Stop Work Travel | Prime Ministers: Part 2

Prime Ministers: Part 2

March 10, 2016
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Continuing from Prime Ministers: Part 1

Power in China: A Premier You Forgot, and the One Who Didn’t Need to Be

In the 1970s China began student exchange programs with countries that had recognized it diplomatically. Canada had recognized the P.R.C in 1970, and I was fortunate to become a foreign exchange student at Beijing University soon after graduating in Asian Studies from U.B.C.

We students had no inkling of the extent of turmoil and political transitions that were to occur during our two years in the P.R.C, and that we would get to meet China’s senior leaders.

The foreign residents in Beijing at this time were diplomats, students, and a few teachers and reporters. If there was a major event or ceremony, foreign residents were invited, and government officials would shake our hands afterwards.

Premier Zhou En Lai, premier since 1949, died a few months after my arrival in Beijing. At the service, I met his highly-esteemed widow Deng Ying Chao, and other senior leaders. At a service for Chairman Mao, who died later the same year, I shook hands with Premier Hua Guo Feng, who had been groomed as Mao’s successor. He was an interim figure in Chinese politics, and was ousted without much ado in 1978 by Deng Xiao Ping.

I also shook hands with Deng Xiao Ping, who by this time had returned to the Central Committee and was soon to be the most influential force in Chinese politics, though never as a premier.

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Deng Xiao Ping was the leader who created China’s economic revolution that would begin in earnest in a few years. I remember that I towered over him – he was only 5’ (1.52 m) tall, so I was easily a head taller. (That would have made a good photo, but no cameras were allowed at these gatherings.) Deng continued to influence China’s course through the 1980s and into the 1990s.

A few years before going to Beijing, I also met a once – and a future – prime minister of Canada.

Father and Son: Two Powerful Canadian Prime Ministers

In June 1972, I was working at an alpine lake lodge in British Columbia that was not yet open to the public for the summer season. We were getting the lodge ready for the season.

The manager’s son had attended university with Margaret Sinclair, who later wed Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada from 1968-84. He had invited Margaret and her husband to walk around the lake in privacy and the staff got to meet them beforehand. They were casually dressed in jeans. I remember Margaret, then 22, was wearing a red sweater and holding her first born baby in a sling. They had a peaceful walk around beautiful Lake O’Hara.

That baby is now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada!

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I briefly met Pierre Trudeau, but can’t say I “met” Justin Trudeau. I will say his actions since becoming prime minister make me proud to be a Canadian, though. He is a feminist, an LGBT supporter, a multiculturalist, and is working with the chiefs of First Nations to implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations for Canada – great examples, in my view, of the right use of power.

I hope you enjoyed these little stories and comments about “power” and prime ministers. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

See you on the road!

Jean