Mao's successor, 'Wise Leader' Hua Guofeng, dies in Beijing aged 87


CHINA:CHAIRMAN MAO Zedong's anointed successor, Hua Guofeng, who held power briefly in China before reformists banished him from the pinnacle of the Communist Party, died in Beijing yesterday.

Hua, "Wise Leader" to Mao's "Dear Leader" and the third of Mao's hand-picked successors after Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao, was the only one to survive being chosen for this famously perilous role.

Hua became Communist Party chairman in 1976, having supported Mao's Cultural Revolution, a 10-year period of political tumult which led to widescale chaos and saw millions hounded and persecuted, and Mao famously told him on his death bed: "With you in charge, my heart is at ease".

Soon after Mao's death, Hua made the order which secured his place in history when he approved a military plot to arrest Mao's widow, Jiang Qing, and other members of the Gang of Four who were blamed for Mao's excesses during the Cultural Revolution.

Hua wasn't in charge for long - the wily Deng Xiaoping, restored to his political positions after being persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, dispatched Hua to the political wilderness as he began his programme of economic reform.

Deng accused him of being "chief whateverist" and Hua resigned as premier in September 1980. He was replaced by economist Zhao Ziyang, a protégé of Deng, and the following year, Deng had Hua replaced as party secretary general by Hu Yaobang. Deng subsequently purged both Zhao and Hu.

The Cultural Revolution was condemned, and Mao's era was reassessed as "70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad".

Hua faded from public life soon after, although he remained on the Central Committee.

Born to a poor family in Shanxi province in 1921, Hua became a guerrilla fighter in Mao's Communist movement at 15 when it was fighting Chiang Kai-shek's ruling Nationalists.

The young cadre Hua first impressed the Great Helmsman with his idealism in 1954. In 1959 he was made provincial party chief in Mao's home province of Hunan, and his skill at charting a middle ground during the Cultural Revolution saw him rise through the ranks, unlike Mao's other two heir apparents - Liu Shaoqi was purged and died of injuries sustained in custody, while Mao's second heir apparent, Lin Biao, died in a mysterious plane crash in 1971.

Hua was named vice-premier in 1975 and then premier, succeeding the deceased Zhou Enlai.

Little is known about Hua's final years.

Some reports said he resigned from the party for health reasons in 2001.