Overshadowed by the Olympics, the news of the passing away of a former supreme leader of China, Hua Guofeng 华国锋, on August 20, 2008 wasn’t particularly noticed by many. I would like to use this post to pay respect to Chairman Hua, as he was once called when I was in my childhood, and offer condolences to his family and friends.
Hua was the designated successor to Mao Zedong 毛泽东, and assumed power upon Mao’s death in 1976. His reign, however, lasted only a couple of years before being ousted from power by Deng Xiaoping. Nevertheless, Hua has left his own mark in China’s history, both for ending the tumultuous Culture Revolution actively and for stepping out the way of Deng passively.
Instead of pretending to be an amateur historian in telling Hua’s life and career, let’s leave that job to the professional. I highly recommend everyone to check out Jeremiah’s excellent writeup at the Granite Studio for insights to Hua’s role in China’s history.
Hua’s death last week was greeted by a lot of ‘who cares?’ and ‘so whats?’ buried amidst the hype of China’s gold medal chase and the overall excitement of the games, but if we are to accept that the economic miracle which made the 2008 games possible begins with Deng Xiaoping, we should also remember that Deng’s elevation to power was not inevitable, and that at a time when the PRC seemed precariously fragile, Hua provided, at the very least, a steady hand on the wheel until the forces of economic reform could regroup and find a politically feasible time to emerge and lead China in a new direction. Hua was neither brilliant nor inspirational; he was the butt of jokes and the triumph of moderate mediocrity, but at a crucial moment in China’s recent past, he might just have been the right man for the job.
I think the following line, reportedly from a comment left at Tianya Forum, summarizes well Hua’s life:
[Hua Goufeng was] a nice person, an altruistic person, a moral person. His ending [i.e., living peacefully for near three decades since falling from power] is the best he could have gotten and the one he deserved. He did not have the skill/ability to chart the direction of history, but history should not forget the efforts by him and his peers.
Farewell, Chairman Hua.