When Deng Xiaoping died in 1997, his unlikely heir as China's principal leader was the former mayor of Shanghai, a middle-level leader who seemingly came from nowhere to occupy a position of central importance to the world. Bruce Gilley, a writer for the Far Eastern Economic Review, traces the life of Jiang Zemin, the adopted son of a hero of the Chinese revolution who himself took part in demonstrations against the nationalist government before joining the Communist party and assuming a series of posts. Removed from power during the Cultural Revolution, which he would later call "a period of unprecedented destruction," Jiang became a cautious critic of the old-line regime, rising to prominence only in the aftermath of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations of 1989. In the 1990s, Gilley maintains, Jiang helps preserve something of the Communist status quo while opening the government to younger reformers--who, Gilley suggests, will exert some pressure on the Chinese government to democratize, a pressure that government is likely to resist. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Gilley, Hong Kong correspondent for the Far East Economic Review, begins this intelligent, exhaustive biography of Chinese premier Jiang Zemin on an earthy note: he was partially inspired to write this book after running into the Chinese premier in a bathroom. That "Jiang had obviously sipped too much tea" made him "living and breathing in my mind." If Jiang never becomes quite so vivid for the reader, it's only because Gilley thereafter assumes a conventionally objective, scrupulously researched, cleanly written style for a chronological narrative that starts with Jiang's birth in 1926. Having joined the party in 1946, Jiang rose quickly through the ranks, but during the Cultural Revolution, he felt "revulsion" when asked to "ferret out" rightistsAand quickly became known as "everyman's leader." By 1983, Jiang was appointed mayor of Shanghai, where his moderate views on foreign trade proved quietly revolutionary. He was dubbed Mr. Tiger Balm ("relieves all manners of aches and pains") and Weathercock by opponents, and these nicknames illuminate his handling of 1989's Tiananmen Square massacre. To the protesters, he sounded "an unusually moderate tone"; but after Deng Xiaoping offered him the position of party general secretary to avert attention from the protesters, Jiang took a hard line on Tiananmen. Gilley characterizes Jiang's ruling philosophy as based on "economically liberal instincts; his willingness to adapt... Marxism in the face of new circumstances; his insistence on strict media controls." It is a formula that, in Gilley's estimation, will assure the wily, aging Jiang a long and fruitful tenure.
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