China Beat Archive



Date of this Version


Document Type



August 24, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright August 24, 2008. Used by permission.


Let’s face it: Hua Guofeng just never could get any respect. He’s the former leader of China, but was sidelined by Deng Xiaoping and relegated to the ashbin of history: the triumph of mediocrity…the Gerry Ford of Chinese politics. His death last week was greeted with a chorus of “Who? He was still alive? No kidding. How’s Liu Xiang’s ankle?”

The great Han historian Sima Qian once wrote that a man’s death could be as weighty as Mt. Tai or as light as a feather. Hua’s death was eclipsed by the achilles tendon of a 20-something hurdler/professional product endorser.

Anyway, a quick round up of Hua remembrances, such as they are:

Blood and Treasure dismisses Hua as “Chairman Who?: The only Chinese leader to qualify as an answer in a pub quiz.”

Vincent Shih argues in support of the nepotism theory: Hua as Mao’s unacknowledged son.

The BBC gives a pretty straight-ahead timeline of Hua’s career, calling him “Mao’s loyal lieutenant.”

Mure Dickey writing in the Financial Times views Hua as an example of the ‘slavish sycophancy’ Mao sought in his subordinates, and includes an anecdote from the waning days of Hua’s rule when a young man looked up at a propaganda poster celebrating Mao’s famous passing of the torch (“With you in charge, I can rest easy”) and retorted: “With you in charge, I fart.”