Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin has died at the age of 96.
Jiang, who rose to power after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, died on Wednesday shortly after 12:00 p.m. local time in his home in Shanghai due to leukemia and multiple organ failure, according to a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) statement.
Jiang, who is survived by his wife, two sons and two grandchildren, reportedly paved the way for China’s emergence as a global superpower when he served as its communist leader. He integrated the country into the international community by mending fences with the U.S. after it was denounced by the West following the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The CCP described Jiang “as an outstanding leader with high prestige” and “a long-tested Communist fighter.”
“During the serious political turmoil in China in the spring and summer of 1989, Comrade Jiang Zemin supported and implemented the correct decision of the Party Central Committee to oppose unrest, defend the socialist state power and safeguard the fundamental interests of the people,” state media said.
During Jiang’s reign, China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997. He saw the country enter the World Trade Organization in 2001 and win the bid to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Jiang is also remembered for his colorful personality. He was admired for his flamboyant public appearances, including the times when he sang an Elvis Presley song at a global summit, went for a swim off the Hawaiian coast and pulled out a comb to fix his fair while meeting the King of Spain.
His death comes at a chaotic time in China as authorities are dealing with widespread protests among angered citizens who have suffered under the country’s zero-COVID policy. Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets to decry the country’s pandemic restrictions in more than a dozen cities, including Shanghai and Beijing.
Social media users reminisced about a bygone era when the country was perceived to have a more relaxed social and political atmosphere. Some users regarded Jiang’s era as a time of optimism and economic liberalization.
“The end of an era, and it was a good time! An era of unity and struggle for development!” a Weibo user wrote.
“The Jiang era wasn’t exactly that great when it was unfolding, but in contrast to where China is today you will have a lot of people are who are [sic] genuinely nostalgic,” Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute, told The Guardian.
“It is not hard for people to reimagine it in a more beautiful and sanitized way, saying how great it was – which is really criticizing what is happening today. That is why Xi will be very cautious,” he added.