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Transitional Chinese Leader Hua Guofeng Dead at 87


Former Chinese leader Hua Guofeng, who ruled the country briefly after the death of the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong, is dead. Official media says he died Wednesday of an unspecified illness. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Hua Guofeng ended his life in political obscurity in Beijing, but at one time, he was at the peak of Chinese power.

His time in office was short-lived - only several years - and he will be best remembered as serving as a bridge between the fiery Mao Zedong and the more pragmatic Deng Xiaoping.

He enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Chinese leadership ranks during the last few years of Mao's life, and succeeded him after Mao died in 1976.

"He was someone the whole country greeted with a sigh of relief, including me in prison at the time," said Sidney Rittenberg, an American who spent decades in China and was in jail when Hua took over.

Rittenberg says Hua helped maintain stability in the country, but only played a transitional role.

"He just didn't have the vision to see what needed to be done, to see the monumental changes that China had to make in order to become a modern country," he said.

Although Hua's time at the helm of China was short, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology professor David Zweig says he left a significant legacy of non-violent leadership transition.

"Hua Guofeng peacefully went away," he said. "Deng Xiaoping didn't kill him, and just said basically, 'you lost, I win, go away.' And he did. And that, I think, was very important."

State-run Chinese media announced Hua's death late Wednesday. The brief dispatches described Hua as an outstanding member of the Chinese Communist Party and a proletarian revolutionary who once held important leading posts in the Party and Chinese government.


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