Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 15:56 UK

Hua: Man briefly at China's helm

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Hua Guofeng, former Chinese leader who has died aged 87
Hua was briefly in the spotlight, but is now seen as an obscure figure
Hua Guofeng's time as China's leader was brief, but pivotal - he brought an end to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and paved the way for economic reforms.

Those reforms turned China into a world power, said Dr Steven Tsang of the UK's Oxford University.

Hua, who has died aged 87, "might have only been in power for a short time, but what he did was very significant", Dr Tsang told the BBC.

When China's great revolutionary leader Mao Zedong died in 1976, the country was in tatters after 10 years of in-fighting during the Cultural Revolution.

Mao had launched the political campaign a decade earlier to change the way Chinese people lived and thought. It resulted in chaos.

But even Mao's death did not bring an end to the campaign. His loyal supporters - most notably the Gang of Four - wanted it to continue.

After apparently being anointed the next leader by Mao on his deathbed, Hua Guofeng took charge of the state, party and military.


He immediately arranged for the arrest of the Gang of Four, bringing an end to the Cultural Revolution.

He was loyal and honest, but he wasn't very good at his job
Unnamed man

"His major contribution to China's development was to stage the coup so efficiently," said Dr Tsang, of St Anthony's College.

Hua's time at the top did not last long. By 1978 he had been out-manoeuvred by the reformer Deng Xiaoping.

The two men clashed over the vision of how China was to develop: Hua wanted to return to state planning, while Deng wanted capitalist-style reforms.

After he lost the argument, Hua also lost his top jobs. He was forced to relinquish his posts as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and state premier.


Hua remained in the higher echelons of the party for the next two decades, but China changed so much and so fast that his name has slipped into obscurity.

While Mao, Deng and more recent leaders are still praised by China's current bosses for their visionary leadership, Hua is hardly mentioned.

His name does not seem to register much with Chinese people either.

"He was loyal and honest, but he wasn't very good at his job," said one man who lived through the Hua Guofeng era.

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