World News

The World

The old tiger prevails again, but his enemies grow bolder

HAROLD ELLITHORPE April 19 1976
World News

The World

The old tiger prevails again, but his enemies grow bolder

HAROLD ELLITHORPE April 19 1976

The World

The old tiger prevails again, but his enemies grow bolder

World News

Soldiers of the Peking garrison command stood wary guard before the Great Hall of the People. Truckloads of militiamen camped inside the walls of the Forbidden City. Nearby, China’s politburo met secretly to name a new premier—and oust the candidate hated by Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Peking wore the air of a city in the midst of a coup d’etat. Workers cleaned up debris from a burnt police barracks. Hulks of overturned automobiles were carted away. The huge Tien An Men Square—92 acres of open pavement before the Gate of Heavenly Peace—was cleansed of all evidence of the worst riot in Peking since 1919.

The 19-member politburo, acting on a proposal by China’s aging chairman, voted quickly to approve Public Security Minister Hua Kuo-feng as full premier and to remove Vice-premier Teng Hsiao-ping from “all posts” in the state, army and party. The rapidity of events stunned China-watchers, accustomed to a slower pace. Since late January, Mao and his younger, radical followers had been waging a strident campaign against Teng, alleging the diminutive “Napoleon of Szechuan” was a “capitalist-roader” who wanted to “reverse the verdicts of the great proletarian cultural revolution” of the 1960s. It was clear that Mao did not want the Vice-premier to succeed Chou En-lai as premier—or, later, himself as chairman. In a compromise, a temporary, “acting” premier was named in early February, the almost unknown First Secretary of the party—Hua, from Hunan province.

As minister of public security, Hua was supposedly capable of keeping the factions under control while the politicians fought out who would succeed Chou. At first, Mao seemed to have the upper hand. Starting at Peking’s Tsinghua University and in the radical-controlled mass media, Mao’s fiery propagandists vilified Teng. He was accused of diluting Mao’s strict dogma to “take class struggle as the key link” by making it equal with two other directives, to promote economic production and to strive for stability and unity. Teng was believed to have drawn up a broad economic plan to take China into the twenty-first century as a world power. This plan was first outlined in 1975 by then premier Chou. Details were undoubtedly approved before Chou’s death from cancer in early January. The scheme calls for “four modernizations” during the fifth five-year plan (1976 to 1980), laying a base for industrialization intended to make China a super-power by the year 2000.

The Chou-Teng plan apparently enraged Mao at a January meeting of the party following Chou’s funeral. Still a visionary puritan, Mao saw in the program the fizzling of his dream of a purely Communist man. At 82, he remains deeply committed to creating an austere egalitarian society in China, and all policies and programs must have this vision as their core and goal.

Government officials and economic technicians trying to modernize a nation of 800 million people want an end to Mao’s purification campaigns and a start toward progress. Teng, once purged with his former boss, Liu Shao-chi, during the Cultural Revolution, represented the moderate viewpoint with an acid tongue. He brought back hundreds of formerly purged officials to man the nation’s ministries, provincial committees, factories and schools. Many had old scores to settle with the Maoists. Clearly, a “revisionist evil wind” was blowing, and Mao felt threatened. He chose to strike before Teng could occupy the empty chair of Chou, the master compromiser who patiently built the coalition which brought China out of chaos.

As Mao’s campaign spread, factional feuding broke out in a few industrial centres. Mao’s polemicists complained of “obstructionist counter-revolutionaries.” They bleated unconvincingly that they, too, were interested in increasing production and in advancing the “four modernizations” in agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. To observers, it appeared Mao’s campaign was in trouble.

As the Ching Ming festival (April 4) approached, it was evident that a climax was building. A crucial politburo meeting was scheduled. On Sunday, thousands of schoolchildren and Peking residents suddenly appeared to pay homage to Chou in Tien An Men Square. Mao must have been shocked. Here was a massive outpouring of sentiment for his former deputy—and on the day which is the most Confucian of all Chinese holidays. After three years of a strident Mao-inspired, anti-Confucian campaign, this homage was a most stinging affront.

Flowers in Chou’s memory piled up 12 feet high, and were hauled away during the night. The next morning 100,000 workers and students rioted, burning autos, beating university radicals bloody, forcing policemen to make humiliating confessions, and reading poems of praise to the memory of Chou. Peking’s mayor, Wu Teh, a firm follower of Mao, appealed to the crowds but was ignored. It wasn’t until late Monday night that militiamen felt safe enough to clear out the remaining rioters. Mao summoned his politburo Tuesday, drummed Teng out of his positions of power, and made Hua Kuo-feng prime minister, a post Chou had had for more than a quarter of a century.

Hua is a mystery. He appeared in the early 1950s in Mao’s home province of Hunan as a local party official. He is believed to have been born in Northern Shensi province about 1915, and to be married. He rose slowly but steadily in Hunan, eventually becoming the party’s first secretary there. He reportedly helped plot the downfall of Marshal Lin Piao and the purge of Lin’s followers in 1971 and 1972. Lin Piao, like Hua today, was Mao’s “heir apparent.” He supposedly died in a flaming air crash in Outer Mongolia after attempting a coup against Mao in September, 1971.

Within a month of Lin’s death Hua moved to Peking, where he worked quietly until being named public security minister a year ago. Now he has leaped over other qualified candidates. Hua is known to be a party man and politically shrewd. His choice appears to be a compromise between the Mao radicals and the moderates.

Mao may have won the Teng battle, but not yet the war to which his life has been dedicated. Significantly, the same morning Teng was purged, China’s most respected economics expert, Vice-premier Li Hsiennien, reappeared. He had not been seen since mid-January, when he was thought to be under the same “capitalist-roader” onus as Teng. His reappearance is assurance that the moderates have wrung

a major concession from the Maoists.

A poem laid with the wreaths Monday ended with a pledge: “The day modernization in four fields is realized, we shall come back to offer libations and sacrifices.” Libations not to Mao, but to Chou En-lai. From the grave, Chou may achieve what he could not do when alive: fill Mao’s post as leader of all China. Teng owed his return from oblivion to Chou, as did Li Hsien-nien and hundreds of others. Hua Kuo-feng, a party politician who now inherits Chou’s post, may have to battle more ghosts than he and his secret police can handle.

HAROLD ELLITHORPE