The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin

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Jiang Zemin’s life and leadership sweep through almost eighty tumultuous years of Chinese history: Japanese occupation, Civil War, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, and, more recently, dramatic economic growth, tensions with Taiwan, and opportunities and confrontations with America. Jiang’s story is an epic of war, deprivation, revolution, political turmoil, social convulsion, economic reform, national transformation, and international resurgence. To Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a longtime China...
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Overview

Jiang Zemin’s life and leadership sweep through almost eighty tumultuous years of Chinese history: Japanese occupation, Civil War, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, and, more recently, dramatic economic growth, tensions with Taiwan, and opportunities and confrontations with America. Jiang’s story is an epic of war, deprivation, revolution, political turmoil, social convulsion, economic reform, national transformation, and international resurgence. To Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a longtime China observer, understanding the legacy of Jiang Zemin is essential for understanding the challenges of contemporary China. By examining Jiang’s life, we observe the clash between China’s traditional culture and chaotic history, and we appreciate how its changes impact the entire world.

In The Man Who Changed China, Kuhn, who was cited by the Asian Wall Street Journal for the “unprecedented access” he was given in the course of writing this book, has produced what the Journal called “probably the closest thing to an authorized biography that’s possible in Communist China.” Here a reader will find a complex and nuanced portrait of China’s senior leader, whose policies continue to exert great influence over the course of his country. Kuhn offers insight into how the Japanese occupation during Jiang’s teenage years imprinted his psyche for life, how he became a Communist, and how, decades later, he struggled to transform the Party in the face of withering criticism.

In a sense, Kuhn argues, Jiang’s early skeptics got it right: He was a transitional figure—but not in the way they had meant. With unshakable if paternalistic vision, a lifelong love of Chinese civilization, and backroom political skills that no one had anticipated, Jiang Zemin became an unexpected agent of change, effecting the transition from a traumatized society to a confident, prosperous country rapidly ascending in the new world order. Kuhn shows how Jiang led China through an amazing metamorphosis—from a fretful country destabilized by the turmoil and crackdown in Tiananmen Square into a vibrant nation that became a primary engine of global economic growth. Above all Jiang is a Chinese patriot—and it is important to appreciate what that really means. In offering this unusually intimate and comprehensive personal and political biography, Kuhn demonstrates that Jiang Zemin’s life personifies the history of contemporary China, giving invaluable insight into what China is today and will become in the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This biography tries to counter the Western perception of Jiang Zemin (b. 1926) as a dictator of Communist China and emphasizes instead how far Chinese leadership has come since the days of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. A mild-mannered but patriotic grassroots organizer of protests during the Japanese occupation, Jiang matured into a good-natured technocrat who was, according to the author (host of PBS's series Closer to Truth and a former adviser to the Chinese government), without greater political ambition while serving as mayor of Shanghai. But he avoided political pitfalls in his dealings with student protesters in Shanghai in the period leading to the Tiananmen Square massacre-dealings Kuhn tries to portray as firm but not unkind. As China's head of state from 1993 to 2003, Jiang was, in Kuhn's view, a visionary who put a new face on China through his love of science and technology as well as a series of important foreign policy encounters; the author emphasizes Jiang's tension-fraught relationship with the Western press, his quirky style of winning over foreign leaders through bursting into song and his support of America's war on terror. Though detailed and readable, the book is at times cloying: the less flattering points in Jiang's career-his role in squelching mass movements seen as threatening stability and his power-amassing maneuvers-are glossed over. 32 pages of b&w photos. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
There are several ways to read The Man Who Changed China, an officially sanctioned portrait of Jiang Zemin, China's recently retired top leader, written by the American investment banker Robert Lawrence Kuhn. Indeed, the biggest challenge of this book is figuring out exactly how to approach it.

