Was conversing friends about political succession since Mao and how to interpret reports coming out of Beijing and Guangzhou with respect to Shenzhen’s political status and symbolic valence within the national imaginary. Their 15 year old daughter was at the table, politely ignoring us, when someone mentioned Hua Guofeng (华国锋). She lifted her eyes and asked, “Who?”
Her father explained Mao’s appointed heir had been at the center of a political struggle with Deng Xiaoping to decide if China would continue Maoist policies or pursue reform. This struggle ended with a coup d’etat and the Sino-Vietnamese War as Deng Xiaoping gained political control by securing support of military leaders and high-ranking Party commissars. We then mused about the relationship between violence and political succession, even if indirectly, because Jiang Zemin (江泽民) only became Deng’s appointed successor in the aftermath of Tian’anmen and Zhao Ziyang‘s (赵紫阳) fall.
All this to say, that dinner I experienced a We Didn’t Start the Fire moment with post Cold War Chinese characteristics — recent history actually is this easily forgotten. Or more to the point, I realized (again!) the extent that what we know of recent history comes only as events disrupt our daily lives. Continue reading