Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China
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In Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes, acclaimed historian James Palmer tells the startling story of the most tumultuous year in modern Chinese history, when Mao perished, a city crumbled, and a new China was born.
counter-revolutionary activity. Politics in Tangshan, then, was entertaining, ceremonial, routine, tedious – and murderous. Like almost everywhere else, Tangshan had suffered from the paranoia of the last decade. Factions fought in the streets, and a brutal wave of persecutions had been sparked off in 1967 by Chen Boda, at the time a major political figure. Moscow-educated, Chen was one of the Party’s leading theorists, and a frequent speechwriter for Mao. He had been instrumental in kicking
in the very heart of the capital. In the end, restraint won out. At 6:30 that evening, the voice of Wu De came booming from the public address system, calling on the ‘revolutionary masses’ to leave the square immediately and not be duped by ‘bad elements with ulterior motives’. He blamed the ‘right-deviationist wind’ – a reference to one of the common slogans in the campaign against Deng. It’s unlikely that anybody had a sudden moment of revelation (‘Why, yes, I am being duped by bad elements.
persecution? The sense of a bad year was worsened by yet another passing. On 6 July, Zhu De, another of the great revolutionary generals, died. It was hardly surprising, since he was eighty-nine, a former opium addict who’d nonetheless risen to become one of the country’s foremost tacticians. He’d played no major role in politics for years, having been ousted in 1966 and protected by Zhou Enlai’s support. His death aroused nowhere near the level of emotion felt for Zhou, but he was one of the
from there walked for three days to his friend’s home village, which had been relatively unaffected. Exhausted and terrified at the thought of his family’s fate, he borrowed a bike and pressed on without rest. All along the long road to Fengnan, he saw bodies on both sides, and when he got to the village, there was nobody there, only flattened remains. The only thing left standing in Fengnan was a red police box. He wandered around for several hours, convinced that everybody had died, until two
established a radical government. But the Beijing crowds, as the events of April had so vividly shown, were sick of radicals. There are three stages to a successful coup. The first is secrecy and intelligence-gathering. The second is seizing the centre and eliminating opponents. The third is presenting the outcome as both inevitable and a moral imperative. A failed coup leaves its forces reeling and vulnerable, able to be rolled up with perfect justification by the putschists’ foes. When it