The most obvious way is as a biography. But although the book gives a detailed account of Jiang's public life, it fails to provide deeper insights into his personality. Instead, it recycles commonly known information: that Jiang is a social conservative, that he is a political reformist, and that he likes science and engineering. The wooden narrative gets nowhere near the aims of true biography.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400054749
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/11/2005
  • Pages: 720
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 2.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who hosts the PBS series Closer to Truth, advises China on economic policy, mergers and acquisitions, science, and media and is vice chairman of the new Beijing Institute for Frontier Science. The author of numerous books, including The Library of Investment Banking, Dealmaker, and Made in China: Voices from the New Revolution, he holds a Ph.D. in anatomy (brain research) from UCLA and an M.S. in management from MIT. He is a managing director at Smith Barney/Citigroup.
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Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction

It is said that Jiang Zemin was not a visionary founder of the nation like Mao Zedong or a daring reformer of society like Deng Xiao-ping; Mao and Deng changed China, but Jiang did not. His impact, critics claim, was as modest as it was accidental; he simply maintained social stability and enjoyed the good fortune of a growing economy.

That is the assumption.

Here are the facts.

On September 11, 2001, at midnight in Beijing and noon in New York, just hours after the horrific attacks on America, President Jiang Zemin sent an urgent message to President George W. Bush. He was one of the first world leaders to do so.

“On behalf of the Chinese government and people,” he wrote, “I would like to express sincere sympathy to you, and through you, to the U.S. Government and people, and condolences to the family members of the victims. The Chinese government consistently condemns and opposes all manner of terrorist violence.”

The next evening President Jiang spoke with President Bush and again strongly condemned “the appalling terrorist attacks,” pledging, “We are ready to provide all necessary support and assistance to the U.S. side.” That same day, at the United Nations in New York, China voted for the U.S.-sponsored Security Council resolution against terrorism. Under instructions from Beijing, China’s UN representative said, “Yesterday’s attacks, which stunned the world, took place in the United States, but represented an open challenge to the international community as a whole.” China’s diplomatic support was clear and firm, aiding the United States in forming a worldwide coalition against terrorism.

Almost immediately after the attack, China dispatched thirty-two counterterrorism specialists to the United States to provide unprecedented access to China’s detailed intelligence about the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, a stunning turnabout in U.S.-China relations. Over the next months, as America planned its counterattack, Chinese teams met regularly with their U.S. counterparts. Jiang Zemin’s China closed its borders with Afghanistan and its longtime friend Pakistan to prevent al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders from using China as an escape route. China also worked quietly to encourage Pakistan and Central Asian nations to cooperate with America. These proactive behaviors were all the more remarkable considering China’s bright-line policy of not violating national sovereignty and noninterference with other countries’ internal affairs.

In October, at a joint news conference with President Bush in Shanghai, President Jiang stated that China and the United States “share common responsibility and interest . . . with the international community to combat terrorism.” In November, in an unambiguous signal of support, China allowed a U.S. aircraft carrier to stop in Hong Kong en route to the war in Afghanistan.

Jiang’s support seemed surprising, considering his behavior after May 7, 1999, when five satellite-guided bombs, dropped from a U.S. Air Force B-2 Stealth bomber flying nonstop from Missouri, destroyed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia and killed three Chinese journalists. All across China outrage erupted on the streets and in the media; a firestorm of anti-American anger was fueled by an entrenched conviction that America sought to contain China and frustrate its historic resurgence. As thousands of Chinese students encircled the U.S. embassy in Beijing, hurling rocks along with their epithets, Jiang castigated the United States for its “deliberate provocations.”

He told Russian president Boris Yeltsin that the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia were an example of America’s “absolute gun-boat policy” that should “arouse the vigilance of statesmen all over the world.” He then ratcheted up the rhetoric, pronouncing that “the U.S.-led NATO must bear full responsibility for the atrocity, or the Chinese people will not leave the matter at that.” The next day, when meeting with Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, Jiang stated that “the Chinese people have expressed their indignation through demonstrations, rallies, statements and forums, showing their passion, will and great patriotic power.” Defiantly he proclaimed, “The great People’s Republic of China will never be bullied, the great Chinese nation will never be humiliated, and the great Chinese people will never be conquered.”

Jiang’s response to September 11 also seemed surprising when compared to his reaction just five months earlier, when a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane, monitoring electronic signals off China’s coast, collided with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet that crashed into the South China Sea, disintegrated, and killed its pilot. The damaged U.S. aircraft was forced to make an unauthorized emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan, and as news of the incident spread, waves of Chinese nationalism and student rage flooded the Internet, inundated radio, television, and the press, and poured onto the streets. Once again Jiang personified China’s outrage. “The United States should apologize to the Chinese for this incident,” he said, “and bear all responsibilities for the consequences.”

Although President Jiang’s September 11 feelings of “sympathy and condolences” seemed to be an about-face from his indignant ire over the embassy bombing and airplane collision, they were not. Without understanding his real beliefs, one might assume that Jiang’s castigations of America were calculating and opportunistic, that he took advantage of these unfortunate accidents to rouse anti-American sentiments. Such an assumption would be false, a simplistic judgment based on misunderstanding China.

Appreciating how Jiang thinks requires understanding Chinese history and culture, an awareness of the milieu in which he was born, grew up, worked, and lived. The themes that emerge show why, in context, Jiang Zemin’s statements about the embassy bombing, the airplane collision, and the September 11 attacks were all drawn from the same philosophical well, each consistent with his overarching vision of China and his long-standing feelings about America.

Although he opposes what he calls American “unilateralism,” Jiang appreciates American culture and ideals. While many Americans criticize Jiang for being anti-American, some Chinese derogate him for being pro-American. Jiang is not pro-American, but he does understand America. He is, above all, a Chinese patriot who believes that America can help China grow strong and that good relations between America and China are vital for peace and prosperity in the twenty-first century.

In 1989 China was engulfed in its largest crisis since the founding of the People’s Republic forty years earlier. As the world watched, huge masses of student protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, China’s capital. In open defiance of their government, they rallied around a homemade replica of the Statue of Liberty and urged Western journalists to share their story with the world. The government reacted, first by imposing martial law, and then by employing force, and the tragedy that ensued drew international censure. In the havoc of the season, the position of general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (Party or CPC), the top job in the country, was given to a former engineer known for his loyalty, tact, cultural values, and intellectual interests. A portly man with a receding hairline and large spectacles, Jiang Zemin was regarded by nearly everyone as a mere transitional figure, someone to hold the place until a new strongman emerged.

A decade later Jiang Zemin was still in place, stronger than ever with the additional titles of chairman of the Central Military Commission and president of China. Though it had taken years of policy renovation, consensus building, deft maneuvering, and political infighting, he had surprised the world, transforming his country into an economic superpower. Under Jiang’s leadership, the country had changed in ways that few had thought possible but that, in May 1999, were put to a severe test, literally by fire.

In the spring NATO armed forces, led by the United States, commenced air strikes to force Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to stop Serbian attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. On May 7 a U.S. B-2 bomber, loaded with forty thousand pounds of ordnance, made one such run. Among its targets was a Serbian military supply building whose detailed coordinates were fed into the bomber’s state-of-the-art guidance systems and coordinated with the U.S. military’s meter-accurate global positioning satellites.

Of the nine thousand bombs and missiles dropped by NATO forces on Yugoslavia between March 24 and May 6, 1999, only seven had hit the wrong targets. That day five more landed on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The bombs destroyed the building and killed those three Chinese journalists. Twenty more people were injured. NATO announced that the bombs had not actually been off target; the problem was that the target itself was wrong. In explaining how one could mistake the large, prominent embassy for a military supply center, spokesmen blamed “faulty information,” saying that CIA officials had given military planners incorrect data–or as American intelligence put it, “old maps.”

Within an hour of the blast President Jiang convened an emergency meeting of his country’s top officials. Present were all seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Party’s most senior decision-making body that runs the country, as well as the heads of all relevant ministries and agencies, including the Central Military Commission, the Foreign Ministry, and the Information Office. A rapid response was needed, but providing one would require delicate balance.

Wang Guangya, then vice minister of foreign affairs and more recently China’s ambassador to the United Nations, recalled the sensitivities. “We recognized,” he said, “that this incident would send shock waves through the populace, especially the young people. The students would surely react.”

To the Chinese people, the bombing was a national insult, and virtually everyone assumed that it had been deliberate. Angry crowds began forming in Beijing, focusing their fury on a compound in an eastern, tree-lined section of the city–the U.S. embassy–where the U.S. ambassador to China, James Sasser, was holed up as a virtual hostage. As the crowds grew larger and more belligerent, China watchers realized that the demonstrations were spontaneous.

