Mao’s last public appearance—and the last known photograph of him alive—was on May 27, 1976, when he met the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during the latter’s one-day visit to Beijing. Bhutto was a great admirer of Mao, emulating Chinese Communism with his own Islamic Socialism and Mao’s Little Red Books with a similar red book called “Bhutto speaks”. It was at this meeting that Mao agreed to transfer 50 kg of uranium to Pakistan, thereby jump starting its nuclear programme and allowing Pakistan to later develop its first nuclear weapons in the 1980s.
The photos from this meeting were last photos of Chairman Mao — and they made abundantly clear to everyone, including Mao, that he would not be alive much longer. Seeing them, Mao decided to end his public audiences altogether. Smoking may have played an important role in his declining health, for Mao was a heavy smoker during most of his adult life. It became a state secret that he suffered from multiple lung and heart ailments during his later years. There are unconfirmed reports that he possibly had Parkinson’s disease in addition to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Mao suffered two major heart attacks in 1976, one in March and another in July, before a third struck on September 5, rendering him an invalid. Mao Zedong died nearly four days later just after midnight, on September 9, 1976, at age 82. The Communist Party of China delayed the announcement of his death until 16:00 later that day, when a radio message broadcast across the nation announced the news of Mao’s passing while appealing for party unity.
On September 18, a somber cacophony of guns, sirens, whistles and horns all across China was spontaneously blown in observance of a three-minute silence, which everybody except those performing essential tasks was ordered to observe. After that, a band in Tiananmen Square, packed with and surrounded by millions of people, played “The Internationale”. The final service on that day was concluded by Hua Guofeng’s 20-minute-long eulogy atop Tiananmen Gate. Mao’s body was later permanently interred in a mausoleum in Beijing.