Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Jiang Zemin: A new generation leader
Jiang Zemin at China's 50th anniversary military parade
By East Asia analyst Rob Gifford
Although he has gained a higher profile since the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997, few people outside China know much about Jiang Zemin.
Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping, who held all the real power, needed to find a new protégé to lead the Communist Party. At the time the mayor of Shanghai was a relatively unknown party functionary named Jiang Zemin.
According to former US ambassador to Beijing James Lilley, Jiang was something of a surprise choice.
Jiang was fortunate; his mentor, Deng Xiaoping, lived for another eight years, a crucial time in which Jiang consolidated his power.
Love Me Tender
When Deng finally died in February 97, Jiang Zemin delivered a tearful elegy, as well he might. For he now had to stand on his own, and step out of not only Deng's shadow, but Chairman Mao's as well.
Merle Goldman of Boston University says Jiang has done that, and that he is a new generation of Chinese leader.
"Jiang Zemin is very different from Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping,'' adds Mr Goldman.
''Mao made the revolution; he was willing to build an army to make that revolution. Deng was a man who led China on to the reforms that led it, at the end of the twentieth century, to become a major modernising power in the world.
A political conservative he may be, but you know the times are changing when the leader of the Communist World picks up a karaoke mike in public.
At the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Manila in 1996, Jiang rounded off a dinner with Philippine president Fidel Ramos with a rousing rendition of Elvis Presley's 'Love Me Tender'.
Former ambassador James Lilley says it's typical of the man. What is more surprising is his staying power.
"He was called The Flowerpot in Shanghai,'' says Mr Lilley. ''Lots of decoration, no action. Well, it turns out he is a good concensus builder, he's a good manipulator."
There are signs though that there may come a point quite soon, when Jiang Zemin will have some tough choices to make. Mr Goldman says that living standards may have risen for many, but there are also millions on the edge.
"There is a lot of, I would say, social turbulence. The real question will be when this explodes, how Jiang Zemin will respond to it,'' adds Mr Goldman. ''Will he respond by sending in the troops, or will he respond by in some way reacting to the demands coming from below?"
While this question remains unanswered, what is clear is that Jiang is going to need all of his political skill to manoeuvre 1.2 billion people into the twenty-first century.