The Gang of Four (Simplified Chinese: 四人帮; Traditional Chinese: 四人幫; pinyin: Sì rén bāng) was a group of Chinese Communist Party leaders in the People's Republic of China who were arrested and removed from their positions in 1976, following the death of Mao Zedong, and were primarily blamed for the events of the Cultural Revolution. The group consisted of Mao's widow Jiang Qing and three of her close associates, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen. All of them had been relatively obscure before 1966, but rose to prominence during the Cultural Revolution and came to occupy high positions in the Chinese government. They controlled four areas; intellectual education, basic theories in science and technology, teacher-student relations and school discipline, and party policies regarding intellectuals. After the Cultural Revolution subsided in 1969, they retained Mao’s support and maintained political power through control of the media and propaganda outlets.
Less than one month after Mao’s death in 1976, more conservative Party leaders quickly took power, arresting and deposing 30 radical party leaders. Among those arrested were Jiang, Zhang, Yao and Wang. On October 22, 1976, the Communist Party issued an announcement labeling them the "Gang of Four" and charging them with a plot to overthrow the Chinese government. After a two-year propaganda campaign blaming the “Gang of Four” for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and everything that had gone wrong in China during Mao’s regime, they were brought to trial in 1980–1981. Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao received death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment, while Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan were given lifetime and 20 years in prison, respectively. All were later released, and have since died.
The group comprised Mao's widow Jiang Qing and 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 also named as having been part of the "Gang." Chen Boda was also considered one of the Gang's closer associates.
Zhang Chunqiao (Simplified Chinese: 张春桥; Traditional Chinese: 張春橋; pinyin: Zhāng Chūnqiáo; Wade-Giles: Chang Ch'un-chiao) (1917–April 21, 2005) worked as a writer in Shanghai in the 1930s. After the Yan'an conference in 1938, he joined the Communist Party of China. With the creation of the People's Republic of China, he became a prominent journalist in Shanghai in charge of the Liberation Daily (Jiefang Ribao). He met Jiang Qing in Shanghai and helped launch the Cultural Revolution. In February 1967 he organized the Shanghai Commune. In April 1969 he joined the Politburo of the Central Committee and in 1973 he was promoted to the Standing Committee of the Politburo. In January 1975 he became second deputy Prime Minister. His most widely respected article was "On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship over the Bourgeoisie," in which he explained the bases and extent of the problem of the bourgeoisie in China and what would have to be done to prevent capitalist restoration.
Yao Wenyuan (Chinese: 姚文元; pinyin: Yáo Wényuán) (1931–December 23, 2005) began his career as a literary critic in Shanghai, where he became known for his sharp attacks against colleagues, such as one in June 1957 against the newspaper ''Wenhuibao''. After that time, he began to collaborate closely with leftist Shanghai politicians, including the head of the city's Propaganda Department, Zhang Chunqiao. His article "On the New Historical Beijing Opera 'Hai Rui Dismissed from Office'" (海瑞罢官; Hăi Ruì bà guān), published in the Shanghai daