30 years ago today the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (then Hua Guofeng) announced the arrest of the Gang of Four.
The arrest of these most senior figures in the Chinese Communist Party (including the widow of Chairman Mao Zhedong himself) is popularly thought of as being the end of the bloody turmoil of Mao's catastrophic "cultural revolution".
Certainly the installation of Deng Xiaoping as the new moderate and reforming leader in 1977 turned the People's Republic of China into something much less murderous.
China remains under the control of Communists that have not repudiated Mao, even while they now acknowledge "mistakes". "Mistakes"? No one knows how many people died during the famines and massacres of the cultural revolution nor the equally catastrophic "Great Leap Forward" that proceeded it. The death toll is certainly tens of millions; it may even be over a hundred million- a number that is higher than Hitler and Stalin combined.
Despite the welcome moves to greater liberalism, China remains a tyranny and a highly unpredictable one at that. It is certainly significant that the PRC has criticized North Korea for their presumed nuclear test. Yet criticism is not enough. The wretched regime of Kim Jong-il is dependent on China- a fellow Communist state and a determined move by Beijing could remove this dangerous factor in East Asia for good.
Given the fact that the United States simply does not have the resources to remove Kim by force, it could prove a substantial opportunity for China. By removing the lunatic regime in Pyongyang China has the opportunity to offer reunification to Korea and to turn the united country into a neutral zone- removing American troops for the peninsula. If, of course, the Mandarins of the Forbidden city can accept the collapse of a Communist state.
It would certainly be a test of whether the Chinese state interest remains led by ideology or by power. From the point of view of Western interests, it is a moot but significant point- for the problems of Taiwan, the Spratly islands and the continuing oppression of Tibet remained us that we must still tread lightly.
The arrest of the gang of four started a process that is still not complete.
Zhou Enlai was once asked what he thought were the lessons of the French revolution :
"Its too soon to tell"
The same applies to the phenomenon of modern China since 1976- the great conundrum.