Jiang Zemin’s Son Jiang Mianheng’s Retirement Announcement Seen by Some as Implicit Criticism of Xi’s Extended Grip on Power

In a letter dated May 31 and posted online on June 6, Jiang Mianheng—son of the late Chinese President, CCP General Secretary, and Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin—announced that at the age of 73, after “serving two full terms” as founding president of Shanghai Tech University (STU), he was stepping down to make way for “a younger generation of capable leaders.” The letter goes on to introduce Jiang’s successor, physicist and Stanford graduate Feng Donglai; lists some of the achievements of the university over the past 11 years; and thanks faculty, staff, students, and alumni, as well as companies and organizations that have partnered with the university. 

Although the carefully worded letter remains on the STU website and has been reposted multiple times on Weibo, some observers have read it as an implicit criticism of Xi Jinping’s extended grip on power. Breaking with recent convention, Xi did not step down after serving two terms as China’s paramount leader, and is currently in his third term as president, serving concurrently as China’s President, CCP General Secretary, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

While some of the Weibo reposts of Jiang’s letter appear to have deleted or filtered comments, the comments that remain suggest that at least a few Weibo users perceive some political subtext to the letter. Among the comments still visible are: “A silent protest,” “That day will come,” and “University President Jiang is an unusually farsighted, second-generation scion of fine character.” (Another Weibo user offered a correction to the latter comment, noting that Jiang Mianheng is in fact a “third generation” scion because Jiang Zemin’s uncle and foster father, Jiang Shangqing, died fighting the Japanese and was considered a national hero.) 

Jiang’s letter also attracted attention on Chinese-language X (formerly Twitter). Teacher Li’s X account posted a partial screenshot of the letter, and a post by RFA notes that the letter comes at a politically sensitive time, as the 20th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee prepares to hold its third plenary session in July

At Caixin Global, Kelly Wang and Lin Yunshi reported on Jiang’s decision to step aside “for the younger generation” and provided some background on his earlier career:

Jiang, a Shanghai native, is a graduate from the prestigious Fudan University and later earned a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia. He then worked at Hewlett-Packard Company, the American IT giant commonly known as HP, in the U.S., according to public records.

Upon returning to China in January 1993, Jiang worked at the Shanghai Institute of Metallurgy under the CAS [Chinese Academy of Sciences], of which he later became vice president, responsible for development of high-tech research institutes.

During this period, he served in a number of key roles in the country’s space projects, including deputy commander-in-chief of the Shenzhou-5 mission, China’s first manned spaceflight, as well as chief scientist of the nation’s first independently-developed microsatellite of less than 100 kilograms (220 pounds). [Source]

In 2015, Jiang retired as head of the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was then 63 years of age, and internal Communist Party rules specified that cadres at his level were supposed to retire at 60. At the time, his father Jiang Zemin still wielded considerable political power behind the scenes. During Jiang Zemin’s tenure, his two sons had been accused of leveraging their family’s political connections to get ahead: Jiang Mianheng was believed to have controlled telecom giant China Netcom, and Jiang Miankang was reportedly a top army general. As Xi Jinping steadily consolidated his own power and sidelined other power brokers within the Party, Jiang Zemin lost any meaningful political influence, grew ill, and was often erroneously reported to have died. When he did pass away in 2022 at the ripe old age of 96, Jiang Zemin’s tenure was viewed by many with nostalgia, although commemorations of his death were muted, and government censors issued strict instructions governing how his death should be reported and handled online. (For more on Jiang Zemin’s fans and “toad worship”—a humorous but affectionate term for online well-wishes to Jiang while he was alive—see our recent ebook, “China Digital Times: 20th Anniversary Edition.”)


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