Wang Hongwen

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Wang Hongwen ( Chinese  王洪文 , Pinyin Wáng Hóngwén ; * 1934/35 in Changchun , † August 3, 1992 in Beijing ) was a Chinese politician and a Shanghai rebel leader during the Cultural Revolution . He was the youngest member of the so-called " Gang of Four " (together with Jiang Qing , Zhang Chunqiao , Yao Wenyuan ). At the height of his political career, Wang was vice chairman of the Chinese Communist Party ( CCP ) and was built up by Mao Zedong as his possible successor in the early 1970s . After Mao's death in October 1976, Wang was arrested along with the other members of the Gang of Four and sentenced to life imprisonment.


The early years

Wang Hongwen was born in 1935 in Xinjing (today's Changchun , Jilin Province ), which was in the then Japanese-controlled Manchukuo territory . He came from a poor farming family. His father's name was Wang Guosheng and his mother was Wang Yangshi. He was the oldest son and had three younger brothers and one younger sister. In contrast to the other members of the later Gang of Four, Wang had a rather simple upbringing, which limited his understanding of Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

In April 1951, Wang was drafted into the army and participated as a soldier in the Korean War (1950-53). In 1952, his unit was moved to Wuxi , Jiangsu Province . In 1953, Wang joined the Chinese Communist Party. After he was discharged from the army in 1956, Wang worked at the Shanghai No. 17 Cotton Factory as a guard cadre . Here he met Zhang Chunqiao .

Leader of the Shanghai workers

In August 1966, the Beijing Red Guards brought the class struggle to Shanghai. On November 9, 1966, the workers of 17 Shanghai factories founded the " Revolutionary Rebel Command of Shanghai Workers " ( RRSA ; 上海 工人 革命 造反 总 司令部 Shànghǎi Gōngrén Gémìng Zàofǎn Zǒng Sīlìngbù) with the 32-year-old Wang Hongwen on November 9, 1966 the top. Although the Cultural Revolution was also sparked in Shanghai by the Red Guards, the workers would soon prove to be the driving force behind the revolution in Shanghai.

The Anting Incident

In order to gain recognition from the party leadership in Beijing, around 2000 members of the RRSA stormed the Shanghai train station and took several trains in the direction of Beijing. Only a few kilometers beyond Shanghai, the train was stopped at Anting on the orders of the Shanghai Railway Administration. The protesting workers then blocked the railroad tracks for over 30 hours. The Politburo Standing Committee gave in and sent Zhang Chunqiao to Shanghai. He negotiated directly with Wang Hongwen. In the end, the RRSA's demand for political legitimation was given in to. Although the Shanghai party leadership was exposed, Mao Zedong supported the action. The Anting incident marked the trigger for the official integration of industrial workers into the Cultural Revolution and strengthened Shanghai's position as a base for left-wing extremists.

Occupation of the Shanghai Party newspaper

On December 1, 1966, the Red Guards occupied the offices of the official Shanghai party newspaper. There was a confrontation with another faction called "Red Defender Battalion", which defended the party organ and the city government. The Red Guards asked the RRSA for assistance, and Wang Hongwen agreed. In this way, Wang secured sole command of the rebel groups. In the "Kangping Avenue" incident on December 30, the RRSA was finally able to prevail against the competing "Red Defender Battalion".

Seizure of power in Shanghai

On January 6, 1967, Wang Hongwen and his supporters organized a mass rally in People's Square in Shanghai. There, the Shanghai party leadership was forced to publicly admit its wrongdoing and to give up power. On January 27, 1967, the newly established “ Shanghai People's Commune ” (later “Shanghai Revolutionary Committee”) took control of Shanghai under the leadership of Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan. Wang Hongwen has been appointed chief deputy. That was the beginning of his rapid political rise.

Steep climb in Beijing

In April 1969 Wang was transferred to the IX. Chinese Communist Party Central Committee elected. In September 1972 he was recalled to Beijing at the suggestion of Mao Zedong. Wang was allowed to attend the meetings of the Politburo , the State Council and the Central Military Commission . At Mao's request, Wang was charged with revising the CCP's statutes.

The Xth Party Congress

At the 10th Party Congress in Beijing (August 24-28, 1973), Wang Hongwen was elected to the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee. There he became the second deputy after Zhou Enlai . That made Wang Hongwen number three in the CCP's leadership after Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. This underscored his extraordinary rise in the party. It also strengthened the position of Jiang Qing's radical representatives, much to the displeasure of the moderates. Mao Zedong intended to present Wang Hongwen as his successor at the 10th Party Congress. When the delegates elected a new central committee on the last day of the congress , Mao Zedong was so badly ill that he did not personally take part in the vote. He let Wang Hongwen cast his vote at the ballot box, which was taken as a symbolic gesture that underscored Mao's trust in Wang.

At the party congress, Wang and Zhang Chunqiao also oversaw the screening and selection of delegates. They admitted provincial rebels as delegates who, because of their revolutionary deeds, seemed permissible to them, even though they were not yet party members.

The Congress also revealed obvious differences between Wang Hongwen and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai on foreign policy issues. Wang took a radical stance and indirectly criticized the rapprochement with the USA , which was largely initiated by Zhou.

Tasks as a party official

When, on October 22, 1973, General Li Zhen, chairman of a “16th Mai ”investigation team was found dead, Wang Hongwen was appointed head of a commission to investigate General Li's death.

In the “ Criticizes Lin Biao, Criticizes Confucius ” campaign, which started in the summer of 1973, Wang Hongwen and Jiang Qing initiated the compilation of “Lin Biao and the Dao of Confucius and Menzius” ( 林彪 与 孔孟之道 , Lín Biāo yu Kǒng Mèng zhi dào ) published. It was the first official document from 1974 and received a great response.

In 1974, Wang Hongwen was briefly entrusted with the day-to-day duties of the central government as Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was hospitalized for cancer treatment.

Mao's distrust

On October 4, 1974, Mao Wang announced that Deng Xiaoping would be appointed Deputy Prime Minister of the State Council. Deng Xiaoping's return to the political scene was a setback for the Gang of Four and at the same time implied Mao Zedong's great disappointment with Wang Hongwen as his possible successor.

When it came at a meeting of the Politburo on October 17 to a violent confrontation between Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and Deng Xiaoping, who decided Gang of Four , Wang Hongwen to Mao to Changsha ( Hunan Province should travel). The aim was to tell Mao about the incident from the perspective of the Gang of Four before Deng did it. In October 1974, Wang Hongwen traveled to Changsha, where Mao was recovering. Wang warned Mao that the incident in the Politburo resembled that at the Lushan Conference in 1970, when the radicals had already got into trouble. Mao still sided with the Gang of Four. Wang also accused the sick Zhou Enlai of conspiring with Deng Xiaoping for the forthcoming IV National People's Congress . Mao ignored Wang's allegations and directed him to team up with Deng and beware of Jiang Qing. That was when Mao realized that, despite his high position, Wang Hongwen was just a henchman of Jiang Qing.

In a conversation with Zhou Enlai at the end of December, at which Wang was also present, Mao said that Wang is nowhere near as astute politically as Deng Xiaoping. Wang Hongwen then wrote a 1000-character self-criticism. As his direct successor, Mao had now chosen Hua Guofeng , who was provisionally appointed acting prime minister after Zhou Enlai's death in 1976.

Wang's reaction

Wang Hongwen is said to have complained bitterly about the events. He was no longer intended to be Mao Zedong's successor: “What power do I have? Power over the party, power over the government, power over the military - I have none of that. ”He also complained that, unlike Deng Xiaoping, he was no longer admitted to Mao personally.

In the months that followed, Wang Hongwen's defeat became more and more apparent. Political goals that Wang failed to achieve, such as B. the reconstruction of the railway system paralyzed by the cultural revolution , Deng Xiaoping achieved very quickly. Wang now stayed closer to Jiang Qing's group and became part of the Gang of Four himself. He also remained in close contact with the revolutionary groups in Shanghai. In 1975 he was sent again to Zhejiang with Ji Dengkui and Guo Yufeng to oversee the restructuring of the local Revolutionary Committee there.

Attempted takeover

Wang Hongwen and Zhang Chunqiao's power base had always been in Shanghai . In Beijing, they could only feel safe as long as Mao was still alive. In order to be prepared against possible unrest due to the imminent death of Mao Zedong, operational plans for the rapid suppression of protests were developed in the course of April 1976. Wang Hongwen coordinated the situation in Shanghai from Beijing in order to prevent any unrest there as well. He swore his colleagues in Shanghai, who were loyal to him, to a possible civil war.

On September 11 and 12, 1976, the General Office of the Central Committee issued a decree that party members in the province should in future only communicate important news to a new agency under Wang Hongwen's responsibility. Hua Guofeng, who was pointed out by a colleague, was unaware of this directive. The decree is seen as the first step of the gang of four towards a takeover of power, but also as a trigger for the subsequent quick arrest of the gang of four.

Arrest and conviction

Wang Hongwen was arrested on October 6, 1976, along with the other three members of the Gang of Four. Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan were summoned to Huairen Hall in Beijing's Zhongnanhai Government District under the guise of an evening session of the Politburo Standing Committee . Jiang Qing was arrested at her home in Zhongnanhai. Wang was the first to arrive at Huairen Hall and was immediately arrested by the waiting guards. When he was arrested, Wang Hongwen reportedly said, "I didn't think it would happen so quickly." Because of his high political standing, Wang's name was the first thing that was mentioned when the arrest was announced. In July 1977 he was officially relieved of all offices and expelled from the party.

The trial of the Gang of Four began at the end of November 1980 and lasted until January 1981. No doubts about the facts were raised. On January 23, 1981, Wang Hongwen was sentenced to life imprisonment by a special chamber of the Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China . a. because of the attempted overthrow of the government and instigating a military rebellion. He died in prison on August 3, 1992 because of a liver disease.


  • Wang Hung-wen: Report on the amendment of the party statutes. (in: The 10th Congress of the Communist Party of China - Documents. Foreign Language Literature Publishing House, Beijing 1973.)


  • Joseph W. Esherick, Paul G. Pickowicz, Andrew G. Walder (Eds.): The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History ; Stanford 2006.
  • Guo Jian et al. (Ed.): Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Cultural Revolution ; Lanham / Toronto / Oxford 2006.
  • Roderick MacFarquhar, Michael Schoenhals: Mao's Last Revolution ; Cambridge, London 2006.
  • Elisabeth J. Perry, Xun Li: Proletarian Power. Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution ; Boulder 1997.
  • Michael Schoenhals (Ed.): China's Cultural Revolution, 1966–1969. Not a Dinner Party ; East Gate Books 1996; ISBN 1-56324-736-4
  • Frederick C. Teiwes, Warren Sun: The End of the Maoist Era. Chinese Politics During the Twilight of the Cultural Revolution, 1972–1976 ; Armonk, London 2007.

Individual evidence

  1. Teiwes, Sun: The End of the Maoist Era ; P. 17
  2. MacFarquhar, Schoenhals: Mao's Last Revolution ; P. 141; Guo et al. (Ed.): Historical Dictionary ; P. 3.
  3. Guo et al. (Ed.): Historical Dictionary ; P. 308.
  4. MacFarquhar, Schoenhals: Mao's Last Revolution ; P. 361.
  5. MacFarquhar, Schoenhals: Mao's Last Revolution ; P. 369.
  6. Guo et al. (Ed.): Historical Dictionary ; P. 267f.
  7. Quoted from MacFarquhar, Schoenhals: Mao's Last Revolution ; P. 381.
  8. Quoted from MacFarquhar, Schoenhals: Mao's Last Revolution ; P. 382.
  9. Quoted from MacFarquhar, Schoenhals: Mao's Last Revolution ; Cambridge, London 2006, p. 447.