Born in Jiaocheng, Shanxi province, Hua was born with the name Su Zhu . He joined the Communist Party of China in 1938 as a part of counter-Japanese resistance, after having joined the Long March in 1936. Like many Communists of the era who took on revolutionary names, he changed his name to Hua Guofeng as an abbreviation of "''Zhonghua kangri jiuguo xianfengdui''" . After having served in the during 12 years under General Zhu De's command, he became propaganda chief for the county Party committee in 1947.
Hua moved with the PLA to Hunan in 1949 and remained there as a local official until 1971. In 1952, he was appointed secretary of Xiang-tan Special District, which included Mao's hometown, Shaoshan. In this role, he built a memorial hall dedicated to Mao. When Mao visited the site, in June 1959, he was favorably impressed.
Hua participated in the 1959 Lushan Conference as a member of the Hunan Provincial Party delegation, and wrote two investigative reports defending and the Great Leap Forward. Shortly thereafter, he was named provincial party secretary. He was elected a Full member of the 9th Central Committee in 1969.
Rise to power
Hua was called to Beijing to direct Zhou Enlai's State Council staff office in 1971, but only stayed for a few months before returning to his previous post in Hunan. Later that year, he was appointed as the junior-most person of the seven-member committee investigating the Lin Biao Affair. Hua was re-elected to the 10th Central Committee in 1973 and elevated to membership in the Politburo. He became minister of public security in 1975 but was also chosen to deliver a speech on modernizing agriculture in October of that year which echoed the views of Zhou Enlai.
Zhou Enlai died on 8 January 1976, at a time when Deng Xiaoping's moderate alliance was not yet strong enough to stand up to both the ailing Mao Zedong and his Cultural Revolution allies, the Gang of Four . After reading the late premier's eulogy a week later, Deng left Beijing along with several close allies for the relative safety of Guangzhou.
As a compromise, Hua Guofeng was named as Acting Premier on 8 February. At the same time, the leftist-controlled media began denouncing Deng once again . Popular affection for Zhou was underestimated, however, leading to a confrontation between the radicals' militia allies and Beijing citizens seeking to honor Zhou during the traditional Qingming festival.
During the Tiananmen Incident of 1976, thousands of people protested at the militia's removal of wreaths honoring Zhou in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes. Vehicles were burned, offices ransacked and there were reports of many injuries but no deaths. In the aftermath, Deng Xiaoping was blamed for inciting the protests and stripped of all his party and government posts, albeit his party memebership was retained at Mao's behest. Shortly thereafter, Hua was elevated to First Vice Chairman of the CCP Central Committee and Premier of the State Council.
On 6 October, less than a month after Mao's death, anti-Gang of Four leaders with Hua at its core executed a coup d'état and arrested Jiang Qing and her followers. On the same day, Hua Guofeng assumed the posts of Chairman of the CCP and the Military Affairs Commission shortly after the death of Mao Zedong.
During his relatively short leadership, Hua was credited for quickly ousting the Gang of Four from political power and thus became the leader whose emergence marked the end of the Cultural Revolution as currently dated. Hua's economic and political programs involved the restoration of Soviet-style industrial planning and party control similar to that followed by China before the Great Leap Forward. However, this model was rejected by supporters of Deng Xiaoping who argued for a more market based economic system. This argument was decisively resolved in Deng's favor in late 1978, which is generally taken as the start of the era of Chinese economic reform. Hua also attempted reforming state protocol as a method of elevating his prestige. In 1977 and 1978 all party meetings were to hang portraits of Mao and Hua side-by-side, including the National People's Congress and CPC Party Congress meetings. All schools were required to hang Hua's picture next to Mao's. Hua also changed the Chinese national anthem to incorporate Mao Zedong, as the tone switched from being war-rallying to purely communist propaganda. These lyrics were eventually rejected.
As Deng Xiaoping gradually gained control over the CCP, Hua was denounced for promoting the Two Whatevers policy and replaced by Zhao Ziyang as Premier in 1980, and by Hu Yaobang as Party Chairman in 1981. Hua gave self-criticism sessions and eventually renounced the Two Whatevers policy as a mistake. Both Zhao and Hu were protégés of Deng who were dedicated to . Hua Guofeng was demoted to junior Vice Chairman, and when this post was abolished in 1982 he remained as an ordinary member of the Central Committee, a position which he held until the 16th Party Congress of November 2002 despite having passed the mandatory retirement age of seventy in 1991.
The ousting of Hua was significant in at least two respects. First, it demonstrated the unimportance of official titles in the Chinese Communist Party during the late-1970s and early-1980s. Despite being the official leader of the party, the state, and the army, Hua was unable to defeat a leadership challenge by Deng Xiaoping. Second, Hua's ousting helped establish a norm within the PRC that political leaders who lost a power struggle would not be physically harmed or jailed, in contrast to the situations both during the Cultural Revolution and afterwards with the Gang of Four.
In early 2002, Hua officially lost his seat on the Central Committee of the CCP. He was, however, invited to the in 2007 as a special delegate.
Despite retaining formal party positions, Hua distanced himself from contemporary Chinese politics. His main hobby was grape cultivation, and he kept up with current affairs by subscribing to a host of newspapers. Hua's health deteriorated in 2008, and he was hospitalised three times for kidney- and heart-related complications. Hua died in Beijing on 20 August 2008.
Hua married wife Han Zhijun in January 1949. Hua had four children, all of whom are surnamed "Su", in accordance with Hua's birth name. First son Su Hua is a retired officer. Second son Su Bin is a retired army officer. Daughter Su Ling is a party and union official at the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Youngest daughter Su Li works for the State Council.