An online buzz over Jiang Zemin as he turns 90 belies the dire situation the former Chinese Communist Party leader is now in and overlooks the terrible crimes he is accused of committing.
Born on Aug. 17, 1926, Jiang, a native of Jiangsu Province on China’s east coast, recently received plenty of birthday wishes and tributes on Chinese social media.
But Chinese netizens had to resort to oblique ways (adding the tag “+1S,” or “plus one second”) to laud the nonagenarian—regime censors were deleting posts with the words “Jiang Zemin” and “elder” (“zhangzhe” in Chinese), according to Free Weibo, a website that tracks censored Weibo posts. No official Party media publicized Jiang’s milestone birthday.
Chinese police have also cautioned “toad fans,” or “hasi” in Chinese, against organizing birthday parties and celebratory online posts, according to the Financial Times. Jiang’s “toad” nickname was inspired by his resemblance to the animal—large thick-framed black glasses, dewlap-like jowls, and a rotund belly.
The curb on rejoicing Jiang’s birthday, writes the Financial Times, is due to the fact that he is “regarded as a political threat by incumbent Xi Jinping,” despite being already 90 this year.
Through his political clients, Jiang continued to have a say in affairs of the day after he relinquished all official titles in 2005. Hu Jintao, Jiang’s successor, came across as stilted and uninspiring because he was constantly hamstrung by the “collective leadership” of Jiang’s allies and cronies, many of whom sat on the powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
Xi Jinping has been uprooting the political network overseen by Jiang and consolidating his own position since taking office, partly because he wants to avoid the political fate of Hu.
Under Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, several of Jiang’s lieutenants and allies—former Politburo member Bo Xilai, former security czar Zhou Yongkang, and the late military vice chair Xu Caihou—were found guilty of corruption and purged. But in several speeches last year, Xi hinted that the crimes of Jiang’s men were in fact political, seeing how they had formed “cliques and cabals” to “wreck and split” the Party. Corruption, however, remains one of the most enduring and much-hated legacies of Jiang’s reign.
Xi had also exposed Jiang’s Godfather-esque role last year. In a January 2015 speech, Xi criticized some Party leaders of becoming a power behind the throne. Eight months later, state mouthpiece People’s Daily ran an editorial warning of retired Party leaders continuing to influence matters of the day through their “trusted aides” in key positions.
In 2016, Xi appears to laying the groundwork for a formal investigation of Jiang.
Between March and May, anti-corruption investigators conducted a massive probe of government departments in Shanghai, Jiang’s longtime home ground. Sources in China in a position to know told Epoch Times that anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan plans to dismantle Jiang’s “Shanghai gang” this year.
Jiang Zemin and his two sons also have their movements restricted, Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai-based human rights lawyer, told Epoch Times in March. Zheng, who is presently under house arrest for having tussled with elements of the “Shanghai gang,” claims that his information came from “extremely reliable” sources, and points to his increased freedom as proof.
Jiang hasn’t been seen in public since the winter of 2015, and recently failed to send flower wreaths to the funeral of an elderly comrade—a gesture whose absence suggests he is in some form of trouble.
And at the end of June, Xi announced a set of Party discipline regulations that holds the top leadership directly responsible for errant subordinates. Many officials purged for corruption are either directly linked with Jiang, or heeded his call to persecute the spiritual discipline Falun Gong.
On Jiang’s orders, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were tortured to death, and hundreds of thousands were placed in detention at any one time, according to Minghui.org, a website that carries firsthand information about the persecution.
Researchers estimate practitioners have been the main source for the organs used in up to 1.5 million transplantations. Those used as organ sources are killed in the process. The state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting in China has been condemned by the European Parliament and the United States House of Representatives.
With prominent international attention towards what is possibly the most depraved aspect of Jiang’s persecution campaign, and with Xi Jinping bringing the Party’s disciplinary apparatus down on Jiang’s political faction, the toad is very much in boiling stew.