Anything for Power: The Real Story of China’s Jiang Zemin – Chapter 8
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 8: Seizing Beijing by Ousting Its Mayor, Chen Xitong; Intimidating Taiwan With Missile Fire (1995–1996)
At the 4th Plenary Session of its 14th Congress, the CCP announced the completion of its power transition from its second generation of leaders to its third. At the time Deng Xiaoping’s health was steadily declining. At the 14th Congress, Deng undermined his own power base by asking long-time strong supporters Yang Shangkun and his brother to resign from the military. Jiang Zemin, who was Chairman of the CCP’s Military Commission though he had never so much as touched a gun, feared terribly that the military would not follow him as its leader. Seeing that other senior Party members were in a weakened position and knowing that he indeed had followers in the military, Jiang proceeded to focus on the Beijing municipal government—a key political battlefront.
Beijing has always been the target of power struggles. Without controlling the Beijing Garrison, the Beijing municipal government, and the Central Security Guard regiment, a top CCP leader could never feel secure. Before the Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong was worshipped in idolatrous fashion, the Beijing Municipal Party Secretary at the time, Peng Zhen, dared to order the People’s Daily, The Beijing Daily, and Guangming Daily not to publish Yao Wenyuan’s article “History’s New Drama: Hairui Resigns from Government Office.” Mao Zedong had to ask his loyal followers in Shanghai to publish the article as a separate booklet, saying Beijing had become an independent kingdom that “needles could not penetrate and water could not permeate.” At the end of March 1966, before the official May 16 nationwide launch of the Cultural Revolution, Mao first removed from office Peng Zhen (Party Secretary of Beijing) and Lu Dingyi (Minister of Propaganda). Even Mao Zedong, the Party Chairman for whom “one sentence [was] equivalent to ten thousand,” needed to control Beijing before he could truly accomplish much. It was for this reason Jiang was anxious about conquering Beijing.
1. Making Enemies With Chen Xitong
In selecting cadres, Jiang had only one principle: those who were not loyal to him wouldn’t be used. One can just imagine what kind of administration this would make for. When Chen Xitong was Mayor of Beijing the city successfully hosted the 1990 Asian Games and completed the construction of the second and the third ring roads, considerably improving the city’s infrastructure. In comparison, under Jiang’s rule the City of Shanghai instead of making improvements experienced a food crisis two years after Jiang became the head of the city. Deng Xiaoping had to send to Shanghai the capable Zhu Rongji to help out. On the issue of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Chen suggested bold actions and acted with consistency while Jiang wavered. And while Jiang took a strong stance in closing the liberal Shanghai paper World Economic Herald, he later confided to Zhao Ziyang that the suppression was wrong. Chen believed he should be rewarded with a promotion (from his post as a Politburo member) for having preserved “social order” in Beijing during the student movement. When Jiang was instead promoted, Chen naturally felt it unjust. Chen had a good relationship with Deng, and Deng openly praised Chen as a reformer during his 1992 visit to the Capital Steel Plant. Thus Chen had reason to believe he stood above Jiang. Jiang thus felt that to gain full control of Beijing his greatest obstacle was Chen.
Jiang likes to show off and is by nature a jealous man. If anyone looks down on him he is sure to retaliate. Jiang both hated and feared Chen at the same time. There were many reasons Jiang couldn’t tolerate Chen, the first of which came about when Chen invited Hu Qili, a follower of Zhao Ziyang, to dinner.
After becoming China’s “emperor” Jiang spared no expense at removing anyone who had followed Zhao Ziyang. Jiang believed that the greater he distanced himself from Zhao, the more legitimate would be his position. Jiang’s resistance to Zhao was such that real facts surrounding Zhao and history mattered not. On the day of his inauguration as General Secretary of the CCP, Jiang claimed that he wanted to make up for “the losses” created by Zhao, and never mentioned so much as a word about Zhao’s contributions (during his tenure as Premier and General Secretary) to China’s economic development and political reform.
