The Case of Zhang Dejiang

Who is Zhang Dejiang (张德江)?  Here is China Vitae's record for the man:

Zhang Dejiang, male, 55, Han nationality, is a native of Tai'an, Liaoning Province. He was born in November 1946, joined the CPC in January 1971 and joined the workforce in November 1968. Zhang graduated from the Economics Department, Kim Il Sung Comprehensive University. As a university graduate, he holds the professional title of Lecturer.

Zhang, who speaks Korean, worked in Jilin Province until the mid-1980's when he moved to Beijing as vice minister of Civil Affairs. In the 1990s, he became secretary of the CPC Jilin Municipal Committee and 1998 relinquished that position to become secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee.

Zhang was an alternate member of the 14th CPC Central Committee and a member of the 15th CPC Central Committee. Zhang is currently a member of the Politburo of the 16th CPC Central Committee and secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Party Committee.

Among the many political accomplishments of Zhang Dejiang as the secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Party Committee are these memorable ones (see ChineseNewsNet):

With a record like this, Zhang Dejiang has only one competitor (namely, the equally unfortunate Heilongjiang Provincial Governor Zhang Zuoyi) for national and international infamy.

Within the last few days, there have been a rash of articles about Zhang Dejiang's position being endangered.  Specifically, according to ChineseNewsNet, the word is that Zhang Dejiang delivered a self-examination in front of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo, and his report was 'not accepted' (未獲通過).  The same article also reported that Zhang Dejiang had gone to Beijing and requested People's Daily to feature certain official statements in support of him on the front page, but the request was rejected.

But I do have some doubts about Zhang Dejiang should lose his head (figuratively, of course) at this point.  How strange, eh?

The question that I ask is: What has Zhang Dejiang done for the people lately, as a result of that track record and an endangered career?  Here is what I have gleamed so far.

First, on the matter of the unsafe coal mines (see The Coal Mine Dilemma in China):

After the August 7 mining disaster, the Guangdong provincial senior officials were clear and determined with respect to the problem of the coals mines.  On August 10, three days after the Xingzhu mining disaster, the provincial government issued an order for all coal mines to cease operations.  On August 14, the provincial governor Huang Huahua signed the provincial government "2005 No. 27" document to reiterate that all coal mines must cease operations to await inspections as well as demand Shaoguan, Meizhou and Qingyuan must "take sterner measures."  By 'stern,' it means that all those mines without permits to operate, or those mines which do not have all three permits and one license (permit to extract coal, permit to produce coal, permit of qualification for the mine director and license to operate), or those mines with high gas content, or those mines with flooding problems will all be shut down.


As of this time, 228 coal mines have been sealed and only 10 remain in operation in Meizhou after passing safety inspections.

Second, on the matter of land requisitioning without compensation, at the end of December 2005, Zhang Dejiang issued three directives:

Any official who ignored any of the three directives will be dismissed if there should ever be a mass incident as a result.

Surely, one has to ask: Is Zhang Dejiang really serious here?  Or is this more empty talk?  According to RFA:

Construction work at the coal-powered electricity plant in Dongzhou Village (Shanwei City) appears to have stopped.  For the last two days, the lights were out.  Previously, they were doing overtime with the lights turned on at night.  According to a villager: "At the market, I have been seeing the migrant laborers who work on the construction at the plant.  They are saying that work has stopped.  They said that they had been thinking about working here through the Lunar New Year, but now they don't know what to do."

So what are the choices?  A chastened Zhang Dejiang who will be motivated to work extra-hard to save his endangered career?  Or a brand new faceless bureaucrat who comes in, says he doesn't understand the situation fully yet and requests more time to study and investigate?

(Boxun)  Mr. Zhang Dejiang Continues To Emit Soft Sounds.  By Guo Feixiong.  January 21, 2006.

[in translation]

Mr. Zhang Dejiang has recently emitted soft sounds, which apparently came out of deep thoughts.  The following points deserve attention.

1. For anything related to major decisions with respect to policy directions and the overall situation, it must be determined by the collective and never by a single person or a small group of people.

