(CHINA from MAO to DENG – continued)
Mao wished to rebuild China's Communist Party, and a Ninth Party Congress was held in April 1969. There, a new Party constitution was adopted. With sixty percent of the former Party membership having been purged during the Cultural Revolution, room existed for new people within the Party. Two-thirds of those attending the congress were in military uniform – reflecting the power of the minister of defense, Lin Biao. New Party members were to be limited to people of humble origins. Lin Biao was named Mao's successor, and he denounced his old comrade from pre-revolutionary days, and his former rival, Liu Shaoqi. Liu, he said, was a "traitor and a scab." Liu Shaoqi had been put in prison during the cultural revolution, and he was to die in prison later that same year.
After the Party Congress, Mao moved to reduce the role of the military within the Party, and he moved against Lin Biao, for reasons not easily ascertained. Perhaps Mao had come to see Lin Biao as too opportunistic and too powerful. Zhou Enlai was also opposed to Lin Biao. Zhou wished to reduce the role of the military in Party affairs. Unlike Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai favored improving relations with the capitalist powers. Lin Biao favored instead, an unending class struggle.
Mao visited regional military commanders and criticized Lin Biao. And Lin Biao was obliged to humble himself with public self-criticism. Reports suggest that Lin Biao's son, apparently outraged over the treatment of his father, tried to strike back and to uphold his father's standing in the Party. Lin Biao is said to have become involved in his son's conspiracy – a conspiracy, it is claimed, that intended to assassinate Mao. Someone kept the government informed of Lin Biao's activities. The official story from China is that the government moved against Lin Biao and on September 13, 1971 Lin Biao and his wife fled in an aircraft that crashed in Mongolia, killing all aboard.
With Lin Biao out of the way, Zhou Enlai's opening to the West took the form of what became known as ping-pong diplomacy. A ping-pong team from the United States that had been competing in Japan accepted an invitation to China. The friendliness involved in the ping-pong matches in China was a sensation in the US press, and a new atmosphere in relations arose between the United States and China. China was making gains in foreign affairs. It was admitted to the United Nations in October, 1971. And in February 1972, President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, journeyed to China.
The United States announced its recognition of Taiwan as a part of China and it announced interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue between the Chinese. Nixon and Mao exchanged pleasantries. Nixon flattered Mao with the comment that his writings had moved China and "changed the world," to which Mao responded that he had been able to change "only a few places around Beijing."
Mao was now 79 and suffering from Parkinson's disease. He had regrets over the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and many people in China had regrets about Mao. The Great Leap Forward had tarnished his image within China, as had the demise of Lin Biao. In 1972 Lin Biao was officially declared as having been a "renegade and a traitor." Some people found fault with Mao for having previously praised Lin Biao, wondering how a man who was supposed to be wise had been so wrong about Lin Biao.
Conflict continued within the Party over which direction China should take. Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, favored belligerence toward the capitalist powers, her hostility having been apparent to President Nixon during his visit. She was still advocating cultural purity, and she attacked people being interested in Schubert, Beethoven and other Western composers.
Deng Xiaoping, who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution, was restored to prominence in the Party. On 8 January 1976, Deng's ally, Zhou Enlai, died of cancer. Mourning for Zhou was widespread. Deng gave the eulogy, but a rival, Hua Guofeng, was elevated to fill Zhou Enlai's position as Party leader. Deng was still thought by some as a "capitalist roader."
Students in Beijing, still clinging to Maoist idealisms, demonstrated in favor of rights for the poor and denounced "revisionists and capitalist roaders." Rival demonstrations also erupted. On April 5, thousands critical of Mao rioted at Tiananmen Square after finding that tributes placed there for Zhou Enlai the day before had been removed. Police cars were set afire. The outburst was quelled by security forces and an urban workers' militia, who arrested as many as 4,000 demonstrators. Deng was suspected of having encouraged the demonstration regarding tributes to Zhou, and those in the Party opposed to Deng rallied against him. Deng was purged again, but he was allowed to keep his Party membership.
Meanwhile, Mao's health was fading. On September 9, 1976, almost 27 years after he had declared the creation of the People's Republic of China, Mao died. A week of mourning was declared. The Soviet Union sent no condolences. Around 300,000 people filed by Mao's body and casket at the Great Hall of the People, at Tiananmen Square, but there was less emotion than had been expressed with the death of Zhou Enlai.
Hua Guofeng was declared Mao's successor as Party Chairman, and Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and three of her fellow cultural revolutionaries were imprisoned and named the "Gang of Four." Hua Guofeng made a vague and confusing play toward compromise by announcing his plan to "obey whatever Mao had said" and to continue "whatever [Mao] had decided." Across China, Hua Guofeng's policy became known derisively as the "two whatevers." Hua Guofeng's association with Mao was of little asset, and Hua Guofeng's standing in the Party faded.
Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.