Jiang Zemin's election to China's presidency in 1993 marked only the third time leadership has changed hands there since the Communist Party took power in 1949. His ascendance came as no surprise to most, since Jiang had been hand-picked by his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, for his loyalty.

In the West, Zemin's rule was viewed with cautious optimism that his openness to Western expansion into China would improve otherwise strained relations. 

Zemin was born into a family of intellectuals in August, 1926. At an early age, he was chosen to carry on the bloodline of his uncle, who was killed in combat and was an outlaw Communist. 

Jiang joined the Communist Party after graduating from Jiaotong University in Shanghai, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. Soon after, he spent time in the Soviet Union studying Stalinist economics. 

Because he was the son of a Communist martyr, Jiang's career was paved with many successes after the Communists rose to dominance. 

His involvement in politics began as the Communist Party secretary in a Shanghai factory. He later went on to become the mayor of that city and to hold various national posts including the minister of the government branch that controlled the electronics industry. 

Jiang moved to national prominence in 1982 when he was nominated to the Communist Central Committee, which elected the all-powerful Politburo. 

Later, Jiang found himself nominated for the office of party secretary, saying at the time, "I wasn't prepared for this nomination." 

Throughout his career, Jiang has been called many things, from a "prudent technocrat" to "flower vase," referring to someone with an attractive exterior who serves no real function. 

He is fluent in Russian, English and Romanian, and in his spare time he enjoys classical music and literature.