China bids farewell to former leader Jiang Zemin


China comes to a halt in honor of Jiang Zemin, with sirens wailing across the country for three minutes of silence.

China bids farewell to Jiang Zemin, with sirens blaring in tribute as people across the country observe three minutes of silence for the former president.

The public memorial service for Jiang, who died last week at the age of 96, began at 10 a.m. local time (02:00 GMT) on Tuesday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in the presence of President Xi Jinping and other top leaders. The event was broadcast live across the country.

Jiang led China out of isolation after the army crushed student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, and supported economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth.

A trained engineer and former head of China’s largest city, Shanghai, Jiang served as president for ten years until 2003 and led the ruling Communist Party for 13 years until 2002. After taking over reformist leader Deng Xiaoping, he oversaw the Hong Kong’s return from British rule in 1997 and Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.

The ruling Communist Party called him a “great proletarian revolutionary” and “long-time tried communist fighter”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and others pay their last respects to former leader Jiang Zemin at China’s PLA General Hospital in Beijing [Li Xueren/Xinhua via Reuters]

“Jiang Zemin was an outstanding leader who enjoyed great prestige,” read a biography titled “Jiang Zemin’s Great, Glorious Life,” published by the official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday.

“During his revolutionary career spanning more than 70 years, he remained unwaveringly steadfast in Communist ideals, utterly loyal to the Party and the people, and resolutely devoted to the cause of the Party and the people.”

In Yangzhou, Jiang’s hometown, about 100 people gathered in front of his former residence on Tuesday to observe the silence.

Flags across the country and at Chinese government buildings abroad flew at half-mast.

Equity markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen halted trading for three minutes, as did the Chinese gold and silver exchange in Hong Kong. Public entertainment was also suspended, with some online games, such as the popular League of Legends, announcing a day break.

According to state media, Jiang died of leukemia and multiple organ failure on November 30.

A Chinese flag at half-mast against the Shanghai skyline and a blue sky
Flags were lowered to half-mast as China paid tribute to the man who some say led more tolerant times [Aly Song/Reuters]

Xi and other top officials paid their respects to Jiang in a ceremony at a military hospital in Beijing before his body was cremated at Babaoshan Cemetery, where many of the country’s top leaders are buried. State broadcaster CCTV showed Xi and others bowing to Jiang, his trademark heavy-rimmed glasses clearly visible through a glass box.

Former leader Hu Jintao — who was escorted out of a Communist Party summit in October in a dramatic incident that drew global attention — was also pictured at the event.

Al Jazeera’s Patrick Fok, a Hong Kong reporter, described the timing of Jiang’s death as “remarkable,” not only because it comes so soon after that Communist Party Congress — where Xi was appointed as the organization’s general secretary for an unprecedented third term — but also because it comes days after a wave of protests against the government’s “zero COVID” policy rocked the nation to its foundations.

Fok said authorities across the country are on high alert, with a heavy police presence in Beijing and Shanghai.

Live broadcast shows the monument to the late former Chinese President Jiang Zemin in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.
A memorial to Jiang in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing was broadcast live on television. The characters at the top of the stage read Comrade Jiang Zemin’s memorial service [CCTV via AP]

Jiang’s death has also made some Chinese nostalgic for a time that was seen as more liberal and tolerant of dissent.

“The Jiang era, while not the most prosperous era, was more tolerant,” one user wrote on the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo after his death.

“I have heard a lot of criticism of him, but the fact that he allowed critical voices to exist shows how much he deserves praise,” wrote another.

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