Hua Guofeng: Hats Off!

While we wait for Jeremiah at Jottings from the Granite Studio to say something substantive, I’d like to put in another good word for Hua, the man with the goofy smile. I’ve made my share of jokes about him, such as saying that it was strange that the mere governor of a province would think he could move up to the job of running China — why it would be like the governor of say, Georgia or Arkansas thinking that he was qualified to be president of the United States.

But there are important things about him which deserve our respect. The arrest of the Gang of Four was probably the single most important political stroke of its time. During the Cultural Revolution, anybody with power had abused it, but somebody had to take the fall in order to get on with things. When I first went to China, people would say “Gang of Four” and hold up five fingers, the fifth being “he who must not be named.”

That’s pretty obvious, but it was not obvious that Hua would not have the Gang of Four taken out and shot or just “shot while resisting arrest.” The legitimacy of their trial was not that great in procedural terms, though far above Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s and certainly above the secret administrative procedures which condemned hundreds of thousands of Chinese as “rightists” in earlier years. But the basic injustice was that so many other wrongdoers got off. Still, Hua deserves credit for starting on the right foot.

Though it says more about Deng than about Hua, we also need to observe is that after Deng edged him out Hua went on to a quiet career and died in bed. That’s big. Neither of Mao’s two previous successors did — Lin Biao and Liu Shaoqi — and Zhao Ziyang died under house arrest. Being Mao’s successor was like being next in line for a shave from Sweeney Todd, and Hua pulled it off.

So say what you want, China could have done a lot worse than Hua!


  1. 1. Hua was threatened by the Gang of Four, before he ordered them arrested.

    2. Hua had no choice but to keep quiet. He did not have any real supporters. He was all alone. All he had was the confidence of a dead man, Mao. Lin Biao and Liu Shaoqi had support from some factions of PLA. Just not enough support of the PLA.

  2. Well put, Bill — I’d agree that it was at least as much the situation as it was Hua personally. But the support from the PLA didn’t Lin & Liu much good.

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