Anything for Power: The Real Story of China’s Jiang Zemin – Chapter 17

Jiang Toots His Own Horn With "Three Represents"; a Staged Immolation Masks an Appalling Scheme (2000-2001)
October 22, 2014 Updated: February 8, 2015

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.


Chapter 17: Jiang Toots His Own Horn With “Three Represents”; a Staged Immolation Masks an Appalling Scheme (2000-2001)

1. The “Three Represents”

In early March 2003, the state-run People’s Daily newspaper ran an editorial unveiling a new doctrine called the “Three Represents,” which consisted of three sentences. This was the first time the doctrine was promulgated as “Jiang Zemin Theory”—as it was called—on a national scale. The wide promotion of the doctrine quickly amounted to a joke.

Inventing a Theory

How did the phenomenon of the Three Represents come about? No outsiders knew at first. That would change, however, when at the height of the doctrine’s promotion Wang Huning couldn’t keep a secret: it was he, in fact, who had authored the doctrine. Understandably, the revelation proved shocking. Back when Jiang Zemin was Party Secretary in Shanghai he used to recite paragraph upon paragraph of Wang’s articles. Later, after Jiang took his post in Beijing, Zeng Qinghong and Wu Bangguo repeatedly entreated Wang to assist Jiang and brought this up many times with Jiang. Wang thus was transferred to Zhongnanhai.

It was on the afternoon of Feb. 25, 2000, that Jiang first put to use Wang’s new doctrine. The setting was a meeting with Guangzhou provincial leaders at the Zhudao Hotel in Guangzhou. Jiang brought out the freshly crafted Three Represents, stating, “The Communist Party must always represent the requirements of the development of China’s advanced productive forces; the orientation of the development of China’s advanced culture; and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China.”

Later Wang added a few more sentences for Jiang. On May 14, at a meeting in Shanghai on developing the Party, Jiang declared that, “Always maintaining Three Represents is the basis of our Party’s existence, the foundation of our political power, and the source of our strength.”

Scour all of the official reports in China’s media if you will, and you will discover that not a single person—including Jiang himself, it would seem—can explain in clear terms what the “three represents” are. Of course, nobody in the lower echelon of government is about to dig very deeply into the matter. The droves of corrupt officials are instead preoccupied daily with thoughts of food and drink, women, gambling, graft, pleasure, and property. When they’re told to promote something they follow along; little do they care about what it is they are promoting.

The theory of Three Represents amounts to little more than a few empty words. A person with good judgment wouldn’t venture to boast about such a thing. But the theory is just too important to Jiang, for a doctrine, Jiang knows, is necessary for lasting power. Jiang had long been anxious to mark his achievements and had considered most every possible way to match up with predecessors Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. He needed to solidify his image as “the Third Generation [communist] theoretical authority.” So it was that an empty doctrine, at Jiang’s instruction, was raised aloft by state-run media. Jiang exhausted his wits trying to find a way to introduce the doctrine into the Party Constitution and that of the nation. And the aftermath of Jiang’s efforts can still be felt. Hu Jintao, China’s current General Secretary, chairman of the state, and head of the Central Military Commission, is obligated to uphold the Three Represents. Similarly, most any speech that an official makes must be anchored by the doctrine.

Mixed Reactions to “Studying”

Despite Jiang’s thinking to the contrary, despite all the propagandizing by media outfits, and despite countless meetings to study and implement it, the theory of Three Represents wasn’t something people took seriously.

As study of the Three Represents doctrine in China peaked, [1] CCTV held special programs on a daily basis. One feature of the programming was staged interviews with citizens about the theory. One older-aged farmer declared, “Our village built a bridge—thanks to the Three Represents.” A woman said, “My daughter-in-law gave birth to a chubby son—thanks to the Three Represents.” Some asked that first-class public restrooms be built in the name of Three Represents. On the wall of one rural village a sign was posted, emblazoned with the words: “Use the Three Represents to guide our work of butchering [livestock].” Canned comments of every sort could be seen.

Wang Bin, a Beijing-based reporter for The Epoch Times newspaper who spent three hard years in a CCP prison (for his candid reporting), told the following story. While he was in prison authorities set things up so that prisoners would help the authorities turn a profit. Some prisoners were assigned the task of assembling and making pornographic literature, which was then sold to the public. At that time the Three Represents were the buzzword in the politically-sensitive legal system, and everything had to be connected with the theory somehow. When prisoners produced the lewd materials in quantities beyond a set quota, they would say that their vigor was the result of “guidance from the Three Represents.”

One provincial party secretary remarked, “We have scheduled time to study [the doctrine]. We all have to put on a good show and fulfill our obligations to our superiors. Failing that how can I keep my post as a party secretary? Everybody should cooperate.”

