Anything for Power: The Real Story of China’s Jiang Zemin – Chapter 5
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 5: Shutting Down the Herald Prior to the Tiananmen Massacre, Jiang Stumbles Upon the Fast Track to Beijing (1989–1990)
Out of everyone, Jiang Zemin was the one who benefited the most from the Tiananmen Massacre. Yet, opinions vary as to how Jiang, who was about to retire as Party Secretary of Shanghai City, became the CCP’s “core,” controlling the three powers—the Party, the government, and the army. Answers to this puzzle can be found in Robert Kuhn’s fawning biography of Jiang, The Man Who Changed China. The “biography” is, of course, more political fiction than anything, given that all of Kuhn’s interviewees were carefully selected. Fortunately, for Chinese people who have lived under tyranny for so many years, distinguishing fact from fantasy is not that hard. One could say that it is an ability born of life amidst China’s “Communist Party culture,” and thus a trait unique to that setting.
1. The Fuse—Hu Yaobang’s Death
When Jiang Zemin shut down the liberal Shanghai-based newspaper World Economic Herald, he was laying, knowingly or not, the groundwork for gaining the highest authority possible within the Chinese Communist Party. It was thus that Kuhn wrote heavily about the Herald event.
Early in 1989, the economic reforms pushed forward by Deng Xiaoping breathed new life into China, but created, at the same time, some disturbing phenomena. Although the national economy had continually grown and ever more products had appeared on the market, the central government’s tax revenue from China’s provinces had reduced by a third. The inflation rate began approaching 20 percent. The rising prices and attendant fear-born purchases became a part of urban life. More and more of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) suffered losses and bankruptcy, leaving thousands of SOE workers jobless. Conflicts between the vested interests of the new economic system and those of the old grew more pronounced. Everyone was aware of the fact that some businessmen were getting rich while many an SOE worker and technician had lost his worker benefits and pensions. The number of jobless became huge—so huge that one could say a new class came about. The income gap between rich and poor was widening rapidly.
During that time period, what people hated most was official profiteering. Around 1985 China began adopting a “dual pricing system” for the purchase prices of farming products, wholesale prices of major industrial products, and goods that were in short supply. That is, products that were within the state’s plan were purchased at state-stipulated prices, while products that went beyond the state’s plan were purchased at market prices that were much higher than state prices. The goal was to solve the problem of enormous excess demand for material products and to ensure that mandatory state plans would be carried out at low cost. Yet “official profiteers,” as they became known, who possessed “official documents” bought goods that were in short supply—such as steel—at state prices and then sold them at market prices. Market prices could be as much as several times higher than state prices.
With increasing frequency CCP government officials were using their positions and power to line their own pockets and enhance their prestige. And this was done, no less, without involvement in doing actual business. Rather, they gave profitable business projects and recommendations in areas that required quotas to their relatives and friends. Many of the Beijing representative offices and first-class hotels, for example, have a unique group of individuals. These individuals, who have millions of yuan in hand, fix their eyes on Beijing officials from various ministries. Their goal is to spend money on them in exchange for import permits and various quotas. Once they obtain such documents, they use them to make tens of millions of yuan or even hundreds of millions. The CCP’s one-dimensional reform thus created a rather deformed system, one which fostered an excellent environment for government officials to collude with businessmen. These dirty officials, being all about profit, would do anything imaginable at the expense of the public, for in the end the margins would be born by the people all the same. In 1988, a stunning 356.9 billion yuan were generated by the price difference created by the dual-pricing system, which accounted for 30 percent of the GDP that year. Abusing their positions and power, children and relatives of the ruling elite grew rich overnight by selling their official documents.
The term “official profiteering” itself reflects the CCP’s corruption. The people’s wish for comprehensive reform, like a hidden undercurrent, was rippling through society. At any moment a spark could have set off a series of explosions.
On April 15, 1989, Hu Yaobang, an open-minded reformer who had been virtually ousted from the post of General Secretary of the CCP, suffered a sudden heart-attack at a meeting of the Party’s politburo. One week later Hu passed away. His death filled the people’s hearts with sorrow and loss. Many harbored deep resentment even, feeling that the prospects of democratic reform would now be severely impacted.
