The Chinese Communist party honoured Jiang Zemin with three minutes of nationwide silence and a memorial service broadcast live on Tuesday, as it sought to project an image of unity while mourning a former president whose policies contrast starkly with those of Xi Jinping.
The ceremony was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and sirens sounded in cities across the country before a period of silence, which included the suspension of trading on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.
The public memorial followed a closed-door ceremony for party leaders ahead of Jiang’s cremation on Monday. The private event was attended by Hu Jintao, Xi’s immediate predecessor, according to videos and pictures released by state media.
Hu, who did not appear at Tuesday’s public memorial, was unceremoniously escorted from the closing session of the party’s 20th congress in October for health reasons, according to state media. He appeared frail at both the congress and Jiang’s cremation.
Zhu Rongji, who served alongside Jiang as premier, has also been in poor health and did not attend either ceremony.
“Comrade Jiang Zemin was . . . an outstanding leader, a great Marxist, proletariat revolutionary, politician, military strategist, diplomat and well-tested communist soldier,” the People’s Daily, the party’s official mouthpiece, wrote in a front-page editorial.
The party has a delicate task in honouring Jiang without drawing too obvious a contrast with Xi, who has steadily centralised power and secured an unprecedented third term as president in October.
“We miss Jiang Zemin not only for himself but also for the China of his time,” said Daniel Yu, a Chinese law expert based in New York. “China back then was more tolerant and inclusive. There was more room for diverse values and discussions.”
Xi said that Jiang, whose 13-year tenure as party leader followed the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre of 1989, had made the “correct decision” in helping to settle a period of “severe political disturbance”.
Jiang’s body was cremated at Beijing’s Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, China’s most esteemed resting place for party leaders and revolutionary heroes, on Monday.
Thousands of party and military officials attended Tuesday’s memorial at the Great Hall of the People, where Xi spoke for about an hour.
John Burns, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong, said the main message of the memorials was unity, especially in the wake of last week’s nationwide protests against Xi’s “zero-Covid” curbs.
“It shows the party’s determination to demonstrate that it is unified and that the leadership at the top is speaking with one voice,” said Burns. “Having [Hu] there would have been essential for this, especially given the way he was led out of the party congress.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing