President Xi Jinping says China will turn “our grief into strength” as he leads the nation in mourning the leader credited with overseeing an unprecedented economic boom for the Asian giant.

Jiang Zemin gestures while speaking at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, US on October 24, 2002. — FILE
Jiang Zemin gestures while speaking at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, US on October 24, 2002. — FILE (Reuters)

Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, who led the country for a decade of rapid economic growth from 1989 onward, passed away at the age of 96.

Zemin’s death on Wednesday prompted a wave of nostalgia. The former Chinese leader died in his hometown of Shanghai of leukaemia and multiple organ failure, the country's Xinhua news agency reported.

As soon as the news of his death came out, the ruling Communist Party, the parliament, the cabinet and the military published a letter addressed to the people of China.

“Comrade Jiang Zemin’s death is an incalculable loss to our Party and our military and our people of all ethnic groups,” the letter read, saying its announcement was with “profound grief”.

Leaving behind a legacy

Jiang, though he could have a fierce temper, had an informal and even quirky side, sometimes bursting into song, reciting poems or playing musical instruments.

Many posted videos and pictures online of Jiang's meetings with former US President Bill Clinton, including one scene where the pair are all smiles as Jiang conducts a military band for part of the Chinese national anthem.

One video dating back to April 2001 and posted on social media after his death shows him singing along with former Venezuelan president late Hugo Chavez and performer Julio Iglesias. 

Numerous users of China's Twitter-like Weibo platform described the death of Jiang, who remained influential after finally retiring in 2004, as the end of an era.

After the Tiananmen crackdown, Jiang was plucked from obscurity to head the ruling Communist Party. His tenure saw the country breaking out of its subsequent diplomatic isolation, mending fences with the United States and overseeing an unprecedented economic boom.

He served as president from 1993 to 2003 but held China’s top job, as head of the ruling Communist Party, from 1989 and handed over that role to Hu Jintao in 2002. He gave up the position as head of the military in 2004, which he also assumed in 1989.

When Jiang retired, it was said by sources close to the leadership at the time that everywhere Hu Jintao looked, he would see the supporters of his predecessor.

The online pages of Chinese state media sites, including the People’s Daily and Xinhua, turned black and white in mourning.

Xi Jinping, meeting Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith shortly after Jiang had died, said China would turn “our grief into strength”, according to state media.

Wednesday’s letter described “our beloved Comrade Jiang Zemin” as an outstanding leader of high prestige, a great Marxist, statesman, military strategist and diplomat and a long-tested communist fighter.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies