Anything for Power: The Real Story of China’s Jiang Zemin—Chapter 3

Anything for Power: The Real Story of China’s Jiang Zemin—Chapter 3
(Luis Novaes/Epoch Times)

Jiang Zemin’s days are numbered. It is only a question of when, not if, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party will be arrested. Jiang officially ran the Chinese regime for more than a decade, and for another decade he was the puppet master behind the scenes who often controlled events. During those decades Jiang did incalculable damage to China. At this moment when Jiang’s era is about to end, Epoch Times here republishes in serial form “Anything for Power: The Real Story of Jiang Zemin,” first published in English in 2011. The reader can come to understand better the career of this pivotal figure in today’s China.

The full series is available here

Chapter 3: Going From Section Chief Upward: A Calculating Hustler Uses Lies, Boasting and Empty Promises to Rise (1956–1985)

1. The Origin of Jiang’s Western-Sounding Nickname, “Kericon”

In 1956 Jiang Zemin turned 30. At the beginning of the year he finished his training at the Stalin Automobile Works in Moscow and returned to Changchun City in northeastern China to prepare for the construction of the Changchun No. 1 Automotive Plant; the facility was slated to begin operations officially that summer. Jiang began as the section chief of the motive power department. Soon after, following production of the first Liberation Brand truck, he was promoted to a deputy director of the division. Jiang’s immediate superiors were a Soviet technician and a director, Chen Yunqu. Though Chen was an expert, he lacked the credentialing that came with being a CCP member, and so it was that Jiang, a full-fledged member of the Party, became Secretary of the Party branch in the division.

Much did Jiang Zemin benefit along the way from his CCP membership. Dating back as early as the CCP’s coming to power in China, Party members have always, in matters of personnel choices, enjoyed first consideration and been placed into important positions. Non-members—whether white or blue collar workers—have, on the other hand, been met with distrust. Jiang lacked a history of “revolutionary involvement” in CCP activities, being, instead, a traitor who received his education at the puppet Central University and a man who once worked for the KMT (before the CCP seized Shanghai). Under normal circumstances all somebody of Jiang’s profile could have expected was to be a target for “reform” or, at best, to become a provisional staff member. Thus it was that Jiang used the CCP martyr status of his uncle, Jiang Shangqing, to secure a rather glorious designation, “the foster son of a martyr,” by way of concocting a story of adoption. Jiang hence became a cadre the CCP felt it could trust. Jiang was, then, something of a rare find for the CCP: a man of the Party and somebody having good technical skills.

While at the plant, Jiang grew acquainted with his “fellow townsman” Shen Yongyan—a man who, like Jiang, came from the area of Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces. The two became friends and would pass idle time in the evenings getting together and chatting. During breaks from work they often played ping pong. Word has it that Jiang would, after losing—a frequent event, allegedly—mumble a few words of Russian and take a seat off to the side.

In terms of Jiang’s technical skills, his colleagues knew that he wasn’t good at his job. But Jiang was good at something: talking. His talent was concentrated in his mouth. His relationship with the Soviet expert at the plant was most collegial, reaching new heights whenever Russian folk songs came into play. Jiang’s forte was not so much resolving technical problems as accompanying delegations that visited the plant. His colleagues thus gave him, in jest, a foreign-sounding nickname, “kericon”—a name suggestive of the times. Kericon is a character in a Russian novel who makes false, exaggerated, and empty statements, being a person ever keen on doing things for his own gain; upon assuming any real work his incompetence is exposed. The nickname Kericon not only suited Jiang’s personality, but was also befitting the standards the CCP used to promote people.

The CCP has come up with a host of rather ridiculous phrases and ideas over the years, such as, “a communist heaven on earth,” “the Four Modernizations,” “being fairly well-off,” and “Three Represents,” among others. Even now it still tries, vainly, to convince China’s people that they live in a supposedly “harmonious” society. But the CCP is not engaged in the actual production of much of anything, and when it meets with crises it simply resorts to killing people. Then, after the crisis has passed, it continues to exist by means of boasting and deception. It is for this reason that cadres who are adept at exaggerating and lying are considered indispensable. During Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958–1962), exaggerating and lying reached a peak; a quick look through official news reports from that period quickly gives one a taste of things.