Someone asked a pointed question in reply, “But is the notion of Three Represents going to create cutting-edge science and technology, resolve unemployment problems, and solve the issue of having hundreds of millions of surplus laborers in the countryside?” The answer was obvious, for the theory had little bearing on the practical, immediate, and real challenges people faced.

A leader in one provincial party school asked, “If we achieve something due to the theory of Three Represents, then how are we to explain problems and failures in our work? Would they be owing, in turn, to problems with the doctrine of Three Represents?”

Others furthered the line of questioning, asking, “Why don’t we arrange to have those who’ve excelled at learning the Three Represents to attend international sporting events? They’d be sure to reap gold medals, right?”


The theory of the Three Represents has, despite all the promotion behind it, met widely with criticism—both from within and outside the Party.

The Ideology Division of the Qiushi Journal, the official periodical for the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, and the Theoretical Research Institute of the Central Committee’s Party School expressed confusion about the origin of the Three Represents, as it was unknown in the Party’s inner circle—an unusual occurrence indeed for an ideology at a national level. Some at the forum shared the opinion that the doctrine was simply to prop up Jiang’s image and prestige. Others commented that the hoopla of “studying” and “implementing” the theory within the Party was a self-deceiving exercise that accomplished nothing of value; it was merely like checking things off on a list of chores.

The former director of the Political Systems Reform Research Institute of the CCP’s Central Committee, Bao Tong, commented that the Three Represents encapsulated the folly and worthlessness of those who promoted them, since to “always represent all the people of China” is empty talk, to “always represent advanced culture” is a lie, and to “always represent advanced productivity” is to basically equate government officials with private business owners.

Scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences argued that Three Represents was empty, passé, and dogmatic, and said that local Party committees and governments were mostly just going through the motions when they were promoting and studying the ideology. They asked, “After three years of ‘implementing’ the doctrine, how many problems had it solved? The dogmatic undertaking is harmful to the country and detrimental to the people.”

Some said that the theory’s “advanced culture” and “advanced productivity” were a reference to the so-called cultural elite—a motley collection of scholars who have sold out their integrity, proponents of dictatorship, officials who profit from illicit roles in commerce, and unscrupulous entrepreneurs—the very same capitalists CCP theory attempted to supplant early on). As for “the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China,” this is flat out deceit. Many of China’s farmers survive by the most desperate of means, such as selling their blood and organs and going into prostitution. After many have been infected with AIDS nobody has given them support. [2] As for the working class, the “older brothers”—as the CCP often calls them—at least 30 million have lost their jobs in recent years, but never did Jiang make any effort to represent them.

Plans to publish a volume of Jiang’s alleged writings—Selected Writings of Jiang Zemin on Military Thought—prior to the 4th Plenary Session met with obstacles. A dozen or so army generals—among whom were Zhang Zhen, Hong Xuezhi, and Yang Baibing—wrote a letter opposing the plan, saying that Jiang was positioning himself inappropriately. Yang even stated publicly that the Three Represents was garbage.

In 2002, the holding of the 16th CCP National Congress was delayed. According to internal sources, one key reason for the delay was the considerable diverge of opinion within both the Party and government as to what to make of the Three Represents and how, if at all, they could be acted on.

The Butt of Jokes

Dark humor surrounding the Three Represents has circulated widely in China. Before the recent U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, a political joke could be heard in China that had Bush inviting Putin and Jiang to discuss by how to bump off Osama Bin Laden. Bush expressed a wish to use missiles; Putin said he would opt to use beautiful women, seducing Bin Laden; Jiang said he would use the Three Represents, so as to bore him to death.

In another joke, Mao Zedong sees from the netherworld that Jiang has started forming a personality cult of his own, so Mao was a little jealous. Mao asks his ghost compatriots how many volumes does the Jiang Collection of theory have, to which they answer, “There’s not even enough material to fill one volume—there’s only three speeches.” Mao then asks, “How many representatives of the people are on Jiang’s side?” To which they reply, “We counted and recounted, but could only find three represent(ative)s.” [3]

Evident was it that the Three Represents had become the laughing stock—something ridiculed, rejected, and disliked—of the nation.

The sweeping promotional blitz that was to bolster the shallow theory thus failed to bring Jiang the glory of being “great, visionary, and extraordinary” as he had hoped. One can’t help but recall the words of a bygone Chinese poet, who wrote, “Though some may carve their names in stone, hoping for immorality, their names rot faster than their corpses.” Jiang’s thin theory, the butt of jokes far and wide, was in the end however—at Jiang’s insistence—added to the State Constitution and the Party Constitution. It became another comical chapter of the CCP’s history, and perhaps this was the only real impact of the Three Represents.