Monthly Archives: September 2020

Stolen Quote: Spaces

But let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. ~ Kahlil Gibran, on marriage, from The Prophet

And sign a prenuptial, for crying out loud.

Chapter 33: The Coup

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 33
The Coup

Hua Guofeng

Hua Guofeng was Mao’s chosen successor, but he had only held the number two position for seven months before Mao died. He was the new kid on the block, and so his influence among top Party members had not had time to gel. His position was tenuous, and he knew he was in for a tough power struggle with Jiang Qing and her powerful Gang of Four.

Jiang thought Hua was weak, and figured she’d quickly topple him. And she wasted no time in her efforts. The Gang of Four controlled state media, and shortly after Mao died, articles appeared in state-run publications about “principles” that Mao had supposedly laid down shortly before his death.

Also, urban militia groups commanded by supporters of the Gang were placed on high alert.

A meeting of the Politburo took place in late September, a few weeks after Mao’s death. Here Hua and Jiang openly clashed. Hua attacked the “principles” that had been appearing in state media. Jiang emphatically disagreed, stood up for the principles, and insisted that she be named the new Party Chairman. The Politburo was unable to decide which way to go, and ended the meeting without a ruling.

On October 4, 1976, an article appeared in state media warning that any revisionist who interfered with the principles would “come to no good end.” This was the Gang of Four telling Hua and his supporters to back off.

But for Hua, this was a life or death struggle. After all, he was up against one of the main leaders of the Cultural Revolution. He knew he had to win, or else risk persecution, imprisonment, and death by torture.

A few days after Mao’s death, Hua had made contact with General Ye Jianying to discuss what to do about the Gang of Four. Ye was a powerful man. He was a member of the Politburo, the Defense Minister, and the Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. And Ye didn’t like the Gang, so he and Hua quickly agreed to conspire against it.

They reached out to Wang Dongxing, commander of an elite unit of the Secret Service. Wang had once been the chief of Mao’s personal bodyguard force, and was thought to be an ally of the Gang. The Gang trusted him, so if anyone could help out with a coup, Wang was their man.

Luckily, he agreed to be part of the effort.

The conspiracy grew larger when Politburo members, Wu De and Chen Xilian joined the group. The cabal met secretly and passed notes to each other, rather than speaking out loud, in case they were being bugged. They quickly dismissed the idea of using official Party procedure to remove the Gang from power. This seemed like too much of a longshot, because the Gang had too many supporters within the Party. So they concluded that their best chances lay with using force.

They planned a coup, with all their note passing, and on October 6, 1976, they put this plan into motion. It was a Mission Impossible. A dangerous idea. But with Wang Dongxing’s invaluable help, perhaps they could pull it off.

Hua summoned three members of the Gang of Four to Zhongnanhai, which is a complex forming the central headquarters of the Communist Party of China, located adjacent to the Forbidden City. These three members were Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen.

Hua’s reason given for requesting their presence was to discuss the publication of Mao’s latest works, and the building of Mao’s Mausoleum. Meanwhile, Wang Dongxing had organized a group of Secret Service officers, who were made to swear an oath of loyalty and secrecy. They were to arrest these three Gang members at the meeting, and were instructed to shoot to kill if any resisted.

Hua and General Ye awaited their arrival. And they each showed up, one-by-one, at separate times. When they passed through the swinging door of the entrance lobby, Wang Dongxing’s men arrested them, while Hua read off the charges against them. Then they were held at a lower level of the Zhongnanhai.

Zhang and Yao gave up without a fight. However, according to one historian, Wang Hongwen pulled out a gun and shot and killed two of Wang Dongxing’s men, before he was wounded and taken into custody. This could be true, as Wang Hongwen had gained national fame during the Cultural Revolution for his feats of bravery while fighting establishment forces in Shanghai.

Now all that was left was Mao’s widow, Jiang. She was also at the Zhongnanhai, in a different area, and oblivious to what was happening to her fellow Gang members. She was conducting a “Study Mao’s Work” session with her aides. After the study session ended, she took a few aides over to nearby Jingshan Park to pick apples. Here she was apprehended and arrested by Zhang Yaoci, one of Wang Dongxing’s men.

The arrest was easy, almost anticlimactic. She didn’t put up a fight. Nor did she say much. But as she was being led away, one of her servants spat at her. Apparently, Madame Mao was not well liked by those who worked for her.

That same evening, a task force was sent to occupy the Party’s propaganda headquarters, and take over the broadcast and TV stations of Beijing. Another group was sent to Shanghai, which was the Gang of Four’s main power base, to ensure nobody there rebelled against the coup.

