Singer’s Funeral Reveals Changes at Top of Chinese Communist Party

December 21, 2013 Updated: July 18, 2015

The Dec. 17 funeral of iconic opera star Hung Sin-nui has drawn attention not just for the mourning of the celebrity’s passing, but because of the political implications carried in official responses.

In official reports on the funeral, former general secretary Hu Jintao’s name was listed behind those of the seven incumbent members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. The names of former premiers Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao were included. Former paramount leader Jiang Zemin was not.

The presentation of top Communist Party leaders in state media has long tended to hold significance. Analysts often gauge political trends at the highest levels of the regime’s hierarchy from the order of the top officials reported by state-controlled media.

When Mao Zedong purged Liu Shaoqi, people came to understand the shifts in power from the continued slide down of Liu’s name and the concurrent rise in the placing of the names Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and other favored figures in news reports by the People’s Daily.

Hung Sin-nui’s real name is Kuang Jianlian, and she is from Guangdong Province. Inventor of the “Hongqiang” style of singing, she was one of China’s most famous performers of Cantonese opera from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. During the Cultural Revolution, Hong was persecuted and forced to leave the art scene, becoming a street cleaner in Guangzhou.