One case is worth recounting. On June 8, 1958, newspapers first reported that the wheat yield in Suiping County, Henan Province was 1,052.5 kilograms per mu. [1] By Sept. 18, 1958, the People’s Daily was reporting that the rice yield in Red Flag Agricultural Producers’ Cooperative in Huanjiang County, Guangxi Province was as high as 65,217 kilograms per mu. In July of that year, the bulletin of the Ministry of Agriculture claimed that summer grain production increased 69 percent from the year before, with the total output even surpassing that of the United Stated by 2 billion kilograms. A “great leap forward” also purportedly took place in the automobile industry. Within half a year, more than 200 types of automobiles were said to have been designed and manufactured. Moreover, the CCP claimed that advanced technology such as V-engines, power steering equipment, and automatic transmissions were being put into the new vehicles. China’s auto industry was said to be advancing rapidly and surpassing other countries.

One of the more advanced automobiles was allegedly created by Jiang Zemin and his coworkers. The new automobile employed a wooden air pump and a bamboo body. Jiang Zemin majored in engineering in school so he of course knew that his group’s “inventions” were not in fact of much use, practically speaking, though they were of use in terms of impressing people. Jiang realized that he was, by being in the spirit of things, showing himself to be in step with the Party, and that only by doing so could he continue to rise through the ranks. After coming to this understanding Jiang always managed to find a reason for his subordinates to complete tasks assigned them by the CCP, however absurd they were.

During the Great Leap Forward—an era in which a person could accomplish little without lying—Changchun No. 1 Automotive Plant went through a re-organization between the end of 1958 and the beginning of 1959 wherein the power division was split off and made into a branch of its own. It was then that Jiang Zemin, who had been building his credentials doing the CCP’s bidding, indeed moved up another rung and was made head of the branch.

2. A Time When People Starved to Death

The Great Leap Forward brought about economic problems and a famine of disastrous proportions. Since farmers were forcefully organized into “People’s Communes” to smelt steel, nobody was left to cultivate the land or harvest the grain. And the grain that each family had saved was seized and put into the communes’ canteens, where everyone was supposed to eat. As a result, some people ran out of food, and death from starvation started to occur in the rural areas. Within a short time, the famine spread to the entire country, including cities. Experts estimate that from 1959 to 1961, between 20 million and 50 million people starved to death. In many areas where the famine was particularly severe, people even ate other people’s children. In the Xinyang area of Henan Province and in Renshou County of Sichuan Province, as with other areas, some entire households and villages starved to death. In some areas 9 out of 10 homes were left empty.

Northeastern China enjoys the natural benefit of having a lot of land and fewer people. So conditions there were somewhat better during that three-year period. Even so, the workers in the Automotive Plant did not have enough to eat. Even the workers that did heavy labor were only rationed 15 kilograms of grain per month, and they had to purchase it with their ration cards. Jiang Zemin began to dislike being in the northeast all the more.

Back in 1956, soon after Jiang had returned from the Soviet Union, he and his wife Wang Yeping and their two young sons moved from Shanghai to Changchun. Relative to the positions that Jiang held, his family’s living conditions were quite good in Changchun. Not only had they Jiang’s income, but his wife as well had a good salary. Jiang’s family was assigned a three-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor. The apartment was equipped with a Soviet-style central heating system, gas stove, private bathroom, and double-glazed windows that were preferred in the severe cold of northeastern China. Most Chinese would have been envious of such living conditions. Although prices were very low then, all most people could dream of was to manage to fill their stomachs with things like steamed cornbread. But even during the years of the famine, Jiang Zemin expected to eat chicken every day.

The conditions in Changchun were not agreeable to Jiang’s wife, who was accustomed to living in the region south of the Yangtze River. In Changchun she could only wear skirts for a few days each year; most of the time she had to wrap herself in a heavy, thick cotton jacket and cotton-quilted pants. So she, as someone who loved to dress beautifully, was bitter toward Jiang Zemin, and blamed him for moving the family to such an icy, frigid place.

CCP official Wang Daohan had sent Jiang Zemin off on his training in the Soviet Union wishing to help him earn a promotion down the line. But as a consequence, Jiang ended up having to leave Shanghai to work in Changchun. Jiang hated to leave prosperous Shanghai and the banks of the Huangpu River, which reminded him of happy days in his youth. But, looking at things from a long-term perspective, Jiang realized that moving to Changchun would eventually pay dividends and lead to promotions.

