Friday September 10, 1976
Copyright The Guardian
The Chinese people, sad but hardly surprised, began to consider their
future last night without their country’s “great helmsman.”
Mao Tse-tung, maker of the Chinese revolution for more than half a
century, died in Peking yesterday morning in his 83rd year. A prepared
statement from the Chinese collective leadership lamented the death of
“the greatest Marxist of the contemporary era.” It urged all Chinese
rally around the Central Committee of the Communist Party.”
Mao died just after midnight on Thursday (Peking time) according to the
Chinese radio which broadcast the news nearly 16 hours later. His death
occurred, the radio said, because of the worsening of his illness and
despite all treatment.” He had not been seen publicly since the end of
May when he briefly received his last foreign visitor, Mr Bhutto, Prime
Minister of Pakistan.
Mao has left his mark on China. He shattered traditional restraints and
urged Chinese (especially the young) to stand up and struggle for
Socialism. But his death comes uneasily soon after the major struggle
within the party leadership caused by the death of Chou En-lai in
January. In April, this led to the dismissal of Chou’s expected
successor, Teng Hsiao-ping.
Yesterday’s official announcement emphasises that the Chinese must
“resolutely uphold the unity and unification of the party,” in an
evident reference to the divisions which have appeared. It also
that China must continue to carry out Mao Tse-tung’s line on foreign
affairs – the policy which led to detente with the United States and
Peking’s entry to the United Nations.
The immediate political task (though not mentioned in the announcement)
will be to fill the position held by Mao since 1945. He was chairman of
the Chinese Communist Party. This must be done at a full session of the
part’s Central Committee, but this body was badly split earlier this
year over the case of Teng. It may find it difficult to decide on Mao’s
There is no obvious candidate who can match Mao’s ability to reconcile
different political factions. The man with most influence in the party
is Vice-Premier Chang Chun-chiao who helped Mao lead the Cultural
Revolution. But Premier Hua Kuo-peng, as the party’s first
Vice-Chairman, could hold the ring.
Other possible names include those of the radical theorist Yao
and the party Vice-Chairman, Wang Hung-wen, though both are
comparatively young. Mao’s outspoken wife, Chiang Ching, is unlikely to
be widely supported and could now be vulnerable to criticism for her
recent behaviour. A popular figure, though lacking political
is the peasant leader, Chen Yung-kuei.
Mao has not appeared before the Chinese public since May Day, 1971, but
he held frequent and lively meetings with foreign visitors until his
withdrawal in June this year.
In one of his last audiences, Mao again showed his liking for friends
China and enemies of the Soviet Union by welcoming ex-President Nixon
Mao was believed to have had at least two strokes in his last years,
no official bulletins were issued about his health.
He is thought to have suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, although this
was held in check by drugs for a long time. Even when his speech began
to deteriorate he still showed his usual zest to grasp fresh
and to sum up the affairs of the world in his sweeping confident style.
Mao was a complex man behind simple slogans. He led China on a
successful but difficult path – particularly in the latest years of
Cultural Revolution. He has commanded admiration perhaps more than
respect as much as affection, never speaking nor circulating widely in
public. In spite of the personal hagiography it was the thought, above
all, which inspired so many millions.
There will be grief and, more generally, a sense of loss and
without the man who so overwhelmingly shaped the feature of the new
Mao’s strong anti-Soviet views became even more pronounced in his last
years. Some toning-down may now be expected here, although the broad
lines and interests of Peking’s diplomacy are well established.
At home, Mao’s “general line” of economic development, with its
on agriculture as the base for industrialisation, is widely accepted in
spite of fierce arguments about ways and means.
The real question is whether the present emphasis on “class struggle”
between what are regarded as the “antagonistic” forces of “the
proletariat and the bourgeoisie” will be maintained, with all its
factional overtones, after Mao’s death.
Mao’s failure to find his “chosen successor” – two (Liu Shao-chi and
Plao) fell by the wayside – must mar his enormous achievements. Yet the
positive benefit of encouraging large numbers of Chinese to question
challenge bureaucratic authority could eventually transform China.
“So many deeds cry out to be done …” Mao wrote in his most famous
poem. “Ten thousand years are too long. Seize the day! Seize the hour
Much of the strength of the China which Mao has left behind lies in
confident assertion for the future.