2. There must never be any interference in the bidding on construction projects that are against the rules.  Whether it is in the rights of use of land management, real estate management or other market-related economic activities, the occurrence of such interference will lead to authomatic dismissal and serious invesigation of the related persons regardless of whether they actually received interests as a result.

3.  Once again, the "Three No's".  If any of these three red lines are crossed so as to create a mass incidents, all related persons will be dismissed.

4.  Those who fail or abuse their job functions will be punished for causing economic losses to the masses, or behaving violently and badly, or activities that have severe consequences or not protecting the interests of the masses.

But whether Mr. Zhang Dejiang can break through the obstruction of the local and base-level interest groups and then implement his major policy adjustments remains to be seen.  This will be a major test for his administrative ability.

We wish to see not only the adjustment and implementation of the policies, but we hope to use the current crises in Guangdong to advance the rule of law in solving all the problems about land requistions and disputes (that is, to permit an independent judiciary branch to resolve the conflicts) and thereby set a good example for the rest of the  nation.  People often say, "A crisis is an opportunity" and this is such a moment.

南方都市报06年1月20日A08版 (Southern Metropolis Daily, January 20, 2006, page A08)

     张德江在省纪委六次全会上强调严格执行和维护党的纪律,做到“五个遵守五个维护” -- “坚持集体领导和分工负责相结合,凡属方针政策的重大决策、事关全局性的问题,重要干部任免、重大项目安排和大额度资金使用,都必须集体讨论作出决定,不准个人或少数人说了算;严格执行各项干部人事制度,全省市、县、镇将于今年到明年上半年集中进行领导班子换届工作,要坚决防止和严肃查处用人上的不正之风和换届中的违纪违法行为,用铁的纪律确保换届选举顺利进行。”
  本报讯 (记者田霜月 通讯员粤纪宣)中共广东省纪律检查委员会第六次全体会议昨日在广州召开。会议学习贯彻胡锦涛总书记在中央纪委六次全会上的重要讲话和中央纪委六次全会精神,总结去年党风廉政建设和反腐败工作,部署今年工作。中共中央政治局委员、省委书记张德江出席会议并作重要讲话。他强调,要从解决好提高党的领导水平和执政水平、解决好提高拒腐防变和抵御风险能力两大历史性课题的高度,从贯彻落实科学发展观和构建和谐广东、更好地发挥排头兵作用的高度,充分认识新时期加强党的纪律建设的重要性和紧迫性,严格执行和维护党的纪律,不断提高党的纪律建设的水平。



(SCMP)  Heed land rules or be fired, party chief warns.  By Leuw Siew Ying.  January 21, 2006.

Guangdong provincial party secretary Zhang Dejiang has repeated his "three stern directives" to cadres to ensure that building projects comply with land requisition procedures, again threatening them with dismissal if land disputes lead to mass incidents.  But his warning is being laughed off.

Speaking to the Guangdong Committee for Discipline Inspection, Mr Zhang reiterated his warning to cadres two weeks ago that projects could not go ahead if there was incomplete land requisition paperwork, if agreement had not been reached with farmers and if compensation had not been paid.  "I stress again ... that cadres who step over the three red lines and cause mass incidents will be dismissed and investigated," he said.

One academic who has followed the spate of land disputes racking Guangdong said police had clashed with villagers in Zhongshan's Sanjiao township after Mr Zhang's first warning.  "If they do not dismiss the officials involved, the `three stern warnings' will become `three jokes'," he said. "If they are serious about sacking people, too many heads will roll. Every incident is such that it involves too many officials at different levels."

Mr Zhang also told the commission that party officials were barred from becoming involved in bids for construction, property development or land use rights transactions for commercial purposes.  "If a problem crops up, officials will be dismissed whether or not they received benefits and will be dealt with severely according to the situation," he said. "Party officials cannot receive cash, gifts or receipts from organisations under their administration."  The repeat warning comes less than two weeks after the party chief also reminded officials that the state-set upper-compensation limit for requisitioned land should be seen as a minimum.

