Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Yang Shangkun (1907–1998)

Politician, diplomat, and president of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Born in 1907 in Shuangjiang, Sichuan Province, Yang Shangkun enrolled at the Shanghai University in 1925 and joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1926. In 1927 he continued his studies at the Sun Yixian University, graduating in 1930. Returning to China in 1931, he served in the Red Army as director of the Political Department. During the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War, he served in North China, engaging in the CCP's organizational, propaganda, and liaison efforts.

Upon the establishment of the PRC in 1949, Yang became director of the General Office of the CCP Central Committee and handled the party's daily administrative affairs, a post that familiarized him with all aspects of party operations. In 1966 he was purged during the Cultural Revolution and imprisoned. In 1979 he returned to power, first as secretary and then as vice governor of Guangdong Province. In 1981 he transferred to Beijing as a Politburo member and permanent vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, in which capacities he became active in foreign affairs, leading a number of delegations abroad to promote the PRC's international standing. In 1988 he was elected the PRC's president and concurrently appointed the first vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, thus becoming the second most powerful figure in Chinese politics after Deng Xiaoping. On 4 June 1989, Yang ordered the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to crack down on the prodemocracy student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. In 1993 he retreated from his duties. Yang died on 14 September 1998 in Beijing.

Law Yuk-fun


Further Reading
Meisner, Maurice. Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic. New York: Free Press, 1999.
 

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