Munich The death of former state and party leader Jiang Zemin could rekindle the protests in China. Jiang died in Shanghai on Wednesday at the age of 96, state news agency Xinhua said.
“What happens if Jiang Zemin dies?” A China observer asked a few days ago with a view to the current protests. The former Chinese diplomat Han Yang, who now lives in Sydney, also pointed out Twitter that “the two most important protest movements in modern Chinese history were triggered by the death of a leader”.
For example, the death of former Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in 1976 sparked student protests. When the popular, reform-oriented ex-General Secretary Hu Yaobang died in April 1989, the mourning rallies quickly changed. Millions of demonstrators in Beijing and other cities called for democratic reforms. “Is history repeating itself with Jiang’s death?” asks ex-diplomat Han.
The extent of the current protests is not yet comparable. Last weekend, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in various cities to end the strict zero-Covid policy. Some also called for democracy, the rule of law and freedom of speech.
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In isolated cases there was even an end to the rule of the Communist Party and the resignation of state and party leaders Xi Jinping required. However, public criticism of the state leadership is strictly pursued in the dictatorship. Through Due to the massive police presence and repression against participants in the weekend demonstrations, further protests have so far been largely suppressed. Only in Guangzhou were there riots on Wednesday night.
Growing dissatisfaction among the Chinese population
Experts assume that one of the reasons for the current unrest is not just the massive restrictions imposed by the corona measures on many Chinese people’s everyday lives. Also the growing economic problems and the lack of prospects for many young people have caused growing dissatisfaction among the population.
The poor economic situation and high inflation were also important triggers for the 1989 protests. They made sure that workers and intellectuals followed the students. Fear of an escalation of the current protests is likely to prompt the ruling Communist Party to take even more aggressive action.
The big question now is: “Is there a significant faction that supports the protests?” asks longtime China observer Anne Stevenson-Yang. Because a split in the party elite is the “key to every revolutionary success”. The most recent demonstration of power by party leader Xi Jinping, who has only gathered supporters in the inner circle of leaders and has disempowered the other factions, has also caused unrest in the party. In addition, many managers have suffered financial losses as a result of the economic problems resulting from the zero-Covid policy, but also from the real estate crisis.
In 1989, the party leadership initially disagreed on how to deal with the protests. The faction around party leader Zhao Ziyang spoke out in favor of a dialogue with the demonstrators and tried to persuade them to end the protests with talks. However, the rest of the party leadership around the elderly, but still influential Deng Xiaoping decided to impose martial law. She was responsible for the bloody suppression of the protests on June 4, 1989, which went down in history as the Tiananmen massacre.
As party leader of Shanghai, Jiang Zemin is said to have opposed the use of force against the student protests in 1989. Publicly, however, he spoke out in favor of imposing martial law. Later, Jiang defended the brutal crackdown as “decisive measures” to ensure China’s stability. Jiang took over the leadership of the Communist Party after the massacre and headed it until 2002. Between 1993 and 2003 he was also head of state and supreme commander of China.
Under Jiang, China is returning to the world stage
Jiang, who spoke fluent English, managed to bring the People’s Republic out of international isolation after the Tiananmen massacre. During his tenure, China joined the World Trade Organization. He implemented the economic reform and opening-up policies initiated by Deng. However, like Deng, Jiang did not advocate political reform.
After retiring from office in 2002, he continued to travel the country on his so-called inspection visits and continued to influence key personnel decisions, much to the chagrin of his successor Hu Jintao. But the anti-corruption campaign of the current head of state and party, Xi Jinping, who initially had to resist resistance within the party, also targeted Jiang Zemin’s network, which extends right up to the top of the military.
In 2015, the party organ People’s Daily criticized unspecified “retired leaders” who clung to power and continued to meddle in what was taken as a message to Jiang Zemin.
The people liked to call him “Zhangzhe”, “the senior”. “Behind the nostalgia for Jiang Zemin, however, is not necessarily a genuine admiration or approval of his harsh style of government, but rather rejection of the current leader Xi Jinping,” China expert Lotus Yang Ruan wrote in The Diplomat.
With material from dpa