On that very night in April, students at Peking University began making wreaths on campus in commemoration of his death; large lettered posters could be seen everywhere, including on walls and trees. Between April 15–17, commemorative poetry appearing on large lettered posters bespeckled the campuses of Peking University, Qinghua University, the People’s University, Beijing Normal University, China University of Political Science and Law, and many other schools, each wishing to mark Hu’s passing. On Monday, April 17, several thousand students left their campuses and walked to Tiananmen Square. They laid down wreaths at the foot of the People’s Memorial Monument, held banners reading “In Memory of Hu Yaobang,” and shouted slogans such as, “Eliminate Corruption,” “Rule the Country by Law,” and “Down with Bureaucracy!” Meanwhile, students around the country echoed their actions with large-scale demonstrations, assemblies, and petitioning activities. Within days the student movement grew still broader, calling for a dialogue between leaders of the country and the students. The goal was now to promote political reform and have the country foster democracy and rule of law.
On the evening of April 25, China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast several times on its National TV News Program an editorial from the People’s Daily, titled “We Must Unequivocally Oppose the Turmoil.” The editorial condemned the students’ actions and stated they had “disturbed social order.” They also alleged that the nature of the students’ actions was “illegal” and called for an end to the commotion. The next day the actual editorial was published in the People’s Daily.
The editorial declared that, “This is a plot,” “Its purpose is to demoralize the people and disrupt the entire country,” and that “Its ultimate goal is to fundamentally negate the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, to negate the entire socialist system,” among other outlandish claims.
The April 26 editorial depicted the student movement as one of “turmoil,” a designation the students found terribly irksome. As May 4—a date which usually memorialized the historic student protests (of 1919) that galvanized Chinese patriotism shortly after the Treaty of Versailles—approached, the student movement once again expanded. Several days earlier there had been a march led by several older professors. They held a white banner with words from a well-known author saying, “Having Kneeled Down for So Long, Get up and Walk Around.” Many of the seniors began to reflect on the last few decades, times full of tumult. It had been a time when Chinese intellectuals were indeed down on their knees, kneeling before the Party, forced to sing its praises. They had no chance to stand up and project an independent voice of conscience. It was in fact the senior professors who were at the front of the march. As something like this had never happened during the CCP’s entire reign, it was perceived as ominous.
On May 13, the students went on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square to call for a dialogue on equal grounds between the government and the students. Their hope was that the government would take concrete measures to solve the country’s problems. Meanwhile thousands of Beijing civilians, government officials, and journalists poured into the streets to support the students.
Parallel to the April 26 People’s Daily editorial was a “cleansing” campaign against the World Economic Herald, led by Jiang Zemin. The action added fuel to the fire. Jiang, as Party Secretary of Shanghai, pushed many of the Party elders to use force and bloodshed to achieve “stability.”
2. The Herald Event
The CCP regime lacks any legitimacy, and as such is perpetually worried over how to maintain power. The behavior, thoughts, and actions of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang—who were seen as “unsatisfactory” by the Central Committee of the Party—only exacerbated those worries. It became critical for the CCP to find a qualified general secretary for the Party. Jiang Zemin’s handling of the entire Herald closing won the confidence of senior CCP members, and soon they believed he should be Hu’s successor.
At the beginning of the 1989 student movement, participation was limited to students and a few professors. The turning point that morphed a small student movement into a broader national one was Jiang’s campaign to “clean up,” as he saw it, the World Economic Herald in Shanghai.
As many may know, Hu Yaobang’s death triggered the Herald event. The founder and chief editor of the World Economic Herald was Qin Benli, an intellectual in his seventies who news editors held in the highest regard. His publication promoted democratic ideas and won the trust of over 300,000 highly-educated readers. It even had significant weight in setting the tone of national-level discussions.
On the fourth day after Hu Yaobang passed away (April 19), the editors of the Herald held a forum. Qin thought the forum should hit upon pertinent social and political issues, rather than just go through the usual motions of memorializing the late leader. Qin’s suggestion was agreed upon by all participants. At the forum another figure, Dai Qing, talked about the CCP’s 70-year history and the fate of its past general secretaries. She argued that not one Party general secretary had met with a good ending; all had been replaced through a non-procedural “power transition.”