Jiang knew the Chinese people held a special place in their hearts for Zhao. Zhao’s attitude toward the suppression of the student democracy movement was clearly different from that of many senior politicians and Party members at various levels of government. This gave Zhao an aura of sincerity, as if he spoke for the people and did so without concern for his own personal safety. During Zhao’s time as General Secretary both China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and living standard improved swiftly. Many people were grateful to Zhao on this account. Considering Zhao’s public approval and political achievements, Jiang stood little chance of keeping his post—which he had in effect stolen from Zhao—were Deng to ever ask Zhao to return to power.
After gaining power, Jiang began purging—under the banner of resisting an alleged attempt by the West to quietly change China—reformers and those who had close ties with Zhao. A defiant Chen Xitong, however, went against Jiang’s crusade.
When Zhao fell from power with him went Hu Qili, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, and Rui Xingwen, the Secretary of the Secretariat of the CCP’s Central Committee. These three were the highest-ranking officials ousted in connection with the Massacre. Rather than try to avoid trouble, Chen arranged a secret meeting with Hu Qili and Wan Li at Capital Hotel. Chen not only attended the meeting but went so far as to greet Hu at the entrance of the building.
Coincidence makes for a story, so one wrinkle in the meeting deserves retelling. Chen thought he had planned everything perfectly. Little could he have expected that it would be the Japanese, of all things, who would leak news of his meeting. It just so happened that on that evening journalists from several Japanese television stations and news agencies, who were stationed in Beijing, had a meeting at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant. One of them by mistake entered Chen’s private room and saw Hu, Wan, and Chen dining and drinking together. Chen mistook the journalist for a Japanese businessman and didn’t pay much heed. The next day, however, the Japanese journalist reported in a Japanese newspaper what he had seen. Three days later the Xinhua News Agency’s internal reference department passed the information to Jiang Zemin in the “Domestic News Summary” section of its internal circular. The affair took Jiang by surprise and triggered much anger. Jiang was surprised, in that the experienced and capable Chen had now joined up with Hu. And angered, in that Chen was clearly going against him by daring to socialize behind his back with Zhao’s followers, whom he most resented. Jiang couldn’t tell whether this was part of a plan by Deng Xiaoping to pave the way, by first reinstating Hu, for Zhao’s return to power. He immediately ordered the Central Disciplinary Committee to investigate the matter further. After the manager at the Capital Hotel confirmed Chen’s meeting, Jiang made a personal call to Chen accusing him of “taking the wrong stand.” Chen gave the excuse that Wan Li had requested the meeting and that he therefore had no choice but to arrange for it.
Jiang didn’t dare to offend Wan, and so had to keep his anger to himself. Deng later did indeed ask Hu to return to his post, thus confirming Wan’s close relationship with followers of Zhao. As Jiang feared more than anything that Zhao would regain power, his resentment of Chen only grew from the incident.
But before Jiang’s lingering resentment could be resolved a new grudge was added. Deng Xiaoping in the spring of 1992 went on his now-famous “Southern Tour” of China. Chen knew all along that Deng’s intention was to further reforms, and thus Chen aired pro-reform slogans amidst programming on Beijing Television and used every opportunity to advocate for reform. This agitated Jiang, who sided with conservative, Leftist senior politicians such as Chen Yun and Li Xiannian. To keep Deng’s unhappiness with him from leaking to the media, Jiang ordered that all coverage of Deng’s tour by state media should follow a “unified reporting standard” dictated by the Ministry of Propaganda. Jiang declared that no reporter could write anything on the matter without his consent.
To Jiang’s surprise, Chen made the first move. Chen had the Beijing Daily, controlled by the Beijing Municipal Government, quickly report the “spirit of Deng Xiaoping’s speech in Southern China.” Acting on Chen’s instructions, the Beijing Daily published Deng’s speech that had first appeared in the Shenzhen Daily. The Beijing Daily published the speech a day earlier than the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the CCP. This put Jiang in a defensive position. To Jiang, Chen’s pro-reform words and actions only highlighted Jiang’s own inflexibility and conservatism. For this Jiang resented Chen even further.