(January 25, 2006)

This is China and therefore all news are published (or not published) for political reasons.  There is nothing much about Zhang Dejiang within China, because the powerplay has been taking place in the Hong Kong media instead.  In the post The Case of Zhang Dejiang, Asia Weekly (and ChineseNewsNet) had reported that Zhang Dejiang's report on the Shanwei (Dongzhou) incident to the Politburo was not 'accepted.'  In essence, Zhang said that the Politburo should trust that Guangdong can handle the problem but the Politburo declined to accept that assertion based upon a string of internationally known incidents in the past two years.  
More recently, three Hong Kong newspapers (including Sing Tao) cited 'informed sources' that Zhang Dejiang's position is very secure and the report about the Politburo was false.  The information in the three newspapers appeared at the same time with a great deal of similarity, so the same source was covering the field.  Great?  
But this latest ChineseNewsNet commentary pointed to one important clue -- these were three China-leaning newspapers but the two Beijing-funded newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao did not join in the PR campaign.  In other words, this campaign did not have the participation of the Central Propaganda Department!  The commentator went ahead with three more observations.
First, Zhang Dejiang is facing a tremendous amount of political pressure, since the attacks appeared from outside China.  This is liable to shake up the senior and middle-level leadership and force them to come out eventually with an open display one way or the other.  The prior example was that when Jia Qinglin was accused of involvement in the Yuanhua case in 1999, then-Chairman Jiang Zemin had Jia accompany him for a "construction inspection tour in Beijing" to demonstrate his support.  So watch for what reports (or no reports) on Zhang next!
Second, Hu Jinato and Wen Jiabao had been going about talking about "public interests" and warning that "historical errors" will not be allowed on the land issue.  What do you think this is referring to but the many bloody land requisition/compensation incidents in Guangdong?  If Hu/Wen really supported Zhang, then there had better be some latest direct statements on Zhang Dejiang.
Third, if the central government wanted to support Zhang, then not just the three Hong Kong newspaper but Wen Wei Po/Ta Kung Pao and all the national government media would have directly or indirectly praised the "contributions" of Guangdong towards building a "stable and harmonious society" or some such.  Instead, the national publications said at the central disciplinary committee meeting on January 5, Hu Jintao emphasized the need to follow the party constitution and sytem to "seriously investigate those glaring problems that damage public interests."  And you can just insert the Shanwei incident at this point. 

(ChineseNewsNet) Zhang Dejiang makes urgent moves to save himself, using three Hong Kong newspapers to disclose inside information.  February 13, 2006.

[in translation]

In the most recent issue of ChineseNewsNet Monthly magazine, there is an article that details how Zhang Dejiang is making urgent moves to save himself through disclosing inside information via three Hong Kong newspapers.  The article said that Beijing not only did not support Zhang Dejiang, but emphasized "public interests" in a warning to Zhang Dejiang and the other local warlords.  The quasi-official Caijing magazine published an essay "The Reforms Cannot Waver" by the famous Wangfu Ping.  The essay by Wangfu Ping actually represents the assessment of the current China situation by the Beijing senior leaders and his voice is that of the core decision-makers in Beijing and it represents their will.

The ChineseNewsNet article said that Guangdong people and intellectuals inside and outside of China began a campaign to dump Zhang Dejiang several months ago.  They listed all the major social incidents over the past three years, including the recent Shanwei incident in which the militia police opened fire to suppress demonstrators and killed and injured dozens.  This was a tremendous blow to the "Southern King" who is a member of the Central Politburo.  Zhang Dejiang has recently undertaken emergency measures to handle the crisis.  But he did not examine the roots of the problems.  Instead, he used the system of special agents to investigate the sources of information and he ran "public relations" with the relevant people in Hong Kong in order to make superficial repairs to his image.

According to ChineseNewsNet Monthly magazine, Zhang Dejiang made three sets of emergency measures.  First, he brought in the national apparatus to ask the Guangdong province National Security Bureau to investigate the sources as well as personal background of the author who recently published an essay about how Zhang Dejiang's presentation to the Central Politburo was not passed, as well as the whole series of articles in ChineseNewsNet concerning the campaign to dump Zhang Dejiang.  The objective was to find out if there are any government officials aiding the outside by providing "ammunition" to "overseas media" in the "anti-Zhang campaign."  He also made the support of Zhang Dejiang as a part of the important goal of Guangdong province Communist Party "refreshment" education.  Thus, he wanted to politically prevent the spread of the anti-Zhang campaign by using special agents.

