Gang of Four

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The Gang of Four ( Chin.四人帮 / 四人幫 Sìrénbāng) was a group of leaders from the left wing of the Chinese Communist Party who wielded great power before and shortly after Mao Zedong's death in 1976. The Gang of Four had a decisive influence on the course of the Cultural Revolution . The decisions made by the Gang of Four are difficult to separate from those dictated by Mao himself. This knowledge gap made it possible for later Chinese leaders to blame the gang of four for the cruelest acts of the Cultural Revolution and thus to exonerate the central founding figure Mao.


The gang of four consisted of Jiang Qing (Mao Zedong's wife), Zhang Chunqiao , Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen . Kang Sheng and Xie Fuzhi , who had died in 1976, were later included. The Chinese general Lin Biao was also a member of the group until his death in 1971. Close allies of the Gang of Four were Chen Boda and Mao's nephew Mao Yuanxin .


Zhang, Yao and Wang were regional party leaders in Shanghai. When Mao called the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to combat the leadership of the Communist Party at the time, Jiang Qing, who had not made public appearances, took an active role. The gang of four succeeded in taking power on the one hand through direct control over the mass media and on the other hand by exploiting the prestige that Jiang Qing enjoyed as the wife of the state's founder, Mao.

According to Chinese sources, Jiang Qing planned to seize power immediately after Mao's death. In addition, she had published incriminating material against Hua Guofeng , Ye Jianying , Lin Biao's successor as defense minister, and other veteran cadres in order to take over the party chairmanship after their removal. Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan should have become vice- chairmen. During the 1980 show trial, the plan for the fall of Hua Guofeng could not be clearly proven, but it could be assumed with a high degree of probability.


The name "Gang of Four" was given to this group by Mao himself. Mao was aware that this group was a potential threat to his sole claim to power, and warned Jiang Qing, “You have to be careful. Do not form a small faction of four people. "


1976 was marked by many decisive events. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai died on January 8th and was succeeded by the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng ; initially provisional, finally after the suppression of the Tian'anmen incident on April 5th. This was the first spontaneous mourning and protest movement since the beginning of the PRC. As a result, Deng Xiaoping was overthrown. After Mao's death on September 9th, Hua Guofeng was also appointed to succeed him as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Mao's death sparked the power struggle between radicals and moderates; it ended on October 9 with the arrest of the Gang of Four and some of their supporters.

A delicate power structure had emerged since the CCP's 10th Congress in 1973. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai , who had always tolerated the Cultural Revolution but never fully supported it, brought Deng Xiaoping back from exile on February 22, 1973 and then into the government. After the National People's Congress in January 1975, the following three groups were consolidated:

Mao's former ally when he started the Cultural Revolution. This group rose in the course of the Cultural Revolution and is one of its beneficiaries.
Veteran revolutionaries
This group was exposed to attacks and hostility during the Cultural Revolution and was therefore negative.
Although many members of this group rose to prominence during the Cultural Revolution and were thus also politically connected to it, this group was not necessarily one of the supporters of the Cultural Revolution. After Mao's death, they tended towards the senior cadres.

The changing power structure affected the composition of the Politburo. The 21 members were reduced to 16, of which only six could be assigned to the radicals and thus represented the minority. After the death of five of the nine members of the Standing Committee, the remaining two radicals (Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen) had no significant influence. They now faced the moderators Hua Guofeng, Chen Xilian, Ji Denghai, Wang Dongxing, Wu De and Chen Yonggai.

The 20 ministries of the Chinese State Council were under the control of the veterans. The gang of four had only influence over the ministries of health, culture and sport and received some support in the ministry of public security, in construction and in the defense industry. Within the eleven military regions, they only had supporters in Nanjing and Shenyang, which had a major impact on their overthrow, as they had hoped for the support of two important military leaders Wang Dongxing and Chen Xilian . But Hua had already got the army on his side, so all efforts of the Gang of Four in this area were unsuccessful.

On October 6, 1976, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen and Xao Wenyuan were invited to a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo on the pretext that there was a need to discuss both the publication of selected works by Mao and issues related to propaganda. Hua then arrested the three on the spot and, according to Han Suyin, had them taken away in handcuffs. Since Jiang Qing was neither a member of the Standing Committee nor was she in charge of propaganda issues, she was not invited to avoid arousing suspicion. At the same time, however, she was arrested at Mao's residence in Zhongnanhai, where she had only returned a few days earlier. That same night, the gang of four propagandists at Peking University and the newspaper office were placed under arrest. Shortly thereafter, a media campaign was launched against Jiang Qing, in which she was named a member of the Gang of Four for the first time and was made responsible for the grievances of the Cultural Revolution.

Nationwide charges by the Gang of Four began in October, culminating in the publication of the alleged crimes. In Beijing, as well as in many other cities and towns, people celebrated the end of the Cultural Revolution with the fall of the Gang of Four.

In 1980 the four members were brought before a court where they were accused of agitating against the party. Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao were sentenced to death on January 25, 1981. Both vehemently denied being responsible for the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing tearfully claimed that he had only carried out Mao's orders. Both sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen showed repentance during the trial and were spared the death penalty. Wang Hongwen was sentenced to life in prison and Yao Wenyuan was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

By punishing the Gang of Four, the Chinese leadership was able to point those guilty to the failures of the Cultural Revolution and hold them responsible without questioning the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. The dissolution of the Gang of Four in 1976 marked the end of the Cultural Revolution. After Lin Biao's death, the cultural revolution also waned. The country had meanwhile suffered enormous economic and cultural losses. Chinese propaganda today takes the position that Mao turned against his wife Jiang and thus against the gang of four in the last year of his life. An exact reconstruction of the events is not possible until today, decades later. This is supported by the fact that Jiang Qing moved with her daughters from Zhongnanhai to Diaoyutai and was not allowed to see Mao without express permission. What is certain is that the gang of four had lost a lot of its reputation with Mao Zedong . Nevertheless, Mao had left them the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, even if not power over state and party.


  • Alexander C. Cook: The Cultural Revolution on Trial: Mao and the Gang of Four. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2016, ISBN 978-0-521-13529-0 .
  • B. Barnouin, Y. Changgen: Ten Years of Turbulence. The Chinese Cultural Revolution. Kegan Paul International, London / New York 1993, ISBN 0-7103-0458-7 .

Individual evidence

  1. Joachim Schickel: In the shadow of Mao Tse-tung. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-596-23473-5 , p. 25.