A state of speculation and ambiguity surrounding Jiang Zemin’s (江泽民) possible death (or not!) is the perfect way for such a censorship-loving leader to (allegedly) end this journey called life. In honor of the media blackout going on concerning Jiang’s name and current whereabouts, we review the top censored news items from Jiang Zemin’s presidency.
- The Henan Blood Scandal
- Falun Gong
This is definitely a story to make your skin crawl and stomach turn. In an effort to encourage blood donations in the early 90s, Chinese “bloodhead” companies told peasants in Henan Province that they could donate blood plasma for money—meanwhile, the donors would also get blood plasma made available to them in return for their donations, in addition to monetary compensation. The catch? The blood they would receive would not necessarily be their own, but from a general pool of other donors’ blood, and there would be no background check for HIV. The result was the biggest public health debacle in China, massive government cover-ups along with the jailing of whistleblowers, and entire villages contracting HIV/AIDS. About 55,000 people were said to have been infected, but estimates go as high as 200,000.
Jiang Zemin was particularly known for the crackdown on Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that took hold in China in 1992 and quickly attracted thousands of followers. By 1999, the group was regularly staging peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square for the right to be allowed to practice openly. Fearing the strength of the movement, Chinese news agencies were told to report that the Falun Gong was a dangerous cult, and many Falun Gong followers were jailed and even tortured. The Chinese Embassy to the US has a disclaimer on its website (a statement made by Jiang) regarding the danger that Falun Gong presents in “jeopardiz[ing] the normal social order.”
Before Bird Flu, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, not Special Administrative Region Sickness) was the most infamous health crisis to hit China. Confronted with a potential plague, Chinese officials covered up the severity of the virus and limited foreign news reports, and only began releasing reports on SARS after 300 people had already been infected. The desire for a peaceful timed transition of power in 2003 from Jiang’s presidency to that of Hu Jintao’s is often cited as the reason for censorship of the SARS epidemic. Chinese news agencies were only allowed to start reporting on SARS following Hu’s ascendency—five months after the onset of the outbreak.
The fifth president of China from 1993-2003, Jiang followed Deng Xiaoping and was succeeded by Hu Jintao. He is also known for adding the “Three Represents” into the Chinese constitution, and being a member of a powerful informal political faction known as the Shanghai Clique, four members of whom are currently reigning in the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme nine-member oligarchy.
Jiang is (was?) also known as the ‘Flowerpot’, for being ‘all show, no action,’ a criticism leveled at him in light of his emphasis on cultivating a charismatic and media-oriented personal image on CCTV.
Whatever command over dissemination Jiang might’ve had in years past, the current weibo’ing, blogging and texting media environment might have proven too much for the former string-puller if he was still in charge, with whatever message that might’ve been easily blockable even a decade ago no longer suppressible in the here and now.
Which leads us to speculate that a leader of Jiang’s ilk, one who bluntly attempts to cut off the means of information distribution whenever necessary, rather than attempting to persuade and spin their own version of the truth to counter conflicting messages, has become a thing of the past.
By Fotini Gan
Photo from The Useless Tree.