1976 was a tipping point in Chinese history.
Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou both died that year, and during the midst of the political stirrings that befell the top ranks of the Party, there was a tragic earthquake in the city of Tangshan, which killed more than half a million people. One might not think the two could be intertwined as much as James Palmer has woven them here, but his approach successfully shows the effects both politics and disaster had on each other.
It’s a shame to realise that more background information is needed than he provides, especially on the politics. He writes with great humanity about the consequences of the horrendous quake, and some might find that this jars a little with his forensic look at the political seesaws in action in Beijing. But don’t forget this was a country where everything had a political edge, and had to be done for the greater good – including claiming one could predict earthquakes when you couldn’t.
So while it remains on the more academic side of historical books, this is an eye-opener for many to a side of the world we hardly look back at, and a very readable account of the year concerned, as well as a prescient look at what has led to as regards the superpower China is today.