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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 14:22 GMT
China's verdict on Jiang
A Chinese man is silhouetted against busts of Chinese Communist leaders Deng Xiaoping, left, Mao Zedong, centre, and Jiang Zemin
How will Jiang (right) measue up against the past?

China's Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin is expected to start handing over power to a new generation of leaders at a Congress opening on 8 November.

A Chinese man reads a book about an important speech by Chinese President Jiang Zemin
Jiang has been viewed as a safe pair of hands
Mr Jiang used to like to refer to himself as the Chief Engineer, while his predecessor Deng Xiaoping was the Great Architect and Mao Zedong the Great Helmsman.

But how will Mr Jiang's role in history be viewed by ordinary Chinese?

I went to the Chinese leader's home town of Yangzhou, northwest of Shanghai to find out.

Childhood days

In a narrow pedestrian street in the old quarter of Yangzhou is the house where Jiang Zemin and his family lived when he was a child.

It is an ordinary house with two beautifully carved stone tablets on either side of the lacquer door.

The people nearby say there was a sign before saying that Mr Jiang once lived here. But now it has been taken down.

Obviously the president does not want his childhood home turned into a focus for personality cult. Or not just at the moment, anyway.

My next stop is the Yangzhou Middle School, which Jiang Zemin attended. They are proud of their old boy who made good, says the headmaster Mr Zhang.

"President Jiang Zemin attended this school from 1941 to 1943; because he got good marks, he was able to graduate in only two years."

The headmaster says there is no intention of creating a personality cult around Mr Jiang.

Jiang's legacy

If that is true, it may be wise, considering that most Chinese view him as having been little more than a safe pair of hands - although that may be more flattering than it sounds in a country where what people fear most is disorder and chaos.

But some are willing to go a lot further in Mr Jiang's praise.

Two cyclists pass a billboard with the characters for the
Ordinary Chinese are being reminded of Jiang's political writings

"For me I think he's the most effective leader," says Dai Yongfu, a lecturer at the local university.

When I meet him he is accompanying a class of students, some of whom are party members and others about to join. They are on a visit to a factory.

"His achievement you can see from all of us. Now every family has enough money to buy food, clothes and what they want, but when we were children we didn't have enough money. So you can see the changes," he says.

But how much of that was Deng Xiaoping's achievement and how much has been Jiang Zemin's achievement, I ask.

"I think Deng Xiaoping was a creator, while Jiang Zemin is a professional manager. So I think Jiang Zemin's task is more important," he says.

Unfinished business

"Don't answer political questions," my minder from the local government tells him.

It brings home the authorities' intense anxiety about media control, especially before an occasion like the Party Congress.

But it is also a reminder of how little political opening there has been, for all the economic reform that Jiang Zemin has overseen.

The students and I continue our tour of the model factory, which makes light bulbs.

We hear confident predictions of how well the plant will fare against international competition with China now in the World Trade Organisation.

Managers say they are employing more people now than ever before. But unfortunately, that is not a pattern that is being replicated across the board.

At the city's main job centre I talk to one of those clustered around the computer screens looking at current employment offers.

He an engineer who has been out of work for two years. His wife is unemployed too.

He says he is 37 years old and that at his age, it is hard to find a job which will pay enough to support his family, without having to uproot and move.

The jury's out

Yet most people here seem to think that Jiang Zemin has done a credible job looking after Yangzhou.

This woman says he has been OK, according to most Yangzhou people's way of thinking.

At least he has been determined to bring to fruition his childhood dream of seeing a spectacular new bridge across the Yangtze River.

But the bridge she is talking about has not been finished yet so I have to take the ferry across the river.

Perhaps his status in China's political history is also still a work under construction.


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