The People’s Daily was more explicit. On Tuesday, it urged the party to gather around Xi in mourning for Jiang to “continue the mission of national rejuvenation”.
Outside the Great Hall, sirens blared throughout the city, stock trading was halted, online video games were blocked, and thousands laid flowers in front of Jiang’s former home in Yangzhou.
In Beijing, residents were told negative COVID tests would no longer be necessary to enter many public places. The capital followed Shanghai and Shenzhen after a week of protests not seen since 1989, when Jiang was selected as the urban compromise candidate to lead China after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Tiananmen itself was empty, Beijing’s vast security apparatus prevented outbursts of grief turning into political defiance.
“We feel a sense of tragedy regarding China’s future,” one protester told Reuters last week before the leaders of the protest movement were dragged away.
Jiang was “an acting ruler, not a reformer,” according to the Harvard Business Review in 2002, but his antagonism with Xi changed his reputation over the next two decades. Last week China was filled with anecdotes about how he played the ukulele in Hawaii, recited Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg and protested to Chinese journalists for being “too simple, too naive” in their questions.
“He was an extremely unusual and extraordinary person,” said Dr. Hu We, who heard Jiang speak at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
It was a different time. China grew richer and more powerful, but there were still 100 million people living in poverty. Jiang came up with a 28-word policy to continue his predecessor Deng Xiaoping’s maxim that “China should neither take the lead nor carry the flag”.
“Observe calmly, secure our position, take your time before reacting, hide our capabilities and bide our time, keep a low profile and never claim leadership,” Jiang said.
The strategy endured until 2012 when Xi came to power, overturning decades of policy orthodoxy to demand a new, more powerful China to take its place on the world stage.
“We will not accept sanctimonious sermons from those who feel they have the right to lecture us,” Xi said last year.
“We will never allow any foreign power to bully, oppress or subdue us. Anyone attempting to do so would end up on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by more than 1.4 billion Chinese.”
Xi’s ambitions have led to new forms of repression at home, restrictions on public discourse and quashed challenges to Communist Party authority.
In death, Jiang, the compromise candidate, himself became the symbol of the compromise.
“RIP, to you, and the era,” said one protester last week.