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Reminiscing Jiang Zeming

(1 December 2022)

(On 30 November 2022 Chinese former president Jiang Zemin passed away. He was 96, lived only 35 days shorter than the Queen of England. Overnight, the articles which reminiscing Jiang flooded Chinese social media. With the slowing down in economy, the more tightened control by the government in people’s everyday life and what seemed to be a never-ending Zero-COVID policy, people start remembering the good old days, when everything seemed… “better” …)

So, what exactly has Jiang achieved during his tenure?

After Jiang left office, he publicly stated the three main things he accomplished:

  1. He proposed that the reform goal of China's economic system is to establish a socialist market economic system.

  2. He added "Deng Xiaoping Theory" into the party constitution.

  3. He published his own “three represents” thoughts.

Mao’s China was a part of the international communist and socialist movement, this determined the revolutionary nature of the CCP. Deng’s China was about reform and open-up. The CCP transitioned from revolution to governing and ruling. As CCP’s third generation leadership, Jiang’s mission at its core, was how to truly transform Deng’s legacy into a driving force for national development.

What’s the biggest domestic transformation during Jiang’s era?

Establishing the concept of "socialist market economy". While the Chinese can build a hospital fits 10,000 in a week, changing their minds is normally a very slow and painful process. (And that’s why contrary to what many western people think, Chinese government can’t just ORDER its people to get vaccinated. Read more about this here.) It took the country over ten years to move from the "planned commodity economy" to” commodity economy” to finally accept the concept of "socialist market economy".

What are the impacts of “socialist market economy”?

Internally, it’s about the large-scale reform of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). "Grasp the large and let go of the small" was the slogan for then Premier Zhu Rongji’s campaign, which translated to in key areas, establish large-scale SOE conglomerates and to “privatize” the low-efficiency and inefficient state-owned enterprises, which promoted the prosperity of private enterprises develop. (This campaign made Zhu very much hated in the North-east China where many people worked for the SOEs lost their once considered jobs-for-lifetime.) China's contemporary mixed economic pattern was basically formed in this era.

Externally, around 2000, to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and ensure the fulfilment of WTO obligations, the Chinese government and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress passed as many as ten legal amendments, covering all aspects of economy, trade, finance, investment, industry, and intellectual property rights, as well as the clean-up and revision of laws and regulations, especially in the field of science and technology.

What’s the transformation in China’s international relations?

With the United States

By the time Jiang took office, the Soviet Union no longer exists, and the Eastern Soviet Union is in chaos. In the absence of a "common enemy", the United States began to change its policy towards China, which led to intertwined events and constant conflicts in the relationship between the two countries. If you think the current situation is bad, here is a list of events happening then:

  • 1993 - the United States detained the Chinese cargo ship "Yinhe" on the grounds that it had "conclusive evidence" to prove that this cargo ship was transporting chemical weapons raw materials to Iran.

  • 1995 -1996, the third Taiwan Strait crisis; (both sides across the straight took it much more seriously than with the present situation.)

  • 1999 - NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war;

  • 2001- Sino-US plane collision in the South China Sea.

However, under the leadership of Jiang, China has been able to keep the balance between compromise and fighting back with the United States and managed to develop Sino-US relations in a reasonable, beneficial and restrained manner.

With Russia

At the same time, the Soviet Union has collapsed, and a new Russia has been born. Although Russia inherited much of the Soviet Union's legacy, the bilateral relationship before and after its disintegration was not entirely consistent. The challenge for China is to establish a relationship with the new Russia. In this, Jiang promoted the signing of the twenty-year strategic treaty which marked the end the 300-year-negotiation over the border dispute between the two countries, carried out cooperation under multilateral frameworks such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus. Basically, the foundation of the Sino-Russian relationship that people see today was laid by the Jiang Zemin era.

Why does CCP keeps talking about the importance of the “Three Represents”?

In a single-party state, adapting to the fast-changing environment while maintaining the continuity in party’s ideology is essential to the party’s survival. As far as the theoretical history of the international communist movement is concerned, world socialism has evolved three roads. The first path is the Soviet model, which has reached a dead end and has disappeared. The second way is the Nordic model, the democratic socialism or social democracy. For a while, there were people in China advocated the Nordic-style path, but Jiang and his core team flatly rejected it. Jiang emphasized that China should find its own model and follow its own path.

And that model is the “Three Represents”.

The full text could be a very good pub quiz question among CCP members. In case you are interested:

“The Party must always represent the requirements of the development of China's advanced productive forces, (represent) the orientation of the development of China's advanced culture, and (represent) the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China." - from Jiang's speech at the 16th CPC Congress meeting.

Under the mixed economic model, China's economic and social interests have become diversified, and it is necessary to build a political mechanism that can absorb multiple interests. The "Three Represents" solves this problem, and (in theory), the multiple interests in society can be absorbed into the party and realized through deliberative democracy within the party.

(It’s worth noting that just as all historical figures have their supporters and haters, Jiang is no exception. And some of the praises for him and that period are more using the past to satirize the present than really reminiscing him. However, as one of the 3 most important leaders for the People’s Republic of China, his achievements (and his faults) will be remembered.)

Zheng Yongnian

Director, Advanced Institute for Global and Contemporary China Studies,

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

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