Unsettled Succession: China's Critical Moment

Who will be the next leader of China? In one form or another, the succession issue has been the central drama of Chinese politics almost since the beginning.

Issue: Fall 1997

Who will be the next leader of China? This question has been a perpetual preoccupation of scholars and journalists for decades, and the reason is clear: In one form or another, the succession issue has been the central drama of Chinese politics almost since the beginning of the People's Republic in 1949. The absence of institutionalized procedures for selecting China's top leader led to the most serious political conflicts of the Maoist era: the Gao Gang-Rao Shushi episode of 1954, resulting in the "suicide" of one and the disappearance of another of two leading figures; the Cultural Revolution and its attack on Mao's supposed successor Liu Shaoqi; the Lin Biao affair, culminating in deadly plane crash of another of Mao's designated successors; and the arrest of the "Gang of Four" a month after Mao's death.

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