Jiang’s wife, Wang Yeping, grew up in Shanghai. She is the niece of Wang Zhelan, who is the wife of Jiang Shangqing—Jiang Zemin’s martyred uncle. She graduated from Shanghai Foreign Language Institute and is two years younger than Jiang Zemin. After skirt-chaser Jiang transferred from the Japanese puppet Central University in Nanjing to Shanghai Jiaotong University, he visited the Wang family a few times. He and Wang Yeping were somewhat interested in one another, though neither thought much of it at the time. In 1949, when it was obvious the CCP would soon seize power, Jiang was struck by an idea and began pursuing Wang Yeping.

Wang Zhelan had some resentment towards the family of Jiang Shijun (Jiang Zemin’s biological father). When her husband, Jiang Shangqing, had passed away, the CCP was still being called “the Communist bandits.” Being an older brother, Jiang Shijun had admonished Jiang Shangqing to leave the Communist bandits, but to no avail. To avoid being implicated, he tried not to have much contact with his brother. When Jiang Shangqing died, Jiang Shijun thought that it was his younger brother’s own fault, and thus, though he was one to indulge in extravagant spending, he never gave Wang Zhelan’s family any financial assistance. The 28-year-old widow lived a hard life raising daughters of one and three years old. When Jiang Zehui, her second daughter, was interviewed by Kuhn, she said, “Our family had little to eat, sometimes no food at all.” [2]

After the CCP took power the situation reversed. Jiang Shijun hung his head low, and things grew difficult for his children as well. Jiang Zemin then proceeded to, in order to solidify the “martyr’s foster son” title he sought so dearly, make efforts to tighten his relationship with Wang Zhelan’s family. When Wang Zhelan visited her parents’ home in Shanghai and she saw that Jiang Zemin and her niece were dating, Wang Zhelan didn’t realize what Jiang had in mind. She thought that Jiang was different from his cold-hearted, disloyal father, and as such was pleased about their relationship. In December 1949, not even two months after the CCP was officially inaugurated, Jiang Zemin swiftly married Wang Yeping. The marriage emblazoned once and for all the glorious title, “foster son of a martyr,” as if across Jiang’s forehead.

Soon after, aunt Wang Zhelan found a job in a bank in Shanghai. After she retired, she was cared for by her elder daughter, Jiang Zeling, for over 20 years. About one month after Jiang Zemin became mayor of Shanghai she died in Yangzhou City at the age of 74.

3. Jiang Zemin’s Wife, “the Owl,” Has an Affair

For some time after their marriage, Jiang Zemin and Wang Yeping’s relations were not bad. Wang Yeping gave birth to two sons: Jiang Mianheng in 1952 and Jiang Miankang in 1954.

But the good times were soon to fade. When in 1955 Jiang Zemin went to the Soviet Union for training, Wang Yeping was left in Shanghai to raise their two young sons by herself. In the Soviet Union there were more women than men after the war. The situation depicted in the movie Moscow Nights, where two men competed for one woman, had since changed. Lustful Jiang began to play the game in the Moscow Automobile Works despite being a married man. After returning to China he no longer found Wang Yeping charming. Although Jiang didn’t say anything, Wang could feel it.

After Jiang Zemin returned from the Soviet Union, he constantly hummed the verse, “Snow and ice cover the Volga River; three carts run on the surface of its ice. Someone is singing a sad song, and the singer is the driver of the cart.” In his heart he was missing the beautiful spy Klava. Wang Yeping’s sorrow was amplified all the more when she heard the song on frigid winter days. She had been reluctant to move to Changchun with the kids in the first place. Being accustomed to living in southern cities, it was challenging for her to adapt to the severe cold of northeastern China. And on top of that, Jiang Zemin was seldom home; upon getting off from work he often went to sing and dance with the Soviet experts. Wang Yeping was left at home to look after the two children by herself, and for this often felt resentful.

If anyone can perceive changes in a man, it is usually his wife. Wang Yeping could feel that Jiang Zemin’s heart seemed left behind somewhere in the Soviet Union. She often asked Jiang, as if just making conversation, what he did in his spare time while living in the Soviet Union. Jiang, usually one to prattle on about things, always responded evasively and kept his lips sealed. This made Wang only more suspicious.

Today many people find Wang’s appearance to be rather lack-luster, and have even said sarcastically that Jiang keeps an owl at home as a pet. But according to the recollection of workers from the Changchun Automotive Plant, Wang Yeping was one of the “three beauties” at the plant, being noticeably pretty. She was about 30 then and still young. And Wang, being from Shanghai, had her beauty enhanced by a sophisticated urban style.

