang to an audience that included China’s top leadership and Jiang’s widow, Wang Yeping.

“Comrade Jiang Zemin enjoys high prestige acknowledged by the whole party, the military, and Chinese people of all ethnic groups. He was a great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, statesman, military strategist and diplomat.”

In particular during the ceremony, Xi emphasized Jiang’s role in helping the party weather “political storms”, he even gave a veiled mention to the pro-democracy protests that culminated in a bloody crackdown at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – events usually heavily censored in China.

“In the spring to summer of 1989, China was roiled by a terrible political disturbance. Comrade Jiang supported and implemented the correct decision of the central authorities, to oppose the turmoil, defend the socialist state, and safeguard fundamental interests of the people.”

Xi also praised Jiang for leading China at a time when “world socialism experienced severe complications” and China faced “so-called sanctions from the West”.

And for presiding over the 1992 Consensus – the discussions with Kuomintang authorities which Xi claimed, lay the foundation for a cross-strait consensus that only “One China” existed.

Jiang Zemin’s body was transferred to Beijing on Shanghai aboard a special flight on Monday.

It was later cremated in the capital.

Jiang’s death has prompted a wave of nostalgia for the relatively more liberal times he oversaw.

And comes at a tumultuous time as public frustration at COVID-curbs has boiled over into rare widespread street protests against Chinese authorities.