1 of 4 | President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders pay their final respects to former President Jiang Zemin at the Chinese PLA General Hospital in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo by Li Xueren/Xinhua/EPA-EFE
Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping came together with many other Communist Party leaders Tuesday afternoon for a memorial service for former leader Jiang Zemin, calling for unity in the face of rare widespread protests in the country.
The memorial service for a man who oversaw some of China's most dynamic economic growth in the 1990s comes as countrymen continue to take to the streets to protest "zero COVID" lockdown rules that have left whole cities isolated for months.
Some of those protests have boiled over into complaints over Xi's authoritarian rule.
"The entire party, the entire army and the people of all ethnic groups in the country must unite more closely around the party's central leadership," Xi said at the memorial service, calling on party leaders to "turn grief into strength."
Jiang came to power in 1989 during the student pro-democracy uprising marked by the Tiananmen Square massacre and international scorn. He was charged with opening Chinese markets, which led to the country joining the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Jiang Mianheng, Jiang Zemin's oldest son, who serves as president of ShanghaiTech University, led the service on Monday by carrying a portrait of his father and receiving a hug from Xi.
Xi and other party leaders escorted Jiang Zemin's remains onto the hearse as honor guards carried Jiang's casket after the service. The vehicle left for the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery.
In hopes of easing nationwide tensions the day before the memorial service, more than 20 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, ended the requirements for negative COVID-19 tests on public transport.
Beijing also eased restrictions on Tuesday, no longer requiring tests to enter supermarkets, offices, shopping malls, residential communities and airports. The rules remained in place for restaurants, gyms and indoor entertainment venues.