Hua Guofeng has lost a rearguard action to retain chairmanship of the Chinese Communist Party. He is expected to resign at an important party central committee meeting, the so-called sixth plenum, which may be convened before the end of this month.
Mr. Hua remains chairman in name and will reappear as such "at an appropriate time," according to one informed source. (He has not been seen in public since Nov. 27.) But in fact he has already ceased functioning both as party chairman and as chairman of the party's military commission that controls China's armed forces, according to this source.
Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping, who is also vice-chairman of the military commission, has taken over the duties of the commission's chairman, while Communist Party Secretary General Hu Yaobang is exercising the functions of the party chairmanship.
(The present Constitution provides that the chairman of the party shall be chairman of the military commission. Mr. Deng's position would therefore seem to be de facto rather than de jure.)
Mr. Hua lost the military chairmanship after an enlarged Politburo meeting that met from late October to early November, it is understood. At this meeting he was supported by Politburo member Chen Yonggui as well as by Ji dengkui, Wu De, and Wang Dongxing -- members of the central committee who had lost their Politburo positions at the fifth plenum in February this year -- as well as by the first secretaries of Shansi and Hunan provinces.
These are all individuals identified with the so-called ultraleft line -- individuals who came to power during the 10 years of chaos known as the Cultural Revolution, when the "gang of four" headed by Jiang Qing (Madame Mao) held sway (1966-76).Mr. Hua himself came to power during this period.
Dengist forces were far superior numerically to those who supported Mr. Hua, but a compromise settlement provided that Mr. Hua could stay on as party chairman until the 12th Party Congress, which is to be convened next year (perhaps as early as March, perhaps as late as the summer).
Mr. Hua would then step down to a vice-chairmanship (the party currently has four vice-chairmen, headed by Mr. Deng), becoming the most junior of these vice-chairmen. After the enlarged Politburo meeting, however, strong pressure appears to have been exerted on Mr. Hua to step down earlier, with Mr. Hua resisting this pressure until receiving a joint visit from two of the party's senior leaders, Chen Yun and Li Xiannian.
Both these leaders have had their differences with Mr. Deng and represent forces within the party that are not necessarily Dengist. The upshot was that Mr. Hua agreed to resign at the sixth plenum, not the 12th Party Congress.
(A plenum is a plenary session of the party's central committee, whereas the party congress represents the entire party membership. The present central committee was elected by the 11th Party Congress in 1977. The 12th Party Congress will elect a new central committee.)
A central committee working conference to prepare for the plenum is believed to have begun on Dec. 17. A principal topic is understood to be a document giving particulars of the Hua case. Mr. Hua played a decisive role in the arrest of the gang of four in October 1976, one month after Mao's death, thus opening the way for Mr. Deng to return to power. Previously, however, as prime minister, and currently minister of public security, he was accused of having personally commanded the operation to crush the popular demonstrations commemorating Chou En-lai known as the Tien An Men incident of April 5, 1976.
Mr. Hua referred to the incident as "counterrevolutionary" and used it as the occasion to strip Mr. Deng of the vice-premiership and politburo position he was then holding.
Mr. Hua resisted Mr. Deng's return to governmental and party positions in the summer of 1977. In a meeting with Mr. Deng, Mr. Hua is understood to have laid down two conditions: first, Mr. Deng was not to become prime minister; second, that the Tien An Men incident continues to be labeled "counterrevolutionary."
Mr. Deng accepted the first condition. But as regards the second, he is understood to have said that the people would have to decide.
Today the Tien An Men incident is officially regarded as an outburst of the popular will that made inevitable the smashing of the gang of four six months later. Mr. Hua, it is now said, was only the agent of history and the will of the people.
Dengist forces are said to enjoy a comfortable majority on the central committee. What they cannot as yet be 100 percent certain of is the allegiance of the armed forces. Mr. Deng has been twice chief of staff of the armed forces and the present chief of staff. Yang Dezhi, is a Dengist.
But Mr. Hua has always enjoyed a measure of support within the Army as the anointed successor of the Chairman Mao, and it remains to be seen to what extent Dengist forces may have managed to neutralize this support. A spate of reprints from the Liberation Army Daily, organ of the armed forces, urging obedience to the party and the people suggests the leadership may have some uneasiness on this score.