Buried in the celebration of China's now inevitable dominance of the Olympic Games, Xinhua News Agency today reported the death of a former national leader and Mao Zedong's brief successor with these few words:
The Chinese Communist Party's outstanding party member, a warrior for Communism long tested in his loyalty, a revolutionary for the proletariat, who held important posts in the party and national leadership, Comrade Hua Guofeng, because of an illness that couldn't be cured, died in Beijing on August 20, 2008 at 12:50 at the age of 87.
The same words were read on a CCTV broadcast. Chinese press coverage is largely limited to this announcement and other, previous articles from Communist Party sources.
Deaths of national leaders tend to be sensitive moments for the Chinese government. The 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square were ignited by the muted official reaction to the death of ousted reformist leader Hu Yaobang. He was apparently rehabilitated after his death, and officials gave him this obit in 2005:
Comrade Hu Yaobang was a long-tested and staunch communist warrior, a great proletarian revolutionist and statesman, an outstanding political leader for the Chinese army, and a prominent leader who had long held crucial leading posts of the CPC.
The difference between Hu's and Hua's official obituaries may only be in my translation.
But Hua Guofeng, who died today, was no reformist. He was a protege of Mao, who once told him, "With you in charge, I'm at ease." He lasted only two years as national leader before rival Deng Xiaoping unseated him and began the capitalist reforms that have brought us to this moment.
I could find very little reference to him on the Chinese Web, but someone dared to reflect on his life on a MySpace discussion page in China. The cartoon policemen Jing Jing and Cha Cha pop up on the page, saluting jovially and silently reminding you to tread carefully.
And right they are. This is a tricky one. How do you resolve the--to borrow a phrase--long-tested adulation for Chairman Mao with the 30 years that have changed China so utterly since his death? How does the proletarian revolution approach the bang-up Coke-sponsored capitalist extravaganza now playing at the Bird's Nest?
Our MySpace netizen, a student, considers Hua's role in eradicating the Gang of Four, who took the blame in the history books for the outrages of the Cultural Revolution. The writer supposes that Hua went after the Gang of Four in order to solidify his own position as Mao's successor, inadvertently setting up the next three decades of history.
Chinese history actually changed because of the inclinations of Hua Guofeng. You don't believe the past could come again?
Jing Jing and Cha Cha blink their robot eyes.