Former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin died at age 96 on Nov. 30, curiously just as the worst outbreak of demonstrations to happen in China since 1989 happened, probably now come to an end, as China both suppresses them, arresting some people based on phones and visual surveillance, as well as some loosening in certain locations of the zero covid policy. Jiang came to power initially in the immediate wake of Tienanman Square in 1989, reportedly pulled up the ranks by retired elders, the unofficial but powerful "Sitting Committee" of the Politburo. Someone with a record as a somewhat opportunistic technocrat, it was initially thought he would be weak, but he remained in power until 2002, and continued to hold the Chairmanship of the Military Commission until 2004, while somewhat weaker Hu Jintao had become General Secretary of the Party and also President.
Indeed, in his efforts to centralize power totally on himself, the networks of those linked to other powerful figures he needed to put down were probably more allied to Jiang than to Hu. If there was a serious alternative to Xi, it was probably Jiang more than Hu, although obviously Jiang had become very old and ill.
But his death does pose a difficult moment for Xi. Apparently the state funeral will be this coming Tuesday, Dec. 6. There has been a history of political trouble following the deaths of former leaders, with the Tienanman Square uprising following the death of former leader Hu Yubang. It is not that Jiang was all that liberal, indeed was probably less so than his successor, Hu. But many are indeed making unfavorable comparisons between him and Xi, with his regime being remembered for being more open and free and tied to the rest of the world, with China joining the WTO during his time, as well at the period experiencing solid and unbroken economic growth. China has become very isolated, even more so with the covid locdowns that have become the focus of recent demonstrations.
Probably Xi will be able to get through this without too much upheaval, especially with the demonstrations against the lockdowns apparently shut down. Nevertheless, it is reported that this funeral has many people talking more openly about unhappiness with the current regime.