Secondly, Zhang Dejiang instructed the Guangdong province Publicity Department to launch a counter-offensive in conjunction with the second-tier Hong Kong leftist newspapers.  Shortly afterwards, Sing Tao, Oriental Daily and its derivative The Sun all published similar-looking pro-Zhang reports.  These so-called reports quoted "authoritative persons" in Guangdong province to say that "recently some media reported that Zhang Dejiang, who is familiar to the people of Hong Kong, did not pass a self-examination at the Politburo but these reports were groundless and being used to attack Zhang Dejiang personally."

It is noteworthy that the Hong Kong central government-level "first-tier" leftist newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao did not carry such reports.  This showed that the "authoritative persons" come from Guangdong province and not from the central government level.  The reports quoted this Guangdong "authoritative persons" to say that Zhang Dejiang was transferred in November 2002 from Zhejiang to Guangdong as the provincial party secretary as a result of the decision by Hu Jintao after the latter became the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary.  The reports did not quote Jiang Zemin at the March 2003 National People's Congress giving special attention in meeting with the Guangdong group of representatives with the even more authoritative "I rest assured with Comrade Dejiang in Guangdong."

The Beijing central government did not support Zhang Dejiang.  Instead the problem exposed in Guangdong province proved an important rule in Chinese Communist politics -- the "political line" determines everything.  Your political line leads to certain political consequences and social phenomena.  Zhang Dejiang engaged in "quietly working on the economy" in Guangdong but he has deviated from the "political line."  He has left civilization and local realities.  He was no longer "using people as the base" but he was the typical northeastern local "fierce bandit culture."

"Fierce bandit culture" is not based upon communication or negotiation to resolve contradictions with the interests of the people as the starting point.  Rather, it uses high-pressured, coercive and even violent methods while standing in opposition to the interests to the people, thereby exacerbating the contradictions.  After more than three years, the consequences of the "fierce bandit culture" were: the editor-in-chief and deputy editor-in-chief of Southern Metropolis Daily were thrown into jail; 3,000 anti-riot militia police entered Taishi village to deny the villagers the right to vote and to use underworld people to harass the intellectuals who helped the villagers protect their rights; the mini-"6/4" incident in Shanwei in which the militia police opened fire to suppress the villagers protesting the loss of their lands with dozens killed and injured.  The impact was very bad.

According to what ChineseNewsNet has learned, the Wangfu Ping article actually represented the assessment by the Beijing senior central government officials about the current situation in China.  Furthermore, the Wangfu Ping of today is longer the same Wangfu Ping who was in Shanghai in the early 1990's.  He now represents the voice of the core decision-makers in Beijing senior leadership and their will.  The article treated the various questions about the negation and opposition to reforms in China as being the result of factors involving the national and local systems.

According to what a Sing Tao source told ChineseNewsNet, the Guangdong province department "sent the article about Zhang Dejiang directly to the newspaper senior leaders through channels."  He confirmed that this so-called "report" was not written by own their news reporters.  According to informed sources in Guangdong province, the Guangdong department let the three "second tier" leftist newspapers in Hong Kong publish this article in promise for an exchange of favors.  Another source indicated that the Guangdong province department went through a Hong Kong television senior leader to give the articles to a Hong Kong business person who in turn handed it to the reporters at the three Hong Kong newspapers, including an exchange of money.  But this assertion was disavowed by a Sing Tao senior leader, who said, "If Guangdong province wanted to publish an article, why would they need to pay any money?"

This piece of so-called report "hyped" up by the Guangdong officials pointed out that the so-called "anti-Zhang" and "dump Zhang" news are just "news hype" and many of the recent mass incidents in Guangdong are "mainly due to the triggering of certain social contradictions that have accumulated over many years of economic progress, and therefore cannot be blamed solely upon Zhang Dejiang.  Thus, there is no such thing as Zhang Dejiang not passing the self-examination at the Politburo."  The report also quoted "authoritative persons" in Guangdong to say that mass incidents are a characteristic of social development in China.  These problems are being solved one step at a time.  But "when the ice is three feet thick, it did not happen as a result of one cold day."  Certain social problems cannot be resolved in one day, and the problems in Guangdong are just a microcosm of the whole country and not at all unique.

