In 1977, following the death of Mao Zedong, Beijing played host to China's first National Art Exhibition. According to the website Sinophilia, Chinese Literature (an official Chinese state literary journal) summed up the paintings by stating that “pride of place was given in this exhibition to the splendid achievements of our great leader Chairman Mao, our esteemed and beloved Premier Chou [Zhou Enlai]... as well as to Chairman Hua's [Hua Guofeng] revolutionary record...” Furthermore, the owners of Sinophilia have also uploaded images of the pictures featured alongside the text in the journal.
One of these is particularly striking. Follow this link and you will see at the bottom of the page a picture entitled 'With you in charge, i'm at ease'. This is a well known phrase in Chinese political history. As part of an effort to strengthen his claims to be the leader of the Party in the post-Mao era, Hua Guofeng claimed that the Chairman had written this message (in Pinyin: ni ban shi, wo fang xin) to him during a private meeting held a short time before he died. While Hua's opponents contested the validity of the story altogether or argued that Mao was referring to a a specific aspect of the government rather than to the whole thing, he attempted to portray the moment as Mao's symbolic handing over of power. To this end, Hua's regime commissioned (amongst other pieces of propaganda) this idealised depiction of Mao's faith in his successor. The Chairman is shown upright and attentive, and with his hand firmly on Hua's- quite literally a revolutionary 'laying on of hands'. Of course, there is little chance that the meeting transpired anything like this. In his waning years, Mao's movements were severely restricted, hence Hua's contention that he only just had the strength to write down those all important characters.
The Hua faction's rapid and very successful attempts to contain the power of the Maoist radicals in the month after the Chairman had died effectively smoothed the way for the collective leadership that characterised the period from 1976 up until Deng Xiaoping's influence peaked. However, it was through paintings like the one discussed above that the regime implanted Hua's revolutionary credentials into the minds of the Chinese population, and they thus represent a fascinating example of visual propaganda at work. Unlike most of the images produced in the Cultural Revolution, 'With you in charge, i'm at ease' was refreshingly subtle. Yet, underneath the calm exterior of the old communist placing his confidence in the aspiring leader, there lurks a desire for real political power. While perhaps a less aggressive politician than his fellow actors on the Chinese political stage, Hua was no less ruthless or ambitious.