Former President Jiang Zemin, who guided China’s rise, dies

Jiang Zemin, who led China out of isolation after the army crushed the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989 and supported economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth, has died. He was 96.

Jiang died of leukemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai, where he was a former mayor and Communist Party secretary, state TV, and the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Jiang was born in Beijing on June 1, 1910. His father, Jiang Zhongxun, was a local Party official and his mother, Jiang Qingxia, was from a wealthy family.

When he was 9 years old, he and his family moved to Nanjing. There he began studying at the prestigious Renmin University in the capital. But after World War II broke out in 1939, he and a group of other students were sent to remove Japanese military forces from the campus.

In 1949, when the Communists took over mainland China following the end of World War II, Jiang was just 16 years old. He entered college at age 17 and was elected student government president at age 20.

In 1953 he graduated as a first-rate student with the highest honors after obtaining an exceptional score on all exams including philosophy, philology, and political science examinations).

After his graduation, Jiang joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy and spent three years there before being selected by Deng Xiaoping to be an assistant professor at Renmin University where he had been teaching for the past four years.

In 1965 Deng appointed him deputy director of the New Agriculture Research Institute (NARI). In 1966 following Mao’s death, Jiang received orders from Mao’s successor, Hua Guofeng, to become party chief for Anhui province, which mainly consisted of rice fields.

Jiang gave up his last official title in 2004 but remained a force behind the scenes in the wrangling that led to the rise of current President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012.

Xi has tightened political control, crushed China’s little remaining dissent, and reasserted the dominance of state industry.

Rumors that Jiang might be in declining health spread after he missed a ruling party congress in October at which Xi, China’s most powerful figure since at least the 1980s, broke with tradition and awarded himself a third five-year term as leader.

Jiang was on the verge of retirement as Shanghai party leader in 1989 when he was drafted by then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to pull together the party and nation. He succeeded Zhao Ziyang, who was dismissed by Deng due to his sympathy for the student-led Tiananmen Square protesters and was held under house arrest until his 2005 death.

In 13 years as party general secretary, China’s most powerful post, Jiang guided the country’s rise to economic power by welcoming capitalists into the ruling party and pulling in foreign investment after China joined the WTO. China passed Germany and then Japan to become the second-largest economy after the United States.

Jiang captured a political prize when Beijing was picked as the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics after failing in an earlier bid.

A former soap factory manager, Jiang capped his career with the communist era’s first orderly succession, handing over his post as party leader in 2002 to Hu Jintao, who also took the ceremonial title of the president the following year.

Jiang tried to hold onto influence by staying on as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the party’s military wing, the 2 million-member People’s Liberation Army. He gave up that post in 2004 following complaints he might divide the government.