Gang of Four

The Gang of Four (zh-stp|s=四人帮|t=四人幫|p=Sìrén bāng) was the name given to a leftist political faction composed of four Chinese Communist party officials. They came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and were subsequently charged with a series of treasonous crimes. The members consisted of Jiang Qing, Mao's last wife and the leading figure of the group, and her close associates Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen.

The Gang of Four effectively controlled the power organs of the Communist Party of China through the latter stages of the Cultural Revolution, although it remains unclear which major decisions were made through Mao Zedong and carried out by the Gang, and which were the result of the Gang of Four's own planning. The Gang of Four, together with disgraced Communist general Lin Biao, were labelled the two major "counter-revolutionary forces" of the Cultural Revolution and officially blamed for the worst excesses of the societal chaos that ensued during the ten years of turmoil. Their downfall in a "coup d'état" on October 6, 1976, a mere month after Mao's death, brought about major celebrations on the streets of Beijing and marked the end of a turbulent political era in China.


The name was given to the group by Mao Zedong in what seemed like a warning to Jiang Qing during which Mao stated, "Do not try to begin a gang of four to accumulate power".

The group was led by Mao's widow, Jiang Qing, and consisted of three of her close associates, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen. Two other men who were already dead in 1976, Kang Sheng and Xie Fuzhi, were named as having been part of the "Gang". Chen Boda and Mao Yuanxin, the latter being Mao's nephew, were also considered some of the Gang's closer associates.

Most Western accounts consider that the actual leadership of the Cultural Revolution consisted of a wider group, referring predominantly to the members of the Central Cultural Revolution Group. Most prominent was Lin Biao, until his flight from China and death in a plane crash in 1971. Chen Boda is often classed as a member of Lin's faction rather than Jiang Qing's. ["Glossary of Names and Identities" in "Mao's Last Revolution", by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Harvard University Press 2006.]


The removal of this group from power is sometimes considered to have marked the end of the Cultural Revolution, which had been launched by Mao in 1966 as part of his power struggle with leaders such as Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen. Mao placed Jiang Qing, who before 1966 had not taken a public political role, in charge of the country’s cultural apparatus. Zhang, Yao and Wang were party leaders in Shanghai who had played leading roles in securing that city for Mao during the Cultural Revolution.

Around the time of the death of Lin Biao, the Cultural Revolution began to lose impetus. The new commanders of the People's Liberation Army demanded that order be restored in light of the dangerous situation along the border with the Soviet Union (see Sino-Soviet split). The Premier, Zhou Enlai, who had accepted the Cultural Revolution but never fully supported it, regained his authority, and used it to bring Deng Xiaoping back into the Party leadership at the 10th Party Congress in 1973. Liu Shaoqi had meanwhile died in prison in 1969.

Near the end of Mao's life, a power struggle occurred between the Gang of Four and the alliance of Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, and Ye Jianying.


It is now officially claimed by the Chinese communist party that Mao in his last year turned against Jiang Qing and her associates, and that after his death on 9 September 1976, they attempted to seize power (the same allegation made against Lin Biao in 1971). Even decades later, it is impossible to know the full truth of these events.

It does appear that their influence was in decline before Mao's death: when Zhou Enlai died in January 1976, he was succeeded not by one of the radicals but by the unknown Hua Guofeng. In April 1976, Hua was officially appointed Premier of the State Council. Upon Mao's death Hua was named Communist Party chairman as well.

The "Gang" had arranged for Deng Xiaoping's purge in April 1976 (however, he would return and by 1978 become the real power of the Party). They hoped that the key military leaders Wang Dongxing and Chen Xilian would support them, but it seems that Hua won the Army over to his side. On 6 October 1976, Hua had the four leading radicals and a number of their lesser associates arrested. A massive media campaign was then launched against them, dubbing them the Gang of Four and blaming them for all the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. (Note that four has the same sound as 'death' in Chinese, and is viewed as an unlucky number.)

Han Suyin gives a detailed account of their overthrow:

:"An emergency session of the Politburo was to take place in the Great Hall of the People that evening. Their presence was required. Since Wang Dongxing had been their ally, they did not suspect him... As they passed through the swinging doors into the entrance lobby, they were apprehended and led off in handcuffs. A special 8431 unit then went to Madam Mao's residence at No. 17 Fisherman's Terrace and arrested her. That night Mao Yuanxin was arrested in Manchuria, and the propagandists of the Gang of Four in Peking University and in newspaper offices were taken into custody. All was done with quiet and superb efficiency. In Shanghai, the Gang's supporters received a message to come to Beijing 'for a meeting'. They came and were arrested. Thus, without shedding a drop of blood, the plans of the Gang of Four to wield supreme power were ended." ["Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China", Han Suyin, 1994. page 413.]

Beginning on October 21, nationwide denunciations of the Gang began, which culminated in the December releases of files related to the Gang's alleged crimes to the public. Celebrations were prominent but not limited to the streets of Beijing and other major cities.


Immediately after the coup d’etat, Hua Guofeng, who appears to be Mao's designated successor, Marshall Ye Jianying, and economic czars Chen Yun and Li Xiannian formed the core of the next party leadership. [ and, p.26-27 ] These three, together with the newly rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping and bodyguard cum coup leader Wang Dongxing were elected party Vice Chairmen at the August 1977 11th National Party Congress. [ [ Political Leaders: China ] ] At the politburo level, the membership of all four living marshals, 7 other generals and at least five others with close military ties reflects the deep concern for national stability.


In 1981, the four deposed leaders were subjected to a show trial and convicted of anti-party activities. During the trial, Jiang Qing in particular was extremely defiant, protesting loudly and bursting into tears at some points. She was the only member of the Gang of Four who bothered to argue on her behalf. The defense's argument was that she obeyed the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong at all times. Zhang Chunqiao refused to admit any wrong as well. Yao Wenyan and Wang Hongwen expressed repentance and confessed their supposed crimes.

The prosecution separated political errors from actual crimes. Among the latter were the usurpation of state power and party leadership; the persecution of some 750,000 people, 34,375 of whom died during the period 1966-76. [,-1979-82.html] The official records of the trial have not yet been released.

Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao received death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment, while Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan were given life and twenty years in prison, respectively. They were all released later. All members of the Gang of Four have since died; Jiang Qing committed suicide in 1991, Wang Hongwen died in 1992, and Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan died in 2005.

Supporters of the Gang of Four, including Chen Boda and Mao Yuanxin, were also sentenced.

The "Little Gang of Four"

In the struggle between the conservative Hua Guofeng's clique and the one of Deng Xiaoping, a new term emerged, pointing to the four Hua's closest collaborators, Wang Dongxing, Wu De, Ji Dengkui, and Chen Xilian. In 1980 they were charged with "grave errors" in the struggle against the Gang of Four and demoted from the Political Bureau to mere Central Committee membership.


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