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.

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