After eight months Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo feng seems to be securely in power, boosted by a publicly campaign that has ignored his political and economic problems and the ceaseless foreign speculation over the powers behind his throne.
Although Hua's second-in-command, 79-year-old, Defense Minister Yeh Chien-ying, is often mentioned prominently, photos, articles, songs and poems devoted to Chairman Hua far outweigh those accorded any other living Chinese leader. Even more striking is the unabashed effort to link Hua with Mao Tse-tung.
"Chairman Mao frequently went on inspection tours to study and investigate and to detect problems and solve them. Chairman Hua has been acting in the same way," Yeh reminded listeners in a nationally publicized speech last month. "We must follow Chairman Hua's example and study earnestly to master the Marxist-Leninist methods of work that Chairman Mao always advocated."
There are still some rocks in Hua's path to the kind of supreme authority enjoyed by Mao. The Chinese expect to hold a national party congress later this year, and this is traditionally an occasion when political careers rise and fall.
Reports out of China now say that former Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping, who was regarded as a potential rival to Hua, has pledged his allegiance to the new chairman. Teng's public rehabilitation has yet to be announced. But it would be extraordinarily difficult, given the requirements of Chinese history and the media buildup of the last eight months, for even the most powerful of Peking factions to oust Hua from the chairmanship now. Hua may have been carrying water for Yeh and other army leaders when he purged a dogmatist clique led by Mao's widow, Chiang Ching, in October and took the chairmanship, but he can no longer be considered just a front man.
A successful eight-month effort to place Hua's picture nearly everywhere in China eight next to Mao's has given Hua a lever he can use against any challenger. Aging astute power-brokers like Yeh and Teng appreciate what a blow it would be to the government's fragile credibility and legitimacy if Hua were to disappear suddenly after such a buildup. Hua, certainly no less aware of this, can use the fact to his advantage.
Hua and his backers have learned a lesson from Mao, who appreciated the potency of Chinese memories of 3,000 years under a supreme and exalted emperor.
Mao allowed the Communist press to create a certain imperial aura for him at the same time it was denouncing the dynasties that ruled China in the past. Mao once admitted to knowing what he was doing, telling American journalist Edgar Snow in 1965, "Probably Mr. Khrushchev fell because he had no cult of personality at all."
Hua has gone to great lengths to wrap Mao's cloak about him. The Chinese appear to find nothing maudlin or inappropriate about this.
A color painting has been distributed throughout the country showing an alert and healthy Mao, four months before his death, sitting with his hand resting on Hua's hand. the caption reads, "With you in charge I'm at ease."
A visitor to the model Tachai brigade in Shansi province noticed a photo of Hua at the brigade and remarked how much he resembled Mao when wearing a wide-brimmed peasant hat. The Chinese guides smiled with delight at the remark.
Hua, at 57 younger than most of the rest of the China Politburo, has emphasized the vigor of his leadersip with well-publicized tours of three Manchurian provinces, a visit to earthquake-shattered Tangshan and a long article giving his personal interpretation of Mao's works.
One edition of the People's Daily printed 16 separate photos of Hua. Individual provinces have opened photo exhibits showing Hua on visits to their areas.
The campaign to create for Hua the image of a wise and benevolent father reached its pinnacle, perhaps, in a front-page People's Daily article May 31 decorated with drawings of smiling children entitled, "Three Orphans Named Hua."
It told of three orphan girls, aged 9, 8 and 3, whom Hua met on an inspection trip when he was a Hunan county official in the 1950s. Two were blind and one was emaciated, but he showed "the same love for them as for his own daughters . . . Each girl took Hua's name for her own and under his care they learned to live productive, happy lives," the article said.
The Chinese recognized that Hua still has little of Mao's charisma. Their photos are displayed side by side, but Mao's has no identification - because he needs none - while Hua's photo is carefully labeled, "Chairman Hua Kuo-feng."