Ever since Deng Xiaoping gained power in China in late 1978, at the age of 74, the issue of the succession has never been far from the surface in Chinese politics. Official Chinese historiography now describes the transition from rule by Mao Zedong up to his death in 1976 to rule by Deng as that from the ‘first’ to ‘second’ generation of revolutionary leaders. Similarly the transition to the post-Deng era is regarded as the handover to the ‘third’ generation. But this is a far more fundamental change. It is the transition from rule by peasant soldier to rule by urban bureaucrat. It is perhaps not surprising that it is fraught with problems.
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