China mourns former leader Jiang as funeral preparations begin

Shanghai (AFP) – Mobile apps and state media websites turned black-and-white, flags on some government buildings in Beijing were at half-mast, and flowers were laid as China on Thursday mourned the death of former leader Jiang Zemin.

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State media said Jiang had died of leukaemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai on Wednesday at the age of 96 after all medical treatments failed, and that funeral preparations had begun.

Floral tributes were laid in Jiang's hometown of Yangzhou and nearby Shanghai, where police were deployed in force on Thursday morning around the intersections near the hospital where he was rumoured to have died, AFP reporters saw.

At around 12:45 pm (0445 GMT), they saw a convoy of vehicles coming from the direction of the hospital, headed by a car bearing what appeared to be a wreath of yellow flowers on its bonnet.

The convoy then headed toward Hongqiao airport.

An hour earlier, police ordered pedestrians to leave the intersection as bussed-in bystanders gathered around the crossroads wearing drab-coloured clothing and face masks.

Pictures sent to AFP by someone living along one of the major roads nearby showed people lining the pavement holding white chrysanthemums, a traditional Chinese funeral flower.

China's former leader Jiang Zemin, seen here in 1991, leaves a mixed legacy
China's former leader Jiang Zemin, seen here in 1991, leaves a mixed legacy © Mike FIALA / AFP/File

Some held a banner saying "May you have safe travels, old classmate".

Officials in yellow vests lined the road, with some perched on high buildings overlooking the highway.

A local resident told AFP he received a sudden notice on Wednesday night that his child's school would close the following day for "traffic reasons".

He added that he was barred from leaving his housing compound before 5 pm on Thursday and told to close the windows of his apartment, with no reason given.

Jiang's funeral committee is headed by President Xi Jinping, state media said.

No date was given for the event, but it is expected that it will be held in Beijing.

'Grandpa Jiang'

Jiang's legacy is mixed -- many welcomed his humorous public persona as a breath of fresh air after decades of staid communist leadership, while critics accused him of allowing rampant corruption, inequality and the repression of political activists.

In retirement, he became the subject of light-hearted memes among millennial and Gen Z Chinese fans, who called themselves "toad worshippers" in thrall to his frog-like countenance and quirky mannerisms.

China leadership timeline
China leadership timeline © John SAEKI / AFP

Within an hour of his death being announced, more than half a million commenters flooded state broadcaster CCTV's post on the Twitter-like platform Weibo, with many referring to him as "Grandpa Jiang".

On Thursday, pictures on social media showed the walls of Jiang's old residence in Yangzhou lined with bouquets of flowers, with some people bowing as they placed them there.

The owner of a nearby flower shop told AFP she received more than 100 orders from people who wished to pay tribute, with some coming from people outside Yangzhou using delivery apps.

"We are not the one with the most orders, some shops nearer got several hundred delivery orders," she said.

CCTV said Wednesday that flags would be flown at half-mast at some government buildings until the funeral.

The websites of state media and government-owned businesses turned black-and-white, as did apps such as Alipay, Taobao and even McDonald's China.

"The bright memory of such an authoritative politician and a wonderful person will forever remain in my heart," he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Jiang a "steadfast advocate for international engagement", and that the former Chinese leader exuded "personal warmth and openness".