BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Chinese newspapers turned their front pages black on Thursday and flags were flown at half-mast to mourn the death of former president Jiang Zemin.
Jiang died at the age of 96 of leukemia and multiple organ failure shortly after noon on Wednesday in his home city of Shanghai.
His death triggered a wave of nostalgia for the relatively more liberal era he oversaw.
A date for his funeral has yet to be set.
The front page of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily devoted an entire page to Jiang and carried a large picture of him wearing his trademark “toad” glasses.
“Never Forget Dear Comrade Jiang Zemin,” it said in its headline, above the story reprinting the official announcement of his death.
Flags at major government buildings and Chinese embassies abroad flew at half-mast, while the home pages of e-commerce sites Taobao and JD.com also turned black and white.
Outside Jiang’s childhood home in the eastern city of Yangzhou, mourners piled bouquets of white chrysanthemums, a traditional Chinese symbol of mourning, a witness told Reuters, who did not want to be identified due to sensitivity about discussing anything political in China.
Some knelt in front of his house out of respect.
“Rest in peace, Grandpa Jiang,” read a note on a bouquet.
In Shanghai, where Jiang died, police cordoned off streets but hundreds of people tried to see the vehicle believed to be carrying his body, according to images shared on Chinese social media.
In one picture, people held up a black and white banner that read, “Comrade Jiang Zemin, you will live forever in our hearts.”
Foreigners are not invited
But foreign governments, political parties and “friendly persons” will not be invited to send delegations or representatives to China to attend the mourning activities, the official Xinhua news agency said.
At one of the largest foreign banks in China, employees have been asked to wear black to meetings with regulators, senior staff have been asked not to be photographed at parties and the bank has suspended marketing activities for 10 days. The lender told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Jiang’s death comes at a tumultuous time in China, where authorities are grappling with rare widespread street protests among residents fed up with strict COVID-19 restrictions nearly three years into the pandemic.
China is locked in an increasingly bad mood with the United States and its allies on everything from China’s threats to democratically-ruled Taiwan to trade and human rights issues.
Despite Jiang’s fiery temper, his humorous side, where he sometimes sings for and jokes with foreign dignitaries, contrasts with his hard-line successor Hu Jintao and current President Xi Jinping.
One user on WeChat added a candle emoji and wrote, “It’s really a good thing to have someone as a leader, RIP.”
Some Chinese social media users have posted pictures and videos of Jiang speaking or smiling, and articles about a 1997 speech he gave in English at Harvard University.
Both the US and Japanese governments offered condolences.
US National Security Council spokesman Adrian Watson said that during his two visits to the US as president and numerous meetings with US officials, Jiang “worked to advance relations while managing our differences – a position that continues today”.
Even Taiwan, which threatened Jiang with war games ahead of the island’s first direct presidential election in 1996, said it sent its “congratulations” to Jiang’s family, although he “threatened the development of Taiwan’s democratic system. Foreign exchange with power”.
reporting by Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms; Further report by Engen Tham; By Yu Lun Tian and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Michael Perry
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