Jiang Zemin left behind a China of contradictions in many respects. On the one hand, a nation that had experienced impressive economic growth but on the other hand, the frequently unsustainable nature of that economic growth came with its own set of problems, from externalities such as pollution to ideological inconsistencies (with many members of the Communist Part of China finding the increasing gap between the rich and the poor unacceptable, considering that China had gotten dangerously close to capitalism) and even to human-nature related issues such as groups of interest controlling various sectors of the Chinese economy (corruption, in other words).
Furthermore, unlike Hu Jintao who received praise for handing over his power to Xi Jinping in a proper and timely fashion, Jiang Zemin wasn’t as eager to let Hu Jintao take over and as such, his “shadow” remained problematic to an extend which made quite a few players wonder who was actually in charge for a decent amount of time.
Still, Hu Jintao eventually managed to set things back on a let’s say more conservative course. This meant, among other things, that control of the state over more aspects pertaining to the Chinese economy was once again introduced, that tolerance when it came to opposing political views was minimal and that measures to curb corruption were implemented.
However, contrary to what the previous paragraph might make you believe, Hu Jintao was not the type of leader who rules with an iron fist. He tried to be a more consensus-oriented figure and even tried to initially grant more decision-making power to the lower echelon of the Communist Party of China. When it comes to the previously-mentioned lower echelon, the measures ended up representing little more than rhetoric. But as far as the upper echelons and especially the Politburo Standing Committee were concerned, the “nine dragons taming the water” as its members were called had a lot of decision-making power.
All things considered, Hu Jintao is widely regarded as a rational, pragmatic leader who managed to increase stability after his ascension to power at the very beginning of the 21st century. Despite the fact that the Global Financial Crisis which took place during his rule was anything but kind to emerging markets and despite challenges such as the SARS crisis, China managed to navigate turbulent waters reasonably well and maintained robust economic growth which involved 10%+ YOY growth rates being the status quo up until 2010.
Geopolitically speaking, China was becoming more and more assertive as a soft power and gradually increased its regional as well as worldwide influence. To such a degree, in fact, that key trading partners such as Japan and India were growing increasingly uneasy with this new geopolitical status quo. From increasing its influence in Africa through massive infrastructure pending and providing capital to making progress when it comes to its relationship with Taiwan and even the organization of massive events such as the Shanghai World Expo 2010 and the 2008 Olympics, China took action on pretty much all geopolitical fronts so as to make it clear that its influence is poised to increase.
As far as ideology is concerned, his “Harmonious Socialist Society” managed to establish itself in a more robust manner than the “Three Represents” of his predecessor and internally, a lot of his measures (many of which would be considered populist in the West) to that effect have been very well-received by the population, measures such as the abolition of agriculture taxes, imposing a minimum wage in cities as well as implementing policies which protect the many workers who migrated from rural to urban regions and promoting affordable housing-related projects.
As a conclusion, the 6th President of the People’s Republic of China and the first who had no revolutionary background whatsoever is widely-regarded as a balanced figure who proved to be a solid administrator, despite issues such as corruption still being perceived as problematic. While not as emblematic as Deng Xiaoping, his term is perceived as representing a step in the right direction compared to that of Jiang Zemin, with the smooth transition to power when Xi Jinping took over painting a relevant picture to that effect.