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The Death of Jiang Zemin

On November 30, 2022, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency announced the death of Jiang ZeminJiang was head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 1989 to 2002 and commander of the Chinese military until 2004. Jiang ascended to power following his vigorous suppression of the 1989 student democracy protests in Shanghai, at which time Jiang was the Shanghai CCP Party Chief. In 2002, after holding the nation’s top leadership position for 13 years, Jiang was forced to hand over the CCP chairmanship to his successor Hu Jintao. Despite this, Jiang and his loyalists managed to retain a majority of seats on the CCP’s elite Politburo Standing Committee throughout Hu’s ten years at the helm (2002 – 2012) and even into Xi Jinping’s first term (2012 – 2017). This allowed Jiang to continue exercising overwhelming power even after his formal rule ended. The Chinese people called Jiang Zemin “the toad” due to his signature grin and his toad like bearing and appearance. His fans jokingly refer to themselves as “toad worshipers.”

A few comments are in order before the final nails are set in Jiang’s coffin, especially given the current state of US-China relations.

Jiang’s era marked the peak of US-China engagement. It was under Jiang’s watch that US President Bill Clinton facilitated China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), a deal that enabled Beijing to capture the global markets while neglecting promises it had made to trade partners. It was again under Jiang’s watch that Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, enshrining Communist China as a country with tremendous political legitimacy and international influence. These two milestones exemplify how the West stoked the flames of a formidable Communist empire — offering market access, financial resources, and advanced technology while giving up tens of millions of jobs and developing an ever-growing reliance on China as the world’s factory.

Nowadays, Western governments and media often criticize practices of Communist China on topics such as global expansion and infiltration, unfair trade practices, technological theft, and military modernization. Most of these proscribed practices either started during or matured under Jiang’s rule.

Significantly, the West’s economic reliance on China empowered the CCP arrogantly to flaunt its disregard for human rights and universal values. Under Jiang’s rule, a tacit agreement emerged between the Chinese people and the CCP: “As long as you support the CCP, the CCP will allow you to make a fortune and will acquiesce to your illicit pursuits, regardless of your ethics.” This perverted social contract led to moral degradation unseen in pre-Jiang China. Corrupt incentives pervaded all of officialdom. Education and healthcare were turned into instruments for fleecing the flock; sex, gambling, and drugs became part of everyday life while interpersonal trust evaporated. As Chinese society entered a state of perpetual instability, Jiang massively expanded China’s Armed Police force to ensure that demonstrations and protests throughout China could be contained. Every year since 2010, the country’s expenditures on internal “stability maintenance” have exceeded its national defense budget .

Ten years after his suppression of the 1989 student democracy protests in Shanghai, Jiang set in motion a violent persecution movement against Falun Gong, a peaceful Buddha-school meditation practice that had become popular in China during the 1990’s. His directive regarding Falun Gong practitioners was to “destroy their reputations, cut them off financially, and eradicate them physically.” Crucially, the West’s fear of losing access to China’s market was enough to silence Western governments and media, who stood by while the CCP killed and tortured Falun Gong adherents. Jiang was free to escalate his arbitrary persecution at will, involving every level of China’s government and the CCP’s societal control apparatus. His “610 Office” (formed on June 10), was an extra-legal apparatus established for the sole purpose of coordinating the crackdown. It enjoyed unfettered control over China’s news media, judicial and legal systems, and administrative departments in the public and private sectors at every level.

Jiang has now passed away. His policies and culture of corruption damaged Chinese society and impacted the whole world. The echoes of his rule continue to be felt to this day