The Gang of Four was sent to Qicheng prison in northwestern Beijing, where they would spend the next four years awaiting trial.

The next day, October 7, 1976, the Politburo met, and Hua Guofeng was named to the posts of Chairman of the Communist Party Central Committee, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. The coup was complete. Hua was now safe as Mao’s successor, and the Cultural Revolution was finally brought to an end.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 34: Trial of the Gang of Four.

Chapter 32: The Death of Mao Zedong

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 32
The Death of Mao Zedong

Jiang Qing, or Madame Mao, as she was also called, was ambitious to succeed her husband, Mao, upon his death. She wanted to be the next leader of China. But she was not very concerned about Mao’s selection of Hua Guofeng as his successor. Hua seemed like a placable, biddable pushover of a man. And this was probably why Mao had selected him. Mao preferred puppets.

When the time came for a showdown, Jiang felt confident she could easily depose Hua, or become his new marionettist.

And Mao’s health was failing, so it seemed a succession showdown could come at any time. He’d been a chain-smoker most of his adult life, and he had heart and lung disease. He’d suffered a stroke in 1972. And in March 1976, he had a major heart attack.

His last public appearance occurred on May 27, 1976. In July 1976, he suffered a second major heart attack. Then on September 5, 1976, his third major heart attack of the year left him hospitalized as an invalid.

Jiang, the ringleader of the Gang of Four, came to visit him in the hospital. But there was no sincere wish for his well-being. They had been separated for several years now, and their marriage was on the rocks, although few people knew about this.

She was allowed to tend to him, but the way she tended to him raised eyebrows with the medical staff. They warned her she was causing more harm than good, but she insisted on continuing this form of “care.”

Mao’s organs began to fail soon after Jiang’s arrival. His condition deteriorated rapidly. And shortly after midnight, on September 9, 1976, Chairman Mao Zedong passed away from this Earth on a trajectory for wherever the souls of calloused, murderous tyrants are delivered. He was 82 years old.

He was still a hero with the people, in spite of the events since Zhou’s death, so many Chinese were deeply saddened by the news of Mao’s passing. His body lay in state at the Great hall of the People for one week, giving one million Chinese a chance to pay their respects. Many openly wept.

On September 18, 1976, a three-minute silence was observed nationwide, in Mao’s honor. However during this time, some people chose to fire guns, blow whistles, and sound horns. A million people packed into Tiananmen Square, where a band played the socialist standard, The Internationale. Finally, Hua Guofeng, the new leader of China, stood atop Tiananmen Gate and delivered a eulogy.

Mao had wanted cremation, but Jiang Qing demanded that he be embalmed and put on public display, similar to Lenin’s body. So his corpse was preserved in formaldehyde and eventually put on permanent display in 1977, in a mausoleum in Tiananmen Square. It remains there to this day, in a dimly lit chamber, watched by a military honor guard, and with an orange light shining upon his head.

The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, in Tiananmen Square, is a very popular tourist attraction. Photo by Yongxinge. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 33: The Coup.

Chapter 31: The Tiananmen Incident

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 31
The Tiananmen Incident

After his death, Mao worried that if Zhou was publicly mourned, people would turn against him and his Cultural Revolution policies, which they knew Zhou had been trying to reverse or moderate. So only one official memorial ceremony was held, on January 15, 1976, at the Great Hall of the People, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

At that ceremony, Zhou’s friend and designated successor, First Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, delivered the eulogy, which included this personal tribute to Zhou’s character:

“He was open and aboveboard, paid attention to the interests of the whole, observed Party discipline, was strict in dissecting himself and good at uniting the mass of cadres, and upheld the unity and solidarity of the Party. He maintained broad and close ties with the masses and showed boundless warmheartedness towards all comrades and the people . . . We should learn from his fine style—being modest and prudent, unassuming and approachable, setting an example by his conduct, and living in a plain and hard-working way.”

This statement was interpreted by the suspicious Mao as a subtle way to criticize him and the Gang of Four, because their characters did not come anywhere close to that of Zhou’s. Deng had already been a target of their persecution, and after this eulogy they stepped up their efforts against him.

With Mao’s permission, the Gang of Four launched a Criticize Deng campaign. It was successful. First Vice Premier Deng had been expected to succeed Zhou as Premier, but instead, on February 4, 1976, another Vice Premier, Hua Guofeng, was chosen for the job.

