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Former Chinese president publishes book

Jiang Zemin released retrospective book about his foreign travels
/ Source: The Associated Press

He speaks English and shows it off by reciting the Gettysburg Address. Now former President Jiang Zemin is adopting another Western custom: the post-retirement publishing binge.

Ahead of his 80th birthday Thursday, government publishers have released a retrospective on Jiang’s foreign travels — the closest thing yet to a Chinese presidential memoir — and a three-volume set of speeches, letters and decrees.

The books are a testament to Jiang’s hybrid persona during his time in office as leader of a communist dictatorship that crushed any challenge to its monopoly on power and a globe-trotting bon vivant who tried to get Britain’s Queen Elizabeth to sing karaoke.

His travel book, “For a Better World: Jiang Zemin’s Overseas Visits,” includes 167 pictures of Jiang with leaders ranging from former President Bill Clinton to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. It describes Jiang’s campaign in the early 1990s to thaw ties with the United States and the West and end the diplomatic isolation imposed on Beijing after it crushed pro-democracy protests in 1989 — an incident that the book avoids discussing.

Some analysts say that the book reflects Jiang’s desire, three years after he gave up power, to be remembered as the leader who presided over China’s rise to unprecedented importance in trade and global affairs.

“The book is part of this self-image of the so-called third generation leaders as the people who restored China’s credibility after Tiananmen Square,” said Bruce Gilley, author of the 1998 Jiang biography, “Tiger on the Brink: Jiang Zemin and China’s New Elite.”

The book represents a return to the public eye for Jiang, who has been little seen since handing over his post as Communist Party leader in 2002 to Hu Jintao and retiring the next year as president.

It describes how “surprised and impressed” Clinton was when Jiang recited the opening line of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address while on a tour of the White House in 1997.

“Jiang invested a lot of time and political capital re-establishing China’s relationship with the United States,” said Gilley, an assistant professor of politics at Canada’s Queens University.

In contrast, Hu has steered China away from Jiang’s U.S.-centered foreign policy. His government has expanded trade and political ties with Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America and gained access to oil from Central Asia and the Middle East.

“Jiang Zemin is aware that there are reasons for this shift in policy — that China, for example, doesn’t want to rely on countries which have been quite critical of it, like the United States. But he still believes it is in the interests of China to place ... emphasis on the United States,” said Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

The “Selected Works of Jiang Zemin” has been made compulsory reading for all military personnel.

On Tuesday, Hu urged all party members to study his predecessor’s work.

He called it the “best textbook” for Jiang’s ideology and “the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” according to state media.

The “Selected Works” expound on Jiang’s notion of a modernized Communist Party — the awkwardly titled “Three Represents,” which says the ruling party must represent entrepreneurs as well as the working class.

State television gave the books’ publication the kind of publicity that money can’t buy, devoting lengthy reports to it at the top of the national news on three successive evenings.