But in 1976 things started to move. Led by Zhou Enlai and, of course, Mao Zedong, the old people began to die. Mao’s death was preceded by a massive earthquake that foreshadowed a dynasty change for the Chinese. A quartet led by the hated Jiang Jing, Mao’s widow and devoted to preserving the “purity” of the revolution, was arrested and put on trial. She committed suicide in prison.
Above all, pragmatist Deng Xiaoping returned from exile and promised things would improve. Barefoot doctors, he said, should go for straw shoes. His message to the so-called masses was that greed is good and getting rich is glorious. Thousands of people asked for it. Millions have been lifted out of poverty.
Yes, many became filthy and suspiciously rich, corruption was rampant, but the country was transformed. No longer an isolated country, it has grown despite many setbacks to become the rich, powerful and often threatening nation it is today – a rival to the United States itself.
In 1976 it was impossible to predict this amazing change. It is impossible to predict the future as we know it. But you should always be prepared for unexpected changes. Hopefully, after Mr Wong’s visit to China, relations with neighboring superpowers will improve.
Yvonne Preston was the Sydney Morning Herald’s China correspondent from 1975 to 1978.
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