Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Tragedy at Wuhan - Guest Post from Today in Alternate History

In 1966 on July 16, on this heart-breaking day of national tragedy and sorrow, Chairman Mao Zedong expired from a heart attack in Wuhan. He had participated earlier in a great Crossing-the-Yangzi event. Intended as a celebration of his vitality by marking a similiar event on the Long River ten years earlier (prompting his penmanship of a poem called "Swimming") instead the years of smoking and excess had taken their toll on the "Great Helmsman" and having over-exerted himself, he was dead, aged seventy-three.

However, he had been more or less forced to take this calculated risk in his doomed attempt to regain power that had slipped through his hands during the Cultural Revolution. Instead, the two major figures of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping vied for power and ultimately, Deng would emerge as the "paramount leader" of the People's Republic of China for the next three decades even though he never actually served in the official capacity as head of state. Ironically, Deng had been close to being forced out of the Chinese elite when the Chairman had made his fateful trip to Wuhan. But as Mao himself had written "A Single spark can start a prairie fire."

Out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution Deng's brilliant leadership would steer China towards an exhilarating future that few could have imagined in the disaster that was 1966. President Nixon would recognize "Red China" during his first term and he personally traveled to Beijing to regularize relations between two super-powers. In an unguarded and unexpectedly generous comment, he even described the Chinese as the "ablest people in the world". After Nixon came an even more surprising guest from Taiwain, Chiang Kai-shek who would build open the American initiative by establishing detente with "White China."

After a brief interregnum, it even appeared that China might restore its status as a superpower, a status it enjoyed for fifteen hundred years after the fall of the Roman Empire. But despite appearances, Deng would urge his followers to "Seek Truth from Facts". And those facts were that the country - civilization, really - was not headed towards the restoration of a Middle Kingdom. The world around China was changing, and communism itself was in retreat. By the middle of the 1980s Deng had to decide whether or not to junk the whole of Mao's legacy, including Marxist orthodoxy itself.


Originally posted on Today in Alternate History.

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