Ruling in the wake of Tiananmen
(CNN) -- Brought to the helm of the Communist Party in the midst of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, Jiang Zemin has never publicly wavered in his defense of the military crackdown that left hundreds, perhaps thousands dead.
"Had the Chinese government not taken the resolute measures then, we could not have enjoyed the stability that we are enjoying today," Jiang said in a June 1998 debate with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Beijing.
Jiang did not order the crackdown; he was installed in power by the man who did, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. After the protests, Deng got rid of leaders he considered too weak to maintain order. When party leader Zhao Ziyang was dismissed for openly sympathizing with the demonstrators, Jiang was given his post and made general secretary of the Communist Party. When Deng retired later in 1989, he placed Jiang in the powerful post of chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Four years later, in 1993, Jiang was named to the position he holds today, president of the People's Republic of China.
Born in 1926, Jiang spent his early years in Yangzhou City, west of Shanghai, when the area was still under Japanese occupation. Because of a twist of fate, Jiang did not grow up with his immediate family. An uncle had joined the underground Communist Party and was killed in combat, and Jiang's father gave Jiang up for adoption to become the slain man's son so that branch of the family could have a male heir. When the Communist Party took over China, Jiang, as the adopted son of a revolutionary martyr, was particularly well-placed to pursue a career in the party.
His rise through the ranks of Communist leadership landed him in the office of mayor of Shanghai in 1985. Some considered him adept at luring venture capital to China's most cosmopolitan city and bringing it in line with the new economic climate. But critics say he was largely ineffectual, and he acquired the sobriquet "flower vase," a Chinese term of derision for a person who is decorative but useless.
Jiang seems to have used his tenure as Shanghai mayor to build political alliances favorable to himself among the Chinese, and to enhance his reputation in the international community as a man on the rise.
As president, Jiang's policy has resembled that of his mentor, pursuing market reforms while keeping the country politically and socially conservative.