Wang Yeping’s major in college was foreign languages. There was no appropriate position for her at the automotive plant. But because Jiang Zemin was a cadre, the plant gave Wang special treatment and made her a secretary. In the early days the Changchun Automotive Plant had two branches. When Jiang Zemin worked as the head of the first branch, Wang Yeping was working at the second branch. She couldn’t talk about her suspicions of Jiang Zemin to others, of course. But one time she couldn’t help but pour her heart out to the director of the second branch. Having received warm consolation from him, she thought of a way to heal her emotional wounds: have an affair with the director.

Bad news travels fast. In those days affairs were not taken lightly. Some people took these things so hard back then that they would even commit suicide. But when Wang’s affair was exposed, she continued to go about things as normal. At that time rumors about the affair were the main topics of gossip at the factory. In public Jiang pretended not to know, but at home the couple quarreled badly.

Jiang turned to Wang Daohan, the First Deputy Minister of the First Ministry of Machinery Industry at the time, asking to be transferred to a different location. His most compelling reason was, “Now that everyone knows my wife has been having an affair, how can I run things here?” Wang Daohan was sympathetic to the plight of the “adopted son” of Jiang Shangqing, having once been promoted by the uncle. So in 1962, with Wang Daohan’s help, Jiang Zemin was assigned the post of deputy director of the Shanghai Electrical Apparatus Research Institute, which was under the First Ministry of Machinery Industry. Wang Yeping herself returned to Shanghai, which she had longed for, and was assigned a job in the same institute as was Jiang. She knew nothing about technology, but a “technical personnel” title was added to her résumé for having worked at the institute. Seeing that the deputy minister had personally helped place Jiang, the subordinates were especially attentive and assigned Jiang a nice and spacious two-bedroom apartment in Caoyang New Village, built in 1960. From this experience Jiang Zemin realized even more the power of political authority. From that point on he was even more mindful of pleasing Wang Daohan, and took to calling him his “mentor.”

In 1965, the First Ministry of Machinery Industry organized a delegation to attend a technical conference in Japan, and Jiang Zemin was selected for the group. The delegation detoured to Hong Kong for a visit before going to Japan. After they returned, Wang Daohan suggested to higher-ups that Jiang be made director and deputy Party secretary of the newly established Wuhan Institute of Thermodynamic Engineering. Jiang’s career was extremely smooth thanks to Wang Daohan’s personal attention. Jiang was not only glad that uncle Jiang Shangqing was once a CCP official, but also that he had died so early in life. Otherwise, given uncle Jiang Shangqing’s relationship with Jiang Zemin’s father, Jiang Shijun, Shangqing probably would have severed all ties with daddy Shijun; and even if he chose otherwise, no one would have helped Jiang Zemin get anywhere as the son of a traitor.

4. “Braggart” Jiang Zemin in Wuhan

In 1966 Jiang Zemin was 40 years old. In May of that year, he was appointed Director and acting Party Secretary of the Wuhan Institute of Thermodynamic Engineering. The appointment made Jiang a 13th grade cadre, that is, he was vaulted into an elite circle of senior CCP cadres. Equally grateful was Jiang that the transfer took place just before Mao Zedong’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution. Soon after changing to the institute Jiang was given the nickname “braggart.” Since he had been transferred there only recently people could find little to criticize him about. And it was for this reason that during the catastrophe that was the Cultural Revolution, a movement the CCP appraised as having “stirred the soul of every man, woman, and child,” Jiang Zemin was not much affected.

Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in hopes of regaining dictatorial power over the Party—power which, he felt, had fallen into the hands of Liu Shaoqi. Mao incited students and workers at the lowest levels to revolt and seize power. Within a short time nearly everyone who had been in power was attacked, denounced, or even detained and tortured. In Shanghai the rebellion organized by Zhang Chunqiao and Wang Hongwen was particularly fierce. Several years later, after the Cultural Revolution came to an end, many who had formerly been colleagues in Shanghai and who survived the disaster inquired about the fates of those they knew. Surprised were they to learn that Jiang Zemin had been tucked away in Wuhan and was barely attacked. He was even sent to Romania for a visit in 1972, before the movement had ended. His former colleagues who suffered a great deal during the Cultural Revolution sighed indignantly, “Braggart Jiang is indeed something. He managed to escape even the Cultural Revolution when all others suffered tremendously. The braggart lived up to his name.”

