My first taste of that hopeful China came when I was posted to Beijing as a British diplomat. From January 1976 to January 1979, while carrying out my second posting, I followed the struggle for the succession to Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. I watched as Deng Xiaoping was struck from office in April 1976; I predicted his return, and stayed just long enough to see it happen.
The events I witnessed in Beijing during those years stirred me deeply. No sooner had Mao ordered Zhou’s corpse to be hurried away to the cemetery at Babaoshan for cremation, than factional strife broke out. Conducted in code for years, conflict between the ailing Chairman and his cronies on the one hand and those loyal to Zhou’s legacy of rational nationalism on the other was now aired openly. Soon, under the guise of denouncing Deng, the People’s Daily revealed the scope of an ambitious program of pragmatic reform on which he had been working.