After Zhou’s funeral, Jiang and her Gang of Four launched the Five No’s Campaign, to prevent public displays of grieving. This campaign forbade honoring Zhou’s death, and instructed that there was to be: no wearing black armbands, no mourning wreaths, no mourning halls, no memorial activities, and no handing out photos of Zhou.

You can only push people so far, and the Chinese people had had enough. Resentment over the Cultural Revolution had been building. The Five No’s backfired, as the public turned against Mao and the Gang of Four. They said no to the Five No’s, and refused to comply. So more propaganda campaigns were attempted by the Gang against Zhou’s memory. But these only led to stronger resentment toward Mao and the Gang.

Millions of mourners in Tiananmen Square, honoring Zhou Enlai.

Tensions boiled over in what became known as the Tiananmen Incident. April 4, 1976, was the eve of the annual Qingming Festival, where Chinese pay homage to their deceased ancestors. That morning, thousands of people spontaneously gathered around the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square, and commemorated the life and death of Zhou Enlai. They laid wreaths, banners, placards, written homages, and flowers at the base of the monument.

This mass of common people also criticized Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four for their attacks on Zhou, and there were even a few brickbats slung at Mao and his Cultural Revolution.

By day’s end, up to two million people visited Tiananmen Square to pay tribute, from the lowest peasants to high-ranking military officials. It seemed a popular revolt was underway, yet it was completely spontaneous, with no coordination from any leadership.

Similar spontaneous mourning incidents occurred elsewhere in China, including Zhengzhou, Kunming, Tiyuan, Changchun, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Guangzhou (Canton).

The next day more crowds arrived at Tiananmen Square, only to discover that the police had removed all the tributes that had been left by the masses the day before. A riot ensued, and police cars were set on fire. Over 100,000 people forced their way into government buildings that surrounded the square.

The crowd finally dispersed that evening, and the police managed to arrest hundreds of those rioters who had lingered on the scene. They were sentenced to hard labor, but were later pardoned by Deng Xiaoping, after he finally managed to rise to power.

But at this point, Deng was running out of power. Mao wrongly suspected that Deng had organized the Tiananmen uprising, and on April 7, 1976, he was stripped of all his leadership positions. Deng feared for his life and fled Beijing for the relative safety of Guangzhou Province.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 32: The Death of Mao Zedong.

Chapter 30: The Death of Zhou Enlai

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 30
The Death of Zhou Enlai

Portrait of Zhou Enlai.

Zhou Enlai had been a stabilizing force in the Communist Party, and a big reason why the government was able to survive the Cultural Revolution. He was also very popular with the people. Almost as popular as Mao.

Zhou and Mao also had a history of working well together. Their history went way back to the hardscrabble, bloody days of the Civil War. Zhou had masterminded the Long March of 1934-1935, and during that march, Mao got into a power struggle against two other Communist leaders. Zhou backed Mao, and helped him to emerge victorious.

Mao’s victory in the power struggle of the Long March put Mao on top as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, and established Zhou as Vice-Chairman, in second rank behind Mao. They would both maintain high-ranking positions for the rest of their lives.

Zhou was very popular in China. He was a highly regarded national hero, and this made him almost as untouchable as Mao. Not only had he been a longtime ally of Mao, but Mao must have realized that going after him could easily backfire.

Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, were both fearful and jealous of Zhou’s popularity. Mao wisely laid off of him, but during the early years of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang was determined to somehow get to Zhou. Since she couldn’t safely attack him directly, she decided to punish him indirectly, by going after those closest to him.

She had his adopted daughter, Sun Weishi, arrested by the Red Guards. They raped and tortured her for seven months, before she finally died in prison in 1968. That same year, Jiang had the Red Guards torture and murder his adopted son, Sun Yang, in the basement of Renmin University. And again that year, Jiang forced Zhou to sign an arrest warrant for his own brother.

This must have been hell for Zhou, but he somehow survived. And he managed to maintain his sanity, as well as his commitment to the Chinese people. He did his best to mitigate the effects of the Cultural Revolution, but only met with very limited success. But it was enough success to keep the fabric of society from completely unraveling, and to maintain a small, simulacrum of moderation within the Communist Party.

Jiang hated Zhou, and the feeling was probably mutual. So after Mao named Zhou to be his successor, Jiang and her Gang of Four stepped up efforts to persecute him. In 1973 and 1974 they directed the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius campaign. This propaganda campaign cast Confucius in an unflattering light, and attempted to equate Zhou with Confucius, in order to turn public opinion against him.

In 1975, Jiang and the Gang of Four began a new campaign called, Criticizing Song Jiang, Evaluating the Water Margin. This too was an elaborate attempt to paint Zhou as a bad politician.