Apart from these two "pro-Zhang" measures, Guangdong province under the instruction of Zhang Dejiang also did a third thing.  When the "dump Zhang" news came out, the provincial department sent a car to Hong Kong in mid-January to bring a retired Chinese senior leader Zhuang Shiping to attend activities in Guangzhou.  Zhang Dejiang invited the 96-year-old Zhuang Shiping for a couple of days in Guangzhou regardless of the physical hardship to the old man in the hope that Zhuang can be persuaded to communicate with other people and get the support of the "Hong Kong people," from whence the news can be "imported and sold on the mainland."

This is supposed to be the typical style of Zhang Dejiang in the face of a problem.  After the SARS episode in 2003, Zhang Dejiang wanted to shirk responsibility and invited a former Chinese Communist senior figure in Hong Kong Xu Shimin to attend activities in Guangzhou and speak nice things on his behalf.  Zhang promised Xu that the latter's Mirror Monthly magazine would be allowed to publish in Guangdong.  After the SARS episode ended, Hong Kong leftist newspaper Wen Wei Po published the summary article: "Zhang Dejiang stopped SARS with an iron fist" and Xu Shimin went to the Beijing central government to praise Zhang Dejiang.  Afterwards when Zhang Dejiang passed, he tossed aside his promise to Xu, who got very angry about being "used."

Therefore, when the invitations went out to the senior people in Hong Kong again this time, Xu Shimin pleaded ill health and turned down Zhang's invitation.  Zhang Dejiang went ahead with his image-repair project.  Apart from the "second tier" Hong Kong leftist newspapers, he also sent people to work Beijing to place his speech about how he cared about peasant rights into the front page of People's Daily.  But that did not happen.  Actually, no matter how hard Zhang Dejiang works and no matter how he tries to repair his image, his "fierce bandit" style has brought disaster to the people of Guangdong and left a deep impression with the people of Hong Kong and the whole world.

(Zhengming via Boxun)  Zhang Dejiang offers his resignation to the Central Government.  February 14, 2006.

On January 15, at the meeting of the Guangdong province Party Standing Committee, Zhang Dejiang made a self-criticism of certain major social and economic incidents in Guangdong in recent years, and accepted political responsibility.

The meeting lasted more than 5 hours.  Zhang Dejiang said:

I have been working in Guangdong for three years.  The most profound and most scientific reflection was that one cannot let economic progress and certain social prosperity in some places cover up the severe and sharp social problems and contradictions and ignore the political and economic crises.  I can accept that the problems of Guangdong did not just emerge in one day.  But the key to the problems lie with the provincial committee.  We ask ourselves: How come the policies and measures cannot be thoroughly implemented?  Why do political and social incidents keep happening?  Why are the social ratings of the cadre leaders at the lowest?  Why have social order and safety been bad for such a long time?  Why do the criminal gangs rule in Guangdong?

Zhang Dejiang admitted frankly that he has to accept political responsibility for the problems of Guangdong and submit his resignation to the Central Politburo.

On January 17, Zhang Dejiang formally sent in his offer of resignation.  The reason for his resignation was that the provincial party leadership has shown that it has been weak in building and organizing the implementation of the construction of a harmonious society based upon the people; the provincial party leadership severely lacked any sense of concern, so that political and economic incidents continued to happen; a number of mass incidents occurred in the province resulting in casualties due to bureaucracy and corruption and this has created bad consequences inside and outside the country; the provincial party leadership has been stagnant and fallen behind on building politics, organizations and themselves.

The self-criticism by Zhang Dejiang at the Provincial Party Standing Committee meeting that resulted in this offer of resignation to the Central Politburo was ignited mainly by several dozen cases of bloodshed in which people were suppressed during protests in Guangdong.  These incidents had repercussions inside and outside China.  For example, the Zhanjiang incident, the Dongguan incident, the Huizhou incident, the Shanwei incident and the Zhongshan incident on January 13 all resulted in casualties.

In December 2002, Zhang Dejiang took over the "chaotic mess" led behind by Li Changchun.  At the time, Zhang Dejiang was intimidated because he may not live up to the expectations of the central government.  Sending Zhang to Guangdong was intended to nurture the core of the next generation after Hu-Wen.  At the time, Jiang Zemin told Zhang Dejiang: "The central government is giving you this important assignment so that you can get some experience.  You should break down the fiefdoms and localism in Guangdong; it is important to use those three years to make a breakthrough in the rule of law."  In April 2003, Zeng Qinghong disclosed those three demands on Zhang to the Guangdong province Party Standing Committee.

In early 2005, Wen Jiabao also made three demands on the Guangdong problem: get the leadership itself to rebuild without letting up; establish the rule of law as an exemplary illustration; invest resources to solve the problems of social order and security.

Although Jiang, Hu and Wen all relied heavily on Zhang Dejiang, his popularity in Guangdong has been quite poor during the three years.  The previous Guangdong provincial party secretaries and governors gave him bad ratings.  Ren Zhongyi, Li Ruo and Wu Nansheng were especially unhappy with how Zhang Dejiang handled the Southern Metroplis Daily case and issued condemnations, and their opinions are diametrically opposite to how Hu and Wen think.

The Guangdong problem and the bad political accomplishments and offer to resign by Zhang Dejiang have caused the original personnel plans of the central government to be disrupted.  Li Changchun was an "example."  Li Changchun's had bad work achievements in Liaoning, Henan and Guangdong, but he entered the Central Politburo Standing Committee.  Those bad opinions about him meant that he received less than 50% of the votes at the 16th National People's Congress meeting, and just like Huang Ju and Jia Qingling, his role is a passive one.

The Central Politburo may not approve Zhang Dejiang's resignation this time.  But if someone insists on elevating Zhang Dejiang at the 17th National People's Congress, that would increase the political baggage of Hu and Wen themselves.

(Sing Tao via Chinese News Net)  February 17, 2006.

According to Sing Tao, the frequent disturbances at Guangdong Shanwei, Zhongshan and other places have caused foreign media to declare an "Oust Zhang" movement.  But yesterday, the Chinese Communist Party's party organ People's Daily featured a long article on the front page in praise of the economic results in Guangdong as well as the active attitude in handling all the newly arisen contradictions.  Also, Guangdong provincial political consultative committee chairman Chen Shaoji said that certain foreign media and hostile forces are aiming to use these disturbances to create rumors and troubles, to politicize economic problems and to internationalize national issues.

On January 13, the Guangdong provincial political consultative committee held a meeting for its Standing Committee.  Chairman Chen Shaoji pointed out at the meeting that "recently, there have been suddenly breaking mass incidents in a number of places in the province.  Certain foreign media and hostile forces are intervening to act as the accelerant and magnifier of social contradictions, to create rumors and troubles, to fan the fires, to politicize the economic issues, to internationalize the national issues and created wide impact inside and outside the province and inside and outside the country."

He analyzed that the social contradictions now found in Guangdong are inevitable during this phase of socio-economic development.  These have national commonality as well as unique Guangdong features.

He emphasized that as the vanguard area of the reform, the economic transformation, the social transformation and the allocation of interests are more apparent than elsewhere.  Correspondingly, the various contradictions manifested themselves earlier and fuller in greater numbers.  Also, Guangdong is next to Hong Kong and Macau, which are the bridgeheads for foreign hostile forces to infiltrate and divide.  These are the important factors why there so many social contradictions in Guangdong during this new era.

Chen Shaoji asked the political consultative committee to help the party committee and the government to reduce the occurrences of social contradictions by solving the problems while they are still in the bud.  They must grasp the root and tendency of the issues that may affect stability, and clarify doubts, calm down emotions and resolve the conflicts.

According to this former Guangdong provincial Political Legal Party Secretary, the resolution of social conflicts and the prevention of incidents rely on economic development as well as the insistence on the rule of law.  Any individual and social group must follow the law.  If there is a law, then follow it; if the law is enforced, it must be strictly so; if the law is broken, it must be pursued.

(SCMP) Zhang Dejiang: Beijing strongman with a knack for getting results. May 16, 2016.

If ever there was a day when Zhang Dejiang earned his reputation as Beijing’s “iron-fist enforcer” in Hong Kong, it must have been on September 25, 2005.

On that day, as Guangdong Communist Party Secretary, Zhang had a closed-door meeting with 59 Hong Kong lawmakers, who were on a two-day trip to the province organised by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

They were given a high-profile reception. But there was a tense moment in the groundbreaking visit when four pro-democracy lawmakers raised the question of reversing the official verdict on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Until then, no senior mainland official had discussed the Tiananmen verdict in a face-to-face meeting with Hong Kong democrats. Zhang was unfazed, marshalling a blunt and unequivocal response.

“If there is no common ground, there is no point for discussion,” said Zhang, before asserting that the central government had made the right decision on June 4.

Recollecting his encounter with Zhang 11 years ago, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung said he also told Zhang that “one-party dictatorship” on the mainland was inconsistent with the Chinese constitution and the principle of socialism.

“But Zhang emphasised that ‘one-party dictatorship’ was one of the four cardinal principles stated in the Chinese constitution,” Leung said.

It was also in the same year that Zhang drew fire for violent crackdowns on social unrest in Guangdong. In 2005, police were believed to have killed 20 people in Dongzhou village in Shanwei when they fired into a crowd protesting against inadequate land compensation. Police also raided Taishi village to put down protests against village officials.

The tense episode came two years after Zhang received the heaviest criticism for his response to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which observers argued was made worse by the province’s lethargic response to early cases and the suppression of news reports about the deadly virus.

However, these controversial incidents do not obscure the fact that it was during Zhang’s stint as leader of the country’s most populous province that he also logged some of his biggest career achievements to date.

From 2002 to 2007, the province’s per capita gross domestic product surged 80 per cent, while progress was made in cross-border infrastructural projects. Construction of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail link kicked off in 2005, while preparations were made to pave the way for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge project to start in December 2009 – two years after Zhang left Guangdong to serve as a vice-premier in charge of transport, energy and telecommunications.

During his tenure, Zhang initiated a pan-Pearl River Delta regional co-operation project to encourage integration among Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong and eight other provinces in southern China. It continues to this day, though some critics regard it as an overweening effort by Beijing to control the south’s development.

With his reputation as a man who can be relied on in the event of a crisis combined with unparalleled experience of helming three provinces – Jilin, Zhejiang and Guangdong – when most leaders would have done only two such postings before their elevation, Zhang was just the man Beijing needed during the purge of Bo Xilai. When the Chongqing party secretary was ousted as party chief of the southwestern megacity, Zhang was the man the leadership dispatched to take over the post.

Once installed, he moved quickly to reorganise the government and reassure investors at home and abroad who worried about instability in the metropolis of nearly 30 million.

In November 2012, his promotion to the supreme Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th party congress was seen as a move that gave his long-time patron, former president Jiang Zemin, a vital ally in the party’s supreme policymaking body.

In 2013, the strongman was named the National People’s Congress chairman.

That was also the year that Zhang was appointed to head the Communist Party leading group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, comprising heads of 18 ministries and departments. His appointment came as no surprise given his intimate knowledge of Hong Kong in his previous role as Guangdong party secretary.

His supporters might have thought it serendipitous but the timing was uncanny.

The Hong Kong government was getting ready to embark on electoral reform to achieve “one man, one vote” for the city’s chief executive – and having an old Hong Kong veteran in the right place at the central government was no doubt immensely useful.

In 2014, the voices of pan-democrats calling for the public to be allowed to nominate chief executive candidates grew louder.

Enter the ever-reliable Zhang. On August 31, 2014, under Zhang’s leadership, the NPC decided that if Hong Kong were to pick its leader by “one man, one vote” in 2017, there could only be two or three candidates. But first they must be vetted and approved by half of a 1,200-member committee, an outfit likely dominated by Beijing loyalists, according to a central government white paper.

The proposal was widely criticised by pan-democrats and triggered the 79-day Occupy protest. The Hong Kong government’s reform package, which adopted the white paper wholesale, was rejected by the Legislative Council last June.

Depending on who you ask, his visit could provide affirmation of the tried-and-tested strategy – or a chance to turn a new chapter.