Born in 1926 in Yangzhou, Jiangsu, Jiang Zemin graduated from Shanghai Jiaotong University with a degree in electronic engineering, and rose up in state-owned factories and government agencies overseeing industries. He was promoted to China's top power bench soon after the bloody crackdown on student movement in Beijing in 1989, becoming general secretary of the Party and chairman of its Central Military Commission. He became president in 1993. He held on to the military chief job for two more years even after handing Party leadership and presidency to successor Hu Jintao in 2002-2003. He is believed to still wield massive influence on Chinese politics a decade after his retirement.
Talks prompt feelings of mutual respect
CHINESE President Jiang Zemin chose as the venue for his meeting with Mr Hurd a pavilion where the Empress Dowager Cixi held the Guangxu emperor prisoner in the final days of the Qing Dynasty.
''Good morning,'' Mr Jiang boomed in English, greeting Mr Hurd at the Yingtai Villa in the usually secret confines of Zhongnanhai.
''I think you've been here before,'' he added, perhaps missing the double meaning of his words.
The President was referring to previous trips by Mr Hurd to China, including two in 1991, during which a memorandum of understanding on Hongkong's airport was agreed. The memorandum failed to stop Sino-British bickering over the massive project.
''Welcome, welcome, I think we are old friends,'' said Mr Jiang. ''I heard you had good talks with Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with you.'' Seated in an ornately carved chair next to Mr Jiang, Mr Hurd agreed his talks with Mr Qian on foreign affairs had been ''good'' while those on Hongkong had been ''useful''.
Mr Hurd's meeting with the Chinese President had not been scheduled as of Thursday night. The fact that it took place seemed to suggest the Foreign Secretary had made an impression on his Chinese hosts.
Mr Hurd, with a tight schedule permitting little time for sight-seeing, got an unexpected windfall in Mr Jiang's choice of the Yingtai.
The villa, in the middle of the lake in Zhongnanhai, is reached via a path that winds between rockeries, flowering plants, and potted flowers with pink and white blossoms.
Crossing a white, stone bridge built in traditional Chinese style, one arrives at the Yingtai, a magnificent structure with a series of courtyards.
Mr Hurd's talks with Mr Qian at the Diaoyutai State Guest House seemed to be similarly cordial.
''I'm very glad to be here, very grateful for the welcome the Vice-Premier has given me. This visit comes at a good time, a useful time,'' Mr Hurd said.
Mr Hurd has met his Chinese counterpart on a number of occasions, the previous time being earlier this year in Paris for a signing of an international chemical weapons accord. British officials say Mr Hurd finds Mr Qian to be a reasonable man to work with.
The British Foreign Secretary woke up well ahead of the 8.30 am meeting for a walk around the Temple of Heaven in the southern part of Beijing.