YANGZHOU, China - The body of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin arrived in Beijing on Thursday ahead of a public memorial service, Chinese state media said, as hundreds of people gathered in his hometown to pay their respects.
A special flight carrying Mr Jiang’s remains from Shanghai, where he died on Wednesday of leukaemia and multiple organ failure, was met at the airport by President Xi Jinping, state media said.
State broadcaster CCTV announced that a public memorial service would be held on Tuesday morning in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. “The memorial conference will be broadcast live, and all regions and departments must organise the majority of party members, cadres, and the masses to listen and watch,” CCTV announced.
A nationwide three-minute silence will be held, together with three minutes of sirens wailing. Public entertainment activities will be suspended on the day of the service, CCTV said.
Hundreds of people gathered in Mr Jiang’s hometown, the eastern city of Yangzhou, on Thursday evening to pay their respects, leaving a thick pile of bouquets around the perimeter of his former residence.
A roadside flower seller said she had “lost count” of the number of chrysanthemums – Chinese funeral flowers – she had sold on Thursday. People queued to lay them down against the grey stone wall of the traditional house, with some bowing and saying brief prayers.
“He was a great, patriotic and positive leader,” Ms Li Yaling, a woman in her late 60s, said. “We admired him greatly, and feel loss and nostalgia now he’s gone.”
“He was a very good leader,” a middle-aged man named Yan said. “He made a great contribution to improving the lives of people in Yangzhou, particularly through building new infrastructure. As national leader, he kept up reform and opening and helped grow the economy.”
In semi-autonomous Hong Kong, mourners who turned up early on Thursday at Beijing’s Liaison Office hoping to pay tribute were turned away because the office wasn’t ready.
A Hong Kong woman surnamed Chan, 50, said she decided to go because she found Mr Jiang “very easygoing and humorous”.
A mainland Chinese student queueing behind Ms Chan was surprised. “I didn’t expect any local Hong Kongers to commemorate him,” he said, without giving his name.
Edward, 26, a mainland Chinese student in Hong Kong, said Mr Jiang was “the most open and educated leader”.
“He made the market economy part of the mainstream in China ... without that there would be no hope for democracy,” he said.
Hundreds of people also queued to lay chrysanthemums outside the Liaison Office later on Thursday, one of the city’s coldest days this year.
The front page of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily devoted its whole front page to Mr Jiang, and carried a large picture of him wearing his trademark “toad” glasses.
“Beloved comrade Jiang Zemin will never be forgotten,” it said in its headline, above a story republishing the official announcement of his death.
Flags flew at half-mast on key government buildings and Chinese embassies abroad, while the homepages of e-commerce platforms Taobao and JD.com also turned black and white.
At one of the largest foreign banks in China, employees have been asked to wear black in meetings with regulators, senior staff have been asked not to be photographed at parties, and the bank has put marketing activities on hold for 10 days, a senior executive at the lender told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Mr Jiang’s death comes at a tumultuous time in China, where the authorities are grappling with rare widespread street protests among residents fed up with heavy-handed Covid-19 curbs nearly three years into the pandemic.
China is also locked in an increasingly bad-tempered stand-off with the United States and its allies over everything from Chinese threats to democratically governed Taiwan to trade and human rights issues.
While Mr Jiang could have a fierce temper, his jocular side where he would sometimes sing for foreign dignitaries and joke with them stands in marked contrast to his stiffer successor Hu Jintao and current President Xi Jinping.
Some Chinese social media users have posted pictures and videos of Mr Jiang speaking or laughing, as well as articles about his 1997 speech at Harvard University in English, reminiscing about an era when China and the West were on better terms.
Foreign governments, including the US and Japan, have expressed their condolences.
US National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson said that during his two visits to the United States as president, as well as multiple other meetings with US officials, Mr Jiang worked to advance ties “while managing our differences – an imperative that continues today”.
Even Taiwan, which Mr Jiang menaced with war games in the run-up to the island’s first direct presidential election in 1996, said it had sent its “best wishes” to Mr Jiang’s family, though it added he did “threaten the development of Taiwan’s democratic system and foreign exchanges with force”. AFP, REUTERS