The body of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin arrived in Beijing Thursday ahead of a public memorial service, Chinese state media said, as hundreds of people gathered in his hometown to pay their respects.
A special flight carrying Jiang’s remains from Shanghai, where he died on Wednesday of leukaemia and multiple organ failure, was met at the airport by President Xi Jinping, footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed.
In matching black armbands with a white flower pinned to their jackets, Xi and other top leaders bowed in coordination as Jiang was brought down the plane steps, his trademark heavy-rimmed glasses clearly visible through a glass coffin.
After being loaded into a ribbon-bedecked bus by goose-stepping soldiers, the body was taken to a hall in Beijing where it was draped with a Communist flag and surrounded by a vast flower arrangement, CCTV footage showed.
The broadcaster announced that a public memorial service would be held on Tuesday morning in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, and broadcast live.
“All regions and departments must organise the majority of party members, cadres, and the masses to listen and watch,” it said, adding a nationwide three-minute silence would be held, together with three minutes of sirens wailing.
Hundreds of people gathered on Thursday evening in Jiang’s hometown, the eastern city of Yangzhou, to pay their respects, leaving a thick pile of bouquets around the perimeter of his former residence.
Security personnel at the site politely but firmly moved groups of mourners quickly down the narrow alley past the historic building in an apparent attempt to avoid people gathering.
China has been rocked this week by anti-Covid lockdown protests that are the most widespread public demonstrations since rallies calling for political reform in 1989.
Jiang’s role in crushing those protests and repressing other political activism, as well as the flourishing corruption and inequality during his tenure, means he leaves a mixed legacy.
But many welcomed his humorous public persona as a breath of fresh air after decades of staid communist leadership.
“He was a great, patriotic and positive leader,” Li Yaling, a woman in her late 60s, told AFP in Yangzhou. “We admired him greatly, and feel loss and nostalgia now he’s gone.”
“He was a very good leader,” a middle-aged man named Yan said. “He made a great contribution to improving the lives of people in Yangzhou, particularly through building new infrastructure. As national leader, he kept up reform and opening and helped grow the economy.
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