The truth is, Jiang Zemin was terribly frightened during the Cultural Revolution. The Institute was newly established and all of its staff had been transferred from different regions, so it was unlike the older work units where people had long standing antagonism, resentment, or enmity toward one another; along with this, cases where people utilized the political climate to take revenge on coworkers were not so pronounced. But Jiang was, after all, the director of the institute, and thus someone in power and at risk. He feared during the Cultural Revolution that he would be investigated, exposed, and criticized, and thus worried that his shady past during the time of the Japanese occupation would be discovered. In November 1966, on the pretext of visiting home and reporting to his superior, Jiang went first to Beijing to inquire about the political climate and then on to Shanghai for several weeks, looking, similarly, into what was taking place. He repeatedly enjoined Wang Yeping, who was still working in Shanghai, not to say anything casually, especially about his family background.

Wang of course had to take the request seriously, for if Jiang were to be labeled a traitor she would be herself guilty by association. Their fates were tied together. Wang advised Jiang to intentionally deviate from the Party line on a few trivial issues so as to divert the rebels’ attention from the larger ones.

When Jiang returned to Wuhan, he took the attitude of admitting to all minor mistakes while denying wrongdoing when it came to important matters. When the masses criticized him for not doing solid work and only doing a lot of boasting, he criticized himself saying, “You are right. I am braggart Jiang.” Jiang had been influenced by actors in Yangchow City since as early as his childhood. He always had a comb in his pocket, and would often take it out to groom himself, even in others’ company. He felt good about himself despite being somewhat effeminate. When the populace was criticizing the “capitalist-roaders,” they pointed out that Jiang Zemin had “a small comb and a big head,” and a “bourgeoisie attitude.” Jiang immediately admitted to it. In 2003, during the National People’s Congress, Jiang Zemin told the delegation from Hubei Province, “The rebels asked me what I feared the most. I answered that I feared Chairman Mao most. And for saying that, I was publicly criticized for three days.” If he was guilt free, why would he fear Chairman Mao? At that time people couldn’t love Chairman Mao enough! The political investigation personnel poked everywhere to investigate and dig things out, and even things that had transpired decades before were exposed. But Jiang Zemin was never toppled, since he had the status of being a “martyr’s foster son.”

5. Long-Term Strategic Investments

In 1969, the 9th Congressional Meeting of the CCP convened, and the political situation in China started to change. “Martyr’s foster son” Jiang Zemin went through the political investigations quickly and without incident, and was first sent on May 7 to a Cadre School to work and be tempered. Soon after that he was sent to Beijing in 1970 and was appointed Deputy Director of the Foreign Affairs Bureau under the First Ministry of Machinery Industry.

After the 9th Congressional Meeting the CCP was extremely isolated in the international arena. Both superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union—became threatening enemies of the CCP. China and the Soviet Union, two Communist countries, had border conflicts and fiercely fought a few times along their borders. In order to get out of the predicament of isolation, the CCP tried hard to win several small Communist countries over to its side. After Albania, China won over Romania. With Romania and Pakistan being go-betweens, China reconciled with the U.S. That marked the beginning of China’s international strategy of nearly 20 years (1970–1989) of allying with the U.S. and opposing the Soviet Union. In order to repay the Romanian Communist Party for its help, the CCP decided to send some people to Romania to help facilitate its industrial build-up. When the technical group for aiding Romania was set up, Jiang Zemin was made the group’s leader due to his knack for foreign languages.

It is said that Zhou Enlai met with Jiang and thought highly of him. Zhou was a CCP figure who managed to remain standing no matter the political climate, and was known for being cruel on the inside but charming on the outside. To outsiders Zhou Enlai seemed like a modest gentleman, when in fact he presided over the killing of Gu Shunzhang’s entire family, and it was he that ordered killed an 80-year-old woman, a young child, and someone who saved his life. His means were downright vicious, if not sinister. Without Zhou Enlai’s involvement the political movements launched by the CCP could not have been so virulent. After they met, Jiang was officially appointed group leader. In 1971, he led the technical group in its visit to Romania and they performed a feasibility study of the construction of eight factories. After he returned to China in 1972, he was promoted to Director of the Foreign Affairs Bureau—a position he would hold for eight years.

In 1972, Mao Zedong realized that China’s society and economy had been devastated by his Cultural Revolution. That being the case, Mao, together with Zhou Enlai, recycled Deng Xiaoping, who had been previously labeled “the No. 2 capitalist roader in the Party,” so as to straighten things out and restore normal production in the country. Jiang Zemin, who made something of a living by paying lip service, could do little to help efforts of economic reform. During that period he simply stayed in the position of Foreign Affairs Bureau director. The Bureau was a good place to be, though. In the 1970s, when goods of any type were hard to come by, those who had some connection with foreign affairs had access to desirable items. Jiang took advantage of his position and would every now and then send some gifts to his superiors. He tried to please people any way he could, catering to everyone.

Jiang didn’t forget Wang Daohan. Although at that time Wang was, at least at one point, in a bad predicament, Jiang figured that investments should be looked at in terms of the long-run. With Wang’s qualifications, record of service, and status in the CCP, he had a great chance of making a comeback. Were Jiang not to make a long-term strategic investment, he would miss the chance, as it would be too late to fawn on Wang after he resumed his post.

When Wang’s situation was such that he could get only a ration of 200 grams of cooking oil and 250 grams of sugar per month for each person in his family, Jiang hurried to Wang’s home upon returning from Romania with a full load. He brought things such as milk powder and candy, amounting to a rather sizeable treat for Wang’s family. Jiang Mianheng, Jiang’s eldest son, was able to make it into college thanks to Jiang Zemin’s frequent provision of hot commodities to the leaders. In 1977 Jiang Mianheng graduated from Fudan University with a “worker-peasant-soldier” [3] student status.

Jiang Zemin was average at his job and had no merits to speak of. The team who wrote Jiang Zemin’s biography sought out, as is usually done, many people who knew him in the past, hoping to come upon accomplishments of some sort. But nobody could tell them anything that, when considered today, could be seen as a convincing story. The consensus is: one can’t say that Jiang did not work hard or was unmotivated; he did well in adapting to the times and keeping pace with his superiors. And he was an opportunist. Jiang once said that the head of a department in the First Ministry of Machinery Industry praised him often. The writing team spent much effort seeking out the wife of the deceased director. And what did they discover, but that she claimed her husband used to say Jiang exaggerated his achievements and made something out of nothing.

Jiang frequently studied the work Corruption in Officialdom and deeply understood that under the CCP’s rule a person could only sail through and meet with political success by being opportunistic, boasting, and flattering one’s superiors. During each of the political movements that Jiang experienced, it was always the case that he made others suffer, but never vice versa. There is an old intellectual figure who used to work at the same place as Jiang who still can’t get over how Jiang labeled and attacked him as a “bourgeois rightist” by way of false accusations.

6. A Taste of Power

1976 was an important turning point in Chinese history, and it happened that Jiang Zemin turned 50 that year. There was a terrible earthquake in Tangshan, the magnitude of which surpassed eight on the Richter Scale; hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. In the same year, the CCP’s three big guns—Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, and Mao Zedong—died one after another. In September, soon after Mao Zedong died, Ye Jianying [4] went against what Mao asked of him before his death, which was to support Jiang Qing as well as to aid Hua Guofeng. Ye Jianying collaborated with Wang Dongxing and Hua Guofeng, and initiated a palace coup. They used Military Unit 8341, which was controlled by Wang Dongxing, and arrested the Gang of Four—the notorious group which included Wang Hongwen (then Vice Chairman of the CCP) and Zhang Chunqiao (a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CCP Central Committee), as well as Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan, members of the Politburo of the CCP Central Committee. Though Jiang Qing was Mao Zedong’s widow she was, even before Mao’s corpse turned cold, made a political prisoner along with nephew Mao Yuanxin; the perpetrators did so under the auspices of following Mao’s political line. It was illustrative of the saying, “No CCP leader has a good ending.”

Everyone was gratified over the Gang of Four falling from power. A joke was going around in Beijing that went as follows: One day, Jiang Qing, who was in charge of the Anti-Deng Campaign, bumped into Deng Xiaoping. Deng asked her, “How is your Anti-Deng Campaign going?” Jiang Qing replied, “It has been launched and going vigorously for a month now. I think we just need another month to overthrow you and give you a bad name.” Deng briefly looked Jiang Qing up and down and said, “It would take me less than a week to criticize you in a campaign and give you a bad name.”

