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Jiang's symbolic call to action

Xi Jinping aims to contain a group led by Jiang Zemin, who is seen here at a reception in Beijing Sept. 30, marking the 65th anniversary of modern China's founding.   © Getty Images

Dongshan Ridge is an imposingly beautiful mountain -- and home to two classic Chinese tales of overcoming adversity -- on Hainan Island, just off the coast of the mainland in the South China Sea.

     Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, his wife, Wang Yeping, children and grandchildren visited Chaoyin Temple, nestled up against the mountain on Jan. 2. The trip was the retired leader's way of demonstrating his health and continuing influence.

     After visiting the temple, the 88-year-old shouted in a startlingly loud voice: "Jiang Zemin came here! This is significant. If I return to Beijing and promote this spectacular view, soon this place will be crowded with tourists."

     If his shout was a cry of frustration, that would be understandable. A once-powerful faction led by Jiang is now hemmed in by President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign. Zhou Yongkang, a 72-year-old former Politburo Standing Committee member, is among Jiang's proteges who recently fell victim to Xi's purge.

     But the theory that the yell from the mountaintop was merely a lament does not explain why Jiang seemed to lose control of his emotions in front of some 100 provincial officials. Many believe Jiang was trying to send a message to his followers.

     That message appears intended to be interpreted as: "Even in retirement, I have assumed a position in the capital, Beijing, not in Shanghai. I still have political influence. Stay calm."

     Jiang rode up the mountain in an electric cart. But on the way down, he walked, albeit with the help of others, apparently to demonstrate his good health.

Dongshan Ridge

     As he left, Jiang said: "I will come here again if I am still alive."

     The following day, his long-unheard words were all over the Internet, sending jitters through Communist Party circles. Everyone recalled the Chinese idiom "Dongshan Zai Qi" (Sun will rise again), which is based on an ancient story about a general who secluded himself, growing old on Dongshan Ridge, only to launch a comeback and defeat a 1-million-strong army.

Decoding the scream

The ancient general, who may be haunting Beijing today, led a vastly smaller number of Eastern Jin dynasty troops to a resounding victory over their Former Qin rivals in 383. The Eastern Jin dynasty was based in what is today Jiangsu Province, while the Former Qin, founded by a different ethnic group, was based in what is now Shaanxi Province.

     The Jiang family and Zhou hail from Jiangsu, while Xi's family is from Shaanxi.

     The visit to the mountain by the Jiang family, which has been kept on the defensive by Xi, is seen by many as a sign that the Jiang clan is ready for a counter offensive.

     Alarmed by Jiang's move, the Xi administration immediately ordered all articles and photos posted online about the former leader's trip to be pulled and issued a gag order on further media coverage.

Preemptive strike

The Chinese leadership wasted no time attacking Jiang's forces. On Jan. 4, investigators brought Nanjing's top official to Beijing from Jiangsu Province to face charges of corruption.

     Two days later, Jiang Mianheng, the eldest son of former leader Jiang Zemin, abruptly resigned as head of the Shanghai branch of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences. Mianheng has dominated China's telecommunications industry.

     The resignation came immediately after Mianheng, 63, returned from the Hainan trip. Although he cited his age in resigning, rumors are rife that Mianheng quit under pressure from the Chinese leadership.

     Xi is thought to be eliminating political rivals so he can install allies at the Communist Party's next national congress in 2017. People close to Jiang have been frequent targets of this crackdown.

Another tale

Another figure from Chinese history who may be on people's minds these days is Jianzhen, a Buddhist monk who was born in what is now Jiangsu Province in 688. After failing in five successive attempts to travel to Japan, he drifted to Hainan Island -- where he made his way to Dongshan Ridge.

     After coming down from the mountain, Jianzhen successfully reached Japanese soil on his sixth attempt.

     When Jiang Zemin prayed at the Chaoyin Temple, he may well have been pondering Jianzhen's success after visiting Dongshan Ridge.

     It remains to be seen whether Jiang's widely publicized howl was a death shriek or a war cry marking the start of a new chapter in China's power struggle.

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