Gen. Guo Boxiong at the DPRK Embassy, Dec. 20
China’s head of state and the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Jintao suprised at least a few people by showing up at the North Korean embassy in Beijing the morning after Kim Jong Il’s death was announced.
Although Hu could not meet the DPRK Ambassador to China (more about that in tomorrow’s Dossier), he did bring a few friends, not all of whom whose presence was emphasized. Some Xinhua versions of story did not identify General Guo Boxiong as being at the Embassy, even though he was pictured.
Who, then, is Guo Boxiong?
Guo Boxiong [郭伯雄], of Han ethnicity, was born in 1942 in Shaanxi. As his short biography (in Chinese) attests, Guo’s work experience began precisely with the Great Leap Forward in August 1958; he spent the next three years working in Shaanxi coal mines and studying military history.
Guo joined the Communist Party in 1963 and was wrapped headlong into Lin Biao’s Mao-centered propaganda campaign; in 1965-66, Guo was in charge of political work propaganda for his regiment. He appears to have gotten through the Cultural Revolution without any significant demotions, something that was possible in the PLA, the one institution that arguably emerged stronger from the Cultural Revolution.
In 1982, he moved up to the Lanzhou Military District headquarters, which was where he was located during the national disturbances accompanying the 1989 student movement in Beijing.
From 1993-1997, he was the vice-commander of the Beijing Defense Committee (structured roughly similarly to the KPA’s committee for the defense of Pyongyang, and certainly as significant).
Between 1999 and 2003, he was vaulted up to the highest military positions in China and has been an active participant in Beijing ruling circles. Since 2003, he has been Vice-Chair of the Central Military Commission (Hu Jintao is Chairman, representing nominal civilian control over Mao’s famous “barrel of the gun”) and a member of the Politburo.
Guo was sent to the DPRK in October 2010 to lead China’s delegation in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, meeting with DPRK Premier and Korean War veteran Choe Yong Rim, who is not presently listed as a member of Kim Jong Un’s “Gang of Seven,” but who did reciprocate Guo’s visit via his own delegation to Shanghai, where the North Korean answer to the cutely coiled energy of Wen Jiabao heaped praise upon eastern China’s industrial capacities in September 2011.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to M. Taylor Fravel at MIT, who, not more than 20 minutes after we posted an earlier version of the above post calling General Guo a “mystery man,” pointed us to this People’s Daily dispatch identifying General Guo as having been in attendence on December 20. With thanks to Dr. Fravel, the above post has been revised accordingly.