But these campaigns were not very successful. Zhou was almost as beloved as Mao, and the people didn’t buy into it. He was like Teflon and seemed immune to any of Jiang’s nefarious propaganda campaigns.

Mao’s opinion of Zhou had very briefly warmed in 1972, leading him to name him as his successor. But he cooled to him soon after, because he didn’t like how Zhou had been trying to reverse and modify some of the effects of the Cultural Revolution. But he knew it was too dangerous to go after him directly. Instead, he would have to wait for some sort of chance to take him out sneakily.

That opportunity presented itself in November 1972. That’s when Zhou was diagnosed with bladder cancer. But his medical team was required to report this news to Mao first. In their report, they told Mao that Zhou had an 80-90% chance of survival, with treatment, which would include immediate surgery. But Mao ordered that Zhou should not be told of this diagnosis, and that there should be no treatment nor further examinations.

By the middle of 1974, Zhou was pissing blood and probably wondering what the hell was going on. It was now impossible to hide his diagnosis, so Mao ordered surgery in June, 1974. But it was too late to be very helpful. The cancer had metastasized.

Zhou made his last public appearance in January 1975. His health went steadily downhill after that, and he died of cancer in January 1976, at the age of 77.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 31: The Tiananmen Incident.

Chapter 29: Successors

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 29

China kept Lin Biao’s death a secret for awhile, and the public was not informed of it until two months later. Meanwhile, Lin’s supporters were either quietly purged or managed to find refuge in Hong Kong.

When the public was finally notified of his death, and of Lin’s assassination attempts on Mao, people were left feeling shocked and bewildered. Lin had been Mao’s hand-picked successor. It seemed impossible that their revered leader, whom they had worshiped like a god, could make a mistake. And this mistake was a biggie. A real biggie. Suddenly Mao seemed human and fallible in the eyes of the public, and not like a god, after all.

Mao himself felt bummed out about these events. He slipped into a cafard and secluded himself. His health deteriorated, and in January 1972, he suffered a stroke.

Mao wanted a successor who would continue his legacy, but now he didn’t know who to trust for that job. He grew nostalgic for the good old days, and for his old comrades who’d been purged at the start of the Cultural Revolution.

Zhou Enlai was still the premier, in spite of attempts by Jiang Qing to have him purged along with the rest of Mao’s old buddies. And Zhou encouraged Mao to rehabilitate some of his old comrades that Jiang and Lin Biao had purged. Zhou openly blamed the excesses of the Cultural Revolution on Lin, and used that as his excuse for trying to correct these excesses. Encouraging Mao to rehabilitate his old cronies was part of Zhou’s effort to repair the damage.

Up to this point, Mao had been suspicious that Zhou wanted to reverse the Cultural Revolution. But now Mao saw Zhou in a new light, and his suspicions eased for a short while. And so he decided to choose him as his successor, much to the chagrin of his wife, Jiang Qing. Jiang wanted to be the chosen one.

Now Jiang would have to plot much more seriously to discredit Zhou and push him out of her way.

At Zhou’s urging, Mao rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping. Deng was an old comrade of Mao’s, who was a veteran of the Long March and the Civil War. Deng had also worked under Liu Shaoqi, and he’d been purged at the start of the Cultural Revolution, at the same time as Liu.

Mao now had Zhou as his successor. But Zhou also needed a successor. So he chose Deng, and in 1974, convinced Mao to appoint Deng as Vice Premier. This put Deng in the position to not only succeed Zhou, but also to succeed Mao, after Mao and Zhou’s death.

This further angered Jiang, since she had been behind Deng’s purging in 1966. She regarded Deng as competition for power, and as a counterrevolutionary. She controlled the propaganda apparatus of the Communist Party, so she decided to use her power to do something about him. In 1975 she began a campaign to discredit him.

Around this time, Mao appointed Wang Hongwen, a national hero of the Cultural Revolution, to a highly powerful position in the Politburo. Wang soon allied himself with Jiang, and against Zhou and Deng. Jiang now had three strong allies in a political clique that included herself, Wang, Yao Wenyuan (member of the Cultural Revolution Group, and the literary critic who had accused the Hai Rui play as a being a criticism of Mao), and Zhang Chunqiao (member of the Cultural Revolution Group). They were all members of the Politburo’s very influential Standing Committee, and wielded tremendous political power.

Mao dubbed them the Gang of Four.

I’m taking a short vacation, so the next installment will be a little delayed, until Wednesday, September 16th. It will be entitled, Chapter 30: The Death of Zhou Enlai.

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