On April 20, the Shanghai Municipal Propaganda Department was informed that the Herald would run a special column mourning Comrade Hu Yaobang. Chen Zhili, who was Head of the Propaganda Department (now Minister of Education), immediately reported this to Jiang Zemin. (This angered Jiang and other officials because Hu Yaobang had fallen out of favor with the Party.) On the afternoon of April 21, Jiang sent Zeng Qinghong, Municipal Deputy Party Secretary, along with Chen Zhili to speak with Qin Benli, the editor-in-chief. Qin Benli informed them that the Herald would indeed publish in its next issue several pages on the April 19 forum that took place in Beijing; the forum had been jointly held by the Herald and the New Observation Press in commemoration of Comrade Hu Yaobang. Zeng and Chen asked Qin to promptly send them a proof version of the forthcoming Herald issue so that they could examine it before publication. At 8:30 the next evening during a discussion about the proof version of issue 439 of the Herald, Zeng demanded that Qin cut the column by some 500 words. The contents to be discarded were mainly speeches by Yan Jiaqi and Dai Qing.
Qin Benli held his ground, however, stressing that the government had approved implementation of a system that gave a chief editor final say as to the content of his newspaper. He went on to say, “If anything goes wrong, I will take responsibility for it. In any case, Comrade Jiang Zemin hasn’t read the proof version yet, and neither the municipality nor the Propaganda Department should bear responsibility for any consequences stemming from its publication. “
Zeng Qinghong angrily replied, “Now, the issue isn’t who is going to be responsible for it, but how it will impact society as a whole.” Qin insisted that the decision be left to him, and in the end didn’t agree to cut anything. Unable to persuade Qin, Zeng reported back to Jiang Zemin what had taken place.
Jiang hadn’t imagined that Qin Benli would be so stubborn, nor that even Zeng Qinghong would fail to persuade him. So he told Wang Daohan, the chairman of the Herald, about the matter. With Wang now behind him, Jiang demanded of Qin, in severe terms, that he make changes to the final version. Wang further employed Party logic to persuade Qin. Jiang and Wang went beyond pressuring Qin for revisions to, by way of sugarcoated words, attempting to sway him into removing the final version altogether. By that point, however, over 100,000 copies of the newspaper had already been printed, with 400 having been delivered to private retailers. The same volume of papers had been sent directly to Beijing. Though 20,000 copies were thereafter pulled from circulation, the impact had already been made. The article had been printed in full.
On the morning of April 22, the funeral for Hu Yaobang was held in the Great Hall of the People. President Yang Shangkun hosted the funeral, which was attended by top officials. While Jiang Zemin, who was in Shanghai, was opposed to the funeral, he nevertheless sent a wreath to Beijing as a sign of “mourning.”
The evening after the People’s Daily published its editorial, “We Must Unequivocally Oppose the Turmoil,” Jiang hosted an emergency meeting of the municipal Party secretaries that lasted until 1 a.m. He urged that quick and drastic measures be taken. Earlier that day, at a large meeting attended by 14,000 CCP members Jiang had announced the dismissal of Qin Benli from his position and the restructuring of the World Economic Herald.
On April 27, Jiang sent Liu Ji and Chen Zhili, the leaders of the Shanghai City Restructuring Leadership Group, to take charge of the Herald. Chen, every bit as relentless as Jiang, followed Jiang’s every order. Chen fired all Herald employees and barred all of its editors from further media work of any type.
Chen, a loyal associate of Jiang, went to visit Qin during Qin’s last days of life. At the time Qin had been suffering from cancer and was bedridden. Chen initially came across as kind and agreeable. While people initially thought that she must have had at least a trace or two of human feeling, to their surprise, what did Chen do but proceed to read aloud to the dying Qin a CCP disciplinary note against him. Her goal couldn’t have been clearer: she wanted Qin to not only pass away but to do so without any peace.
The reform-minded efforts of the Herald editors ultimately won the support and admiration of many people both in China and beyond. Yet in Kuhn’s biography of Jiang the Herald incident was completely reworked and repackaged in keeping with Jiang’s agenda. Qin and the other editors are described by Kuhn as “duplicitous,”  as “finally dispensing with pretense,”  as having made “an argument that challenged logic”  and having perpetrated an “explicit act of defiance”  against Jiang. In Kuhn’s version of the story Jiang, in the most unlikely of spins, is portrayed as the victim, his group having been somehow “deceived.”