At the time Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying didn’t dare to underestimate the influence in Shanghai of the Gang of Four, or the “Shanghai Gang,” as it was also known. Its fervent followers in Shanghai had drafted a statement to the Party and to the people of China, and were preparing for a revolt in Shanghai. However, the Gang of Four was not supported by anyone in the military, and their attempt quickly failed. Three key players in the Shanghai Gang—Ma Tianshui, Xu Jingxian, and Wang Xiuzhen—were tricked and went to Beijing. Seeing that the game was over they had no choice but to surrender. At that point the Central Committee, led by Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying, appointed Su Zhenhua as the First Secretary of the CCP in the Shanghai municipal government and as Director of the Revolutionary Committee of Shanghai; Ni Zhifu was appointed the Second Secretary of the CCP in the Shanghai municipal government and First Deputy Director of the Revolutionary Committee of Shanghai; and Peng Chong was appointed Third Secretary of the CCP in the Shanghai municipal government and Second Deputy Director of the Revolutionary Committee of Shanghai. Su, Ni, and Peng were also appointed Chief and First and Second Deputy Chiefs, respectively, of the Working Group of the Central Committee of the CCP, and subsequently moved to Shanghai.

In order to control Shanghai more effectively, it was important to include in the Working Group someone from Shanghai. Since Jiang Zemin, who was then working in the Foreign Affairs Bureau in First Ministry of the Machinery Industry, had worked in Shanghai before, he was temporarily made a member of the Working Group and accompanied the group to Shanghai.

The Central Committee’s concerns about Shanghai proved unnecessary. Although the Shanghai Gang had managed Shanghai for many years, people did not support in the least its “leftist” line. When the Working Group entered Shanghai, the ground soldiers, the navy, and the air force in Shanghai—who numbered more than 30,000—were ordered to ride in a few hundred vehicles and march throughout the city. They shouted in unison “Overthrow the Gang of Four,” and “Firmly support the Central Committee’s brilliant decision.” Their voices were like thunder. After a full day of such show, any fear the people of Shanghai may have had was dissipated, with the remaining influence of the Gang of Four completely destroyed. Driven by college students from Fudan University, Jiaotong University, and Shanghai Normal University, the long-oppressed Shanghai people took to the streets and cheered the overthrow of the Gang of Four. Similar to what the joke had Deng Xiaoping saying to Jiang Qing, the name of the Gang of Four was smeared in less than a week. Jiang Zemin was overwhelmed by the welcome that the Central Committee Working Group received from the people of Shanghai.

Before long, the Working Group was no longer needed. Jiang Zemin reluctantly returned to Beijing and resumed his office as Director of the Foreign Affairs Bureau in the First Ministry of Machinery Industry. He had gotten something of a high from his experience in the Working Group of the Central Committee, the sense of power he felt as a regal delegate, and the satisfaction of having everyone ask for his approval. Jiang was determined to continue to rise through the ranks.

7. Hedging His Bets

In 1978, Jiang Zemin hedged a wrong bet. He didn’t expect Deng Xiaoping to return to power. The central government adopted a new policy of economic openness and reform at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th National People’s Congress. Because Jiang had made speeches that strongly criticized Deng Xiaoping during the “Criticize Deng and Fight the Rightists’ Reversal Attempt” movement in 1975, he almost was categorized himself as one of the “three kinds of people”—a stinging label that would spell political downfall. His political career thus met with obstacles until 1980, when, thanks to Wang Daohan, things took a turn for the better.

In 1979 the central leadership, so as to implement Deng Xiaoping’s policy of openness and reform, formed two ministry-level commissions: the State Administration on Import and Export Affairs and the State Administration on Foreign Investment, both chaired by Gu Mu. Wang Daohan was vice chairman of one of them. In August 1980, Wang was appointed Mayor of Shanghai. At the time Jiang Zemin was having challenges at the First Ministry of Machinery Industry. Wang thus strongly recommended Jiang Zemin to Gu Mu, saying that Jiang was a cadre with higher education and the foster son of a martyr. Jiang Zemin’s career suddenly took a new turn and he landed the position of Deputy Director for both the State Administration on Import and Export Affairs and the State Administration on Foreign Investment. This rank was at the deputy minister level.

The first thing Jiang did after taking the positions was to host an evaluation of the special economic regions. Ruan Ming, secretary of the former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, recalled about Jiang Zemin, “I met him once. It was in 1981 at a meeting on the special economic regions. At the time, Jiang was a deputy director in an import and export commission and presided over the meeting, during which he said a lot of empty words. He didn’t support the further opening up of the special economic regions, but neither did he dare to go against Hu Yaobang’s decisions. So he said some ambiguous things. He struck me as someone who was good at bureaucracy and flip-flopping depending on whoever was in power.”

A cadre who knew Jiang well said, “I thought Jiang was the child of a deceased senior CCP official, similar to Li Peng, Lin Hanxiong, Zou Jiahua, Ye Zhengda, and company, and that he got up there by going to his father’s old comrades-in-arms. I found out later that Jiang cast his net widely and used every connection he could take advantage of.”

