Saturday, November 23, 2013

ZeMin Jiang and His Legancy in China

Jiang Zemin’s life and leadership sweep through almost eighty tumultuous years of Chinese history: Japanese occupation, Civil War, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, and, more recently, dramatic economic growth, tensions with Taiwan, and opportunities and confrontations with America. Jiang’s story is an epic of war, deprivation, revolution, political turmoil, social convulsion, economic reform, national transformation, and international resurgence. To Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a longtime China observer, understanding the legacy of Jiang Zemin is essential for understanding the challenges of contemporary China. By examining Jiang’s life, we observe the clash between China’s traditional culture and chaotic history, and we appreciate how its changes impact the entire world.

In The Man Who Changed China, Kuhn, who was cited by the Asian Wall Street Journal for the “unprecedented access” he was given in the course of writing this book, has produced what the Journal called “probably the closest thing to an authorized biography that’s possible in Communist China.” Here a reader will find a complex and nuanced portrait of China’s senior leader, whose policies continue to exert great influence over the course of his country. Kuhn offers insight into how the Japanese occupation during Jiang’s teenage years imprinted his psyche for life, how he became a Communist, and how, decades later, he struggled to transform the Party in the face of withering criticism.

In a sense, Kuhn argues, Jiang’s early skeptics got it right: He was a transitional figure—but not in the way they had meant. With unshakable if paternalistic vision, a lifelong love of Chinese civilization, and backroom political skills that no one had anticipated, Jiang Zemin became an unexpected agent of change, effecting the transition from a traumatized society to a confident, prosperous country rapidly ascending in the new world order. Kuhn shows how Jiang led China through an amazing metamorphosis—from a fretful country destabilized by the turmoil and crackdown in Tiananmen Square into a vibrant nation that became a primary engine of global economic growth. Above all Jiang is a Chinese patriot—and it is important to appreciate what that really means. In offering this unusually intimate and comprehensive personal and political biography, Kuhn demonstrates that Jiang Zemin’s life personifies the history of contemporary China, giving invaluable insight into what China is today and will become in the future.

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