Friday, September 10, 1976
China's 800 million people, uncertain who will lead them in the months and years to come, yesterday began mourning the death of Chairman Mao Tse-tung at the age of 82.
The official period of mourning will continue until Saturday, September 18, when it will climax in a mass memorial rally on Tien An Mien square in the heart of Peking.
Both the decision to hold the rally and to televise and broadcast it live throughout China are unprecedented.
The announcement of Chairman Mao's death was issued jointly by the Communist Central Party Committee. The committee's military commission, the State Council and the National People's Congress. Soon after the announcement was broadcast by Peking Radio yesterday afternoon, China time, flags were being lowered to half-staff everywherein China and on Communist Chinese buildings here in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Chairman Mao died yesterday, at ten minutes past midnight, the announcement declared, despite the "meticulous care medical care...given him in every way after he fell ill." Mr. Mao's illness was not disclosed but the best available medical assessment was that he had been suffering from a combination of Parkinson's disease, emphysema and arterioscelerosis. The later conditions leads to strokes.
(According to the Reuter news agency, the death announcement was followed by funeral music on loudspeakers, radio and and television. TV screens carried a portrait of Mr. Mao.)
(Most of the throng in Tien An Men square looked choked and numb.)
(A woman in the foreigners' compound in east Peking slumped onto a stool and said: "You foreigners don't understand what this means.")
Mr. Mao's death, coinciding with the mid-autumn moon festival, which is one of China's oldest holidays, capped a year of misfortune for China. Since early January, Premier Chou En-lai has died, thousands have rioted in Tien An Men square and the world's most severe earthquake in 12 years has shaken Peking and devastated the nearby city of Tangshan.
Throughout this period, China has divided by a bitter power struggle which promises sooner or later to become deeper and more divisive because of the vacuum left by the man who led the Communists to victory in 1949 and then dominated the powere structure for the next 27 years while rivals and would-be successors fell by the wayside.
Mr. Mao's latest heir-apparent is Hua Kuo-feng, the premier and first Vice-Chairman of the Communist Party, who assumed both those positions only last April in the wake of the Tien An Men riot and the purge of Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-Ping.
Mr. Hua has had little time to establish himself at the top of the power structure and in the consciousness of the people, so it is by no means certain that he will become the new chairman of the Communist Party , the paramount political position in China.
Among other leading personalities that will be watched is Chang Chun-chiao, the man who made a reputation for himself as a radical Shanghai intellectualand ideologue during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. As one of the most powerful men in Peking, observers believe, Mr. Chang has tempered his radicalism in recent years with a certain pragmatism that makes his political stance hard to label.
Wang-Hung-wen, whose political roots are also in the Shanghai radicalism of the 1960s, now ranks only second to Premier Hua in the party hierarchy, but he is only 30 years old and is considered to lack both the reputation and experience required to become chairman.
Another figure whose political future is uncertain is Mr. Mao's widow, Chiang Ching, who has clearly played an important role in the political struggles this year. The extent which she has owed her prominence to her marital relationship should be evident in the months to come.
The official announcement outlining funeral arrangements expressed "deep gratitude" to foreigners who might want to travel to China to participate in the mourning of Mr. Mao. But it reported that the Chinese leadership had decided "not to invite foreign governments, fraternal parties or friendly personages to send delegations or representatives to take part in the mourning in China."
For a week beginning tomorrow, services will be held in the Great Hall of the people where mourners will be able to "pay their respects to the remains of Chairman Mao."
The announcement said that a three-minute period of "silent tribute" will be observed by all the people of China at three o'clock in the afternoon of Sept. 18. At the same hour, "all places and units with sirens such as trains, ships, military vessels and factories should sound their sirens for three minutes in mourning."
The funeral announcement covered the current ideological landscape in China. At oneit noted Mr. Mao's assertion that "the bourgeoisie is right in the communist party," the Clarion call of radicals who want to purge certain leading moderates in the party. Yet the announcement also stressed the need to "resolutely uphold the unity and unification of the party and closely rally round the party central committee."