Back at Zhongnanhai (meaning, literally, “Center [and] South Sea”), the walled-off area of unassuming buildings, Chinese structures, tranquil lakes, and elegant grounds where China’s senior leaders live and work, the irony of the situation was noted. For years the U.S. government had criticized China for not being responsive to its people’s wishes. Now, listening to public opinion would mean taking an even stronger anti-American stance.

“Tell the U.S. government the Chinese people are not easy to humiliate,” a middle-aged man outside the U.S. embassy shouted at a Western reporter. “China is not Kosovo, and it is not Iraq.”

After listening to reports from the scene and asking questions, Jiang solicited opinions, individually, from almost everyone in the room. “After all the input was given and all the discussions taken,” Wang Guangya remembered, “it was left to President Jiang to weigh the long-term interests of the country against the short-term emotions of the people. This was not easy, although it was clear that China would have to respond sharply. Our sovereignty had been violated and the norms of international law flouted–and we knew that the Chinese public would be watching us.

“But,” added Wang, a graduate of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, “we also knew that the students could overreact and set themselves on a counterproductive course of action. We all recognized right away that the major challenge we faced was not how to deal with the Americans–that was the easy part–but how to deal with our own citizens, particularly our students, how to prevent inappropriate behavior, how to persuade them not to overreact.”

Jiang expected that public anger would peak early and decline quickly, and he did not want to condemn America excessively and exacerbate relations. Together the leaders planned a course of action. The first step would be to cut off negotiations on China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), suspend military and arms control talks with Washington, and demand that America compensate China for losses sustained in the attack. The second would have the country’s vice president, Hu Jintao, make a televised address with a dual purpose: to express the seriousness with which the Chinese government viewed the incident and to urge citizens to exercise restraint in their reactions. “Jiang believed,” Wang recounted, “that although China had suffered a great wrong, we shouldn’t jeopardize our future by an out-of-proportion response.”

But Jiang underestimated the power of the people’s fury. With senior leadership cloistered away for three days of virtually nonstop meetings, some sardonic Beijingers rang up the emergency line at the police department to report three missing persons: Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongji, and Li Peng.

“Here at the Foreign Ministry,” Wang said, “we received an avalanche of biting, hostile criticism from our own people. Mountains of letters piled up, our switchboards were jammed, and our ministry’s website was almost incapacitated with e-mails. It’s ironic that Americans say that there is no freedom of expression in China.

“A few would have had us declare war on NATO or America, or retaliate with a missile attack against NATO’s headquarters,” Wang continued. “Early on Russian president Boris Yeltsin made extreme remarks, and some took his unfiltered comments to advocate a military alliance between China and Russia to confront the United States.”

Against this backdrop of heated debate, Jiang stressed the need for economic progress and social stability. He urged the continuation of current foreign policy in the interests of China itself as well as world peace.

Moderation was not popular. The Chinese people, long wary of foreign aggression, viewed the deaths of three Chinese citizens on a symbolic piece of Chinese territory by NATO forces as an egregious affront. Jiang now realized that the Party had to take the lead in expressing such nationalism or risk losing control of the volatile situation.

His challenge was not limited to preserving the stability of the social order but also involved sustaining his personal power within it. It was no secret that President Jiang and Premier Zhu Rongji believed that good relations with the United States were necessary to transform China’s economy and improve its people’s lives, a position with which some of their colleagues, especially Li Peng, disagreed.

The public was not on their side either: ordinary Chinese had become steadily more anti-American in their attitudes, and this change of heart narrowed Jiang’s maneuvering room. A 1995 poll of Chinese young people had 87 percent naming the United States as the country “least friendly” to China and 57 percent stating the country about which they felt most negative was the United States.

Jiang did not escape censure. To many Chinese, their president seemed inordinately quiet, even reticent, in the face of the American outrage. Public expressions of disgust at Jiang’s apparent passivity spread. Not all the protest banners condemned America; some now ridiculed their own leader. One read “Slave of the American Master.” Another said, “Jiang Zemin–the Turtle That Pulls in Its Head.” A college student on his third day of besieging the U.S. embassy put it this way: “Even if the government forbids protests, we’ll still demonstrate until the Americans give us a good answer.”