At that time the conflict between the pro-reform camp and the conservative one was still quite intense. Jiang Zemin changed his opinion depending on the circumstances, leaning to the left one moment, then to the right the next. Lucky for him, before the final moment arrived he saw that the reformers were winning and didn’t hedge the wrong bet.

Once he had gained a certain status, climbing further up grew much easier. Using uncle Jiang Shangqing’s connections, Jiang Zemin was easily appointed Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Electronics Industry, which was under the direct leadership of Zhang Aiping. He became Minister later on. People who worked with Jiang at the First Ministry of Machinery Industry said that Jiang didn’t work very hard, but was keen at building connections with high-ranking officials. He would use anybody and seize any opportunity for his purposes. He spent a lot of time trying to meet and visit central government and ministry-level officials. Jiang carried a small notebook with him wherever he went, and would study it whenever he had time. In the notebook he wrote down the birthdays, interests, and hobbies of the leaders that were useful to him, as well as who their relatives were. And Jiang had another special skill: getting close to the children of the current and deceased central government leaders (such as Zeng Qinghong, who played a critical part in Jiang’s promotion to General Secretary of the CCP). In 1989 Jiang visited Deng Xiaoping’s house for the first time. The way Jiang poured water for Deng’s children and fetched Deng’s slippers is still a source of laughter at the dinner tables of children of the former top leaders.

Thanks to promotion and lobbying by Wang Daohan and Zhang Aiping; in March 1982, the then 56-year-old Jiang Zemin was appointed Minister of the Electronics Industry. In the same year, at the CCP’s 12th National Congress, he became a member of the CCP Central Committee.

Jiang accomplished little during his tenure at the Ministry of the Electronics Industry. Negative statements about him circulated with quite some frequency. There were reports in a Chinese media outlet about a municipal official visiting a strip club during an overseas business trip and being informed on by another member of the delegation. It wasn’t hard to guess who they were referring to. But Jiang didn’t worry that he would be informed on. When he visited the United States in the 1980s, he snuck over to the red light district in Las Vegas to watch strippers and visit prostitutes. The expenses were reimbursed by the Chinese government. A typical senior CCP official wouldn’t dare go so far, but for Jiang, who had a history with a KGB woman in Russia, visiting the red light district and prostitutes in the U.S. was nothing.

Later on, during the 10-plus years when Jiang was in charge of the CCP, the central government, and the military, the way in which prostitution flourished in China far exceeded that in Western capitalist countries. The corrupt and immoral officials supervised by Jiang all had mistresses, whether openly or secretly. Strip dances are no longer a privilege that can only be enjoyed by high-ranking officials on visits to foreign countries—they now abound in China. A popular saying goes, “If a man doesn’t visit prostitutes, he’s letting the Party’s central leadership down; if a woman doesn’t sell her body, she is letting Jiang Zemin down.”

Jiang’s ambitions grew even wilder while serving as Minister of the Electronics Industry. At that point he no longer needed to butter up just average senior officials. Rather, his targets were vice premieres and the most influential of figures. The Ministry of the Electronics Industry often imported state-of-the-art electronics from overseas. And thus it was that Jiang, taking advantage of that fact and his position, often in person brought large-screen televisions and other expensive imported electronics to the homes of high-ranking officials, claiming they were for the leadership to “try out” and give Jiang guidance in his work. In front of the most influential figures he would set aside any remnant of dignity and even kneel on the ground to change TV channels for them.

Some less astute staff in the ministry couldn’t understand why Jiang was doing this. They suggested that a secretary could be sent to do those sorts of things; the minister didn’t need to go himself. But Jiang would reply, “It’s conducive to my learning from the more experienced leaders of the Party.” Although some people in the ministry could see things for what they were and looked down on Jiang’s shoddy conduct, the senior leaders who were used to being flattered weren’t so sensitive. When they spoke of Jiang Zemin they would sing his praises, saying, “He is dependable in his work.” By means of these petty tactics Jiang laid a foundation for his rise to power.



[1] One mu = 1/6 acre.
[2] Robert Lawrence Kuhn, The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin (New York: Crown, 2004), 32.
[3] This was probably the most desirable CCP designation during and around the time of the Cultural Revolution. It meant that one belonged to the “best” class of people, politically speaking, but was no indicator of academic achievement.
[4] Ye Jianying (1897–1986), a CCP general and Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress from 1978 to 1983.

From The Epoch Times

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.