I kept wanting to share this historic photograph but never got around to fixing up my blog to display pictures. So you'll just have to click on the link and scroll down to the second photograph. Oh, go ahead and live dangerously. You won't get on a watch list; the link is from the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.
To many Americans it would just seem a picture of some old Chinese guy with salad dressing on his chest raising his wine glass in toast. Actually, you are looking at one of the most important moments in modern China's history.
Pundita readers need no introduction to General Cao Gangchuan and his role in bringing down the curtain on Jiang Zemin's rule. That's what you're looking at. When General Cao raised his wine glass on the evening of July 31, 2004 he did more than pay tribute to the 77th anniversary of the founding of China's modern military. From the tone of his speech, everyone in attendance guessed that he was marking the end of an era in China and the start of a new one.
But that historic toast was not Killer Toast; the killer came the next day, August 1, which is Military Day in China. By then everyone was breathlessly waiting to hear General Cao's toast at the festivities.
They had already flipped through their Communist Party Toast Codebook. From this, they recalled that during the previous year's Military Day toast, General Cao had told them to obey the Central Party Committee, the Central Military Commission, and Chairman Jiang.
Slowly, General Cao rose from his chair and raised his wine glass. A hush fell over the assembly. Then... then .... this is always the part where Pundita has to take a sip of sherry to prevent palpitations ... then... General Cao said nothing at all about Jiang Zemin.
Only military discipline prevented the gathering from knocking over chairs in their haste to spread the news. A New York Times reporter was arrested in China on spying charges, simply for reporting the gossip raging around Beijing within minutes of the speech.
A month later Jiang Zemin relinquished his last official hold on power in China. And all that's happened since, and all that is to come in China, was set in motion by a general's toast on a glorious summer evening in a grand banquet hall.
For an extremely biased and downright catty account of Jiang Zemin's rise to power ("Licking the Boots of the Upper Echelon to Rise Further...Working His Connections and Fawning on Key Personnel to Become Shanghai’s Leader..."), see The Epoch Times biography.
The stories of Jiang's wait for hours in the snow to give a present to a superior's mistress, and how he flummoxed democracy advocates by reciting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, are by themselves worth the read. (1)
Who cares how much of the biography is true? It's a primer on what Chinese don't like about their leaders and a rare glimpse of sexual politics, China style.
1) Stories from Anything for Power: the real story of China's Jiang Zemin, Chapter Four.