Jiang Zemin, who led China into the 21st century, passed away on Wednesday in Shanghai, according to state media. Concerns for the 96-year-old’s health had been raised by his absence from the 20th Communist Party congress last month.
Jiang was at the helm of the Communist Party from 1989 to 2002 and was the first national leader since Mao Zedong who was not personally part of Mao’s generation of revolutionary fighters. He was widely perceived as a compromise candidate to replace Deng Xiaoping, whose reformist term was marred by the mass protests on Tiananmen Square and the government crackdown that followed.
Under Jiang’s leadership, China continued its progress towards becoming an economic and political powerhouse. He oversaw the nation’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 and the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.