Soon after, Zhou Guanwu, Chairman of Capital Steel’s board, and Chen arranged to have Deng visit Capital Steel. During the visit nobody from the Standing Committee of the Politburo made an appearance. In front of many leaders and workers at Capital Steel, Deng said, “As for the things that I have said recently, some people are listening and some aren’t. Beijing has mobilized itself, but some in the central government still refuse to act.” Deng asked Chen to “pass the word” to the CCP Central Committee that, “Whoever opposes the policies of the CCP’s 13th National Congress will have to step down.” Upon hearing Deng’s words Jiang shuddered, almost as if thunder was rolling overhead.
Fear-stricken, Jiang then went through the Central Committee’s General Office to blame Chen for failing to notify him of Deng’s visit in advance. Chen retorted that the General Office should seek information on Deng’s activities from Deng’s office itself, rather than blaming Beijing. Rebuffed and angered, Jiang grew more determined still to remove Chen.
When Chen had been mayor of Beijing, Jiang was the Party Secretary of Shanghai. Chen was thus, as the leader of Beijing, much better informed than Jiang. Jiang was well aware that Chen had a good relationship with Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng. In those days Jiang was thus all smiles whenever he met Chen. During his first two years as General Secretary of the Party, Jiang would mind his behavior and at least show respect towards Li Peng. But after the Yang brothers were removed from their positions at the Party’s 14th Congress, Jiang grew increasingly more arrogant.
Chen witnessed the changes in Jiang and knew that his meeting with Hu Qili and his actions in regards to Deng’s Southern Tour had made him an enemy. In Chen’s judgment, Jiang was the type of person who absolutely couldn’t let someone off the hook, even over the most minor of provocations. He had heard of Jiang’s retaliation against the students who challenged him during the 1986 student movement in Shanghai. So it was that Chen now hoped to, having offended Jiang and wishing to protect himself, have Jiang removed from his post while Deng was still alive.
Thus in early 1995 Chen reported on Jiang in a letter to Deng co-signed by seven provincial Party heads. The content of the letter is yet unknown to the outside world. Deng didn’t make any comment after reading the letter and handed it off to Bo Yibo to handle. Prior to the Tiananmen Massacre, when the eight senior politicians had discussed the issue of Zhao Ziyang’s successor, Deng had wanted to pick Li Ruihuan or Qiao Shi. It was Bo Yibo who had strongly backed Jiang Zemin. Deng had reached an old age by that time and lacked the energy to change the General Secretary; were it otherwise he would have done so upon returning from his 1992 tour. Deng’s passing of Chen’s letter to Bo Yibo was meant to suggest what kind of person Deng recommended for the post—somebody different from whom Bo would or did choose, that is.
Bo was notorious among high-ranking officials for his maltreatment of others, opportunism, ingratitude, and duplicity. A demonstration of this was Bo’s relationship with Hu Yaobang. In 1979, a few years after the Cultural Revolution, Bo was rehabilitated and released from prison thanks to Hu. Later, at the 4th Plenary of the Central Committee of the 11th Party Congress, Bo, again thanks to Hu’s endorsement, became a member of the Central Committee, Vice Premier of the State Council, a State Councilor, and Deputy Director of the CCP Advisory Committee. However, on Jan. 15, 1987, while at an extended meeting of the Politburo that he chaired, it was none other than Bo who urged Hu to step down.
After reading the accusatory letter from Chen, Bo, instead of investigating Jiang further, grew happy that he had something he could hold against Jiang. The letter, he believed, now gave him means to manipulate Jiang’s power. Bo could now blackmail Jiang into promoting his son, Bo Xilai, along with Bo’s trusted circle of friends.
Bo then summoned Jiang to his side and handed him the letter, not saying a word. Jiang began to sweat and turned pale upon reading the accusatory letter, visibly shaken. Reportedly he even began to tremble. Jiang pleaded with Bo to pitch in a few good words to Deng on his behalf, allowing him to keep his post as General Secretary. Bo replied that he would do his best. He then instructed Jiang that Jiang must remove Chen Xitong in order to avoid later trouble, and that he should begin with those positioned around Chen. Jiang emphatically nodded “yes.” Son Bo Xilai’s rapid advance through the ranks of power a few years later stemmed solely from this affair—that is, his father’s special relationship with Jiang.