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Mao Zedong's successor dies at 87

Latest update : 2008-08-20

Hua Guofeng, chosen by an ailing Mao Zedong as his successor in 1976, died in Beijing at the age of 87 on Wednesday.

BEIJING - Hua Guofeng, handpicked by a dying Mao Zedong in 1976 to succeed him as Chinese Communist Party chairman but later toppled by reformist leader Deng Xiaoping, died in Beijing on Wednesday.

"Because of an illness that could not be cured, Hua died on Aug. 20 at 12:50 p.m. in Beijing, at the age of 87," the official Xinhua said in a brief report.

Hua, once fondly referred to by state media as the "Wise Leader", became Party chairman in September 1976 after Mao was quoted as saying on his death bed: "With you in charge my heart is at ease".

Weeks later, Hua approved a military plot to arrest Mao's widow, Jiang Qing, and other members of her reviled Gang of Four who were blamed for Mao's excesses during the chaotic decade-long Cultural Revolution.

A young and inexperienced county-level Party boss, Hua caught Mao's eye in 1954 as an effective yet idealistic agriculture expert. The next year Mao, in an unheard-of show of confidence in a low-ranking cadre, asked Hua to give a speech before the country's most senior leaders at a key Central Committee meeting.

Shortly thereafter, Mao made him head of the Party office in the prefecture in Hunan province which has jurisdiction over Mao's birthplace, Shaoshan.

From there, Hua rose through the ranks. In 1959 he was made provincial Party chief. In the mid-1960s he weathered the early Cultural Revolution and was further elevated.

Finally, after Mao's second heir apparent, Lin Biao, died in a mysterious plane crash in 1971, Mao lined up Hua as a potential successor. As the Cultural Revolution spun out of control, the relatively obscure Hua steered a middle course.

Hua was forced to step down as premier in 1980 and Party chairman the following year, as Deng took the helm.

Date created : 2008-08-20