Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China

Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China

James Palmer

Language: English

Pages: 296

ISBN: 046501478X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

When an earthquake of historic magnitude leveled the industrial city of Tangshan in the summer of 1976, killing more than a half-million people, China was already gripped by widespread social unrest. As Mao lay on his deathbed, the public mourned the death of popular premier Zhou Enlai. Anger toward the powerful Communist Party officials in the Gang of Four, which had tried to suppress grieving for Zhou, was already potent; when the government failed to respond swiftly to the Tangshan disaster, popular resistance to the Cultural Revolution reached a boiling point.

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

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