How will the world remember Jiang Zemin?
(CNN) -- After more than a decade under Jiang Zemin's leadership, China has the world's fastest growing major economy, is preparing to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, and is a fully-fledged member of the World Trade Organization.
During his 13 years as general secretary of the Communist Party and nearly ten years as president, Jiang has mixed economic freedom and political control to move forward the so-called 'market socialism' introduced by his predecessor Deng Xiaoping.
Jiang has overseen the peaceful handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China and that of Macau from Portugal while repeatedly threatening to use military power against Taiwan if it declares independence.
Critics say Jiang -- a survivor of the epic power struggles in the Communist Party -- has put a tight lid on political pluralism and internal dissent by disregarding human rights and has put a screen across corruption and a rising gap between the nation's rich and poor.
Son of revolutionary martyr
Jiang grew up under Japanese occupation in the city of Yangzhou, northwest of Shanghai.
When his uncle, a Communist partisan, was killed in combat, his family took him as their son so they would have a male heir. Jiang's status as the adopted son of a revolutionary martyr would open doors for him throughout his career.
As a young man, Jiang worked as an engineer and did a brief stint at a Soviet automobile plant in the 1950s. He was later tapped for government service and rose steadily through the bureaucratic ranks, advancing through a series of ministerial posts before being named mayor of Shanghai in 1985.
Jiang received mixed reviews as mayor. Critics dismissed him as a "flower vase," a Chinese term for a decorative but useless person. Others lauded him for transforming Shanghai into a cosmopolitan city and luring a steady stream of venture capital from Hong Kong, Japan and the West.
Jiang was made a full member of the Politburo in 1987, and two years later he won the favor of China's leader, Deng Xiaoping, by supporting the suppression of the student-led pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square, which left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians dead.
Ruling in the wake of Tiananmen
When party leader Zhao Ziyang was dismissed by Deng for openly sympathizing with the demonstrators, Jiang was given his post and made general secretary of the Communist Party.
Deng retired later in 1989 and placed Jiang in the powerful post of chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Four years later, in 1993, Jiang was named president of the People's Republic of China.
Jiang has never publicly wavered in his defense of the Tiananmen crackdown.
"Had the Chinese government not taken the resolute measures then, we could not have enjoyed the stability that we are enjoying today," Jiang said in a June 1998 debate with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Beijing.
Theory of the Three Represents
As the day of his retirement nears, the state-run media have launched a legacy-building propaganda campaign.
Articles and TV programs have featured Jiang's political philosophy -- the Theory of the Three Represents (that the Communist Party must represents the foremost production forces, the best culture, and the people's interests) -- as the core of his legacy.
Jiang's pictures and portrayals are shown in posters and billboards nationwide, sometimes alongside Chairman Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
As the 16th Congress opens in early November, Jiang is set to relinquish his post of party chief to Vice-President Hu Jintao -- and the younger man is also due to acquire the state presidency from Jiang next March.
Jiang may hang on to his military position for a year or so. In any case, the patriarch will remain the party's "leadership core" for the foreseeable future simply due to the large number of members of the Jiang, or Shanghai, Faction that will be promoted to the Politburo at the Congress.
Jiang will also continue to have a say in foreign affairs in view of the contributions he has made, particularly in building up what he calls a "constructive, cooperative relationship" with the United States.