Though personal preservation did not drive his decision-making, Jiang had to wonder whether his conservative colleagues, perhaps in concert with elements in the military, could turn the rapidly growing anti-American demonstrations against him, weakening his control. Some spoke with nostalgia for Mao Zedong, praising his actions during the Korean War in thwarting the United States. “Now everyone is saying Mao was great after all,” asserted one army colonel. “Let the world’s proletariat unite and smash U.S. imperialism. The embassy attack woke up the Chinese people; it should also wake up Jiang and Zhu.”

Faced with the unnerving prospect of tens of thousands of Chinese marching through the streets, Jiang decided to assuage, rather than oppose, the mounting public anger. He moved to channel the outrage, seeking alignment between the protesters and the government. He wanted to make sure that his country remained stable and that his administration remained secure. General Fu Quanyou, chief of the General Staff, pledged fidelity to the Party and to Jiang and vowed to “defend state sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensure that they are not infringed upon.”

State media praised the students for backing the government. Party-supported student unions rented buses to transport students to the embassy district in an effort to avoid masses of young people marching across Beijing and drawing workers to join their cause, as had happened in 1989. The government certainly did not want protesting students stopping off around Zhongnanhai, or heading there in the first place, to vilify their “weak” leaders for not “standing up to America.”

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Table of Contents

The Man Who Changed China

Contents

Introduction: The Life of Jiang Zemin  1

Part One • Grounding
1926—1989  15

Chapter 1 • 1926—1943
“My Background Is My Family”  17

Chapter 2 • 1943—1947
“I Am a Patriot”  35

Chapter 3 • 1947—1955
“I Am an Engineer”  53

Chapter 4 • 1955—1962
“I Love Talent”  66

Chapter 5 • 1962—1976
“A Period of Unprecedented Destruction”  82

Chapter 6 • 1976—1985
“It Was My Habit to Learn on the Job”  96

Chapter 7 • 1985—1986
“Talk Less and Do More”  113

Chapter 8 • 1986—1989
“How Could I Not Know?”  126

Part Two • Leadership
1989—1996  145

Chapter 9 • January—May 1989
“Get Prepared for a Protracted Struggle”  147

Chapter 10 • May—June 1989
“I Feel the Heavy Burden on My Shoulders”  164

Chapter 11 • July—December 1989
“Men Are Not Saints”  180

Chapter 12 •1990—1991
“Stability Overrides Everything”  196

Chapter 13 • 1992
“Bold Explorations and Accelerated Reform”  211

Chapter 14 • 1993
“We Will Show the World That We Are Trustworthy”  231

Chapter 15 • 1994
“The Outside World Has a Terrible Misunderstanding of China”  244

Chapter 16 • 1995
“Spiritual Civilization”  257

Chapter 17 • 1996
“Talk More About Politics”  274

Part Three • Emergence
1997—1999  291

Chapter 18 • January—September 1997
“How Can We Improve Their Lives?”  293

Chapter 19 • October—December 1997
“My Ears Still Work Very Well”  315

Chapter 20 • January—June 1998
“Reform in China Has Now Entered the Assault Stage”  351

Chapter 21 • July—December 1998
“I, as a Witness of History . . .”  362

Chapter 22 • 1999
“All Sorts of Feelings Well Up in Me”  376

Part Four • Vision
2000—2004  401

Chapter 23 • January—June 2000
“We Recognize and Respect the Unique Sensitivities and Sensibilities of Scientists”  403

Chapter 24 • July—December 2000
“Chinese Spy or Not?”  419

Chapter 25 • January—July 2001
“My Life Was Closely Associated with Almost Three-­Quarters of the Last Century”  437

Chapter 26 • August—December 2001
“The Knowledge in Our World Is Rich and Vast, and the Mysteries of the Universe Are Infinite”  462

Chapter 27 • January—June 2002
“Study Three Represents; Practice Three Represents”  482

Chapter 28 • July—October 2002
“A Gentleman Gets Along with Others But Does Not Necessarily Agree with Them”  495

Chapter 29 • November—December 2002
“I Hope That Comrades Will Be United as One”  508

Chapter 30 • 2003—September 2004
“We Chinese Are All Very Happy About It”  531

Conclusion: The Legacy of Jiang Zemin  554

Chronology: Jiang’s Zemin’s Life  580

Names and Abbreviations  584

Major Figures  592

Notes  600

Acknowledgments  684

Personal Perspective  688

Index  693

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