Just two years after his formal retirement, Jiang Zemin, the former president, is poised to receive one of communist China’s highest political accolades: publication of his speeches and writings in a multi-volume Selected Works anthology.
Written by a team of foreign ministry officials, For a Better World is cast as a fly-on-the-wall account of Mr Jiang’s globe-trotting diplomacy. But in keeping with Chinese political publishing tradition, the 654-page tome is no page-turner.
The only quoted dialogue in its six-page record of his 1990 visit to North Korea, for example, is an airport exchange with the secretive Stalinist state’s then-president. “Kim Il-sung said ‘Hello!’ in Chinese,” the authors of For a Better World recall, adding: “Jiang Zemin also said ‘Hello’.”
Despite such banalities, the flurry of attention being given to Mr Jiang by state publishers is fuelling speculation he is trying to expand his power ahead of a key Communist party congress next year.
Some political analysts say the former leader is concerned about the rate at which his influence has waned since he handed over his last position as head of China’s military to successor Hu Jintao in 2004.
Other observers, however, say Mr Jiang’s contribution to the printing industry is mainly about securing a place in history.
Certainly, establishing him as a pivotal leader was the explicit goal of his biggest book success so far, a state-approved biography penned by a US investment banker that billed the former leader as The Man Who Changed China. Though the book had little international impact, it was heavily promoted in China, turning the banker, Robert Kuhn, into the country’s second-best selling foreigner after J.K. Rowling.
Mr Jiang’s Selected Works, which publishing officials say will be issued this month, will enjoy strong sales, given that purchase will be compulsory for many government institutions.
His appeal to the popular market is less clear, however. The online bookseller Dangdang.com has sold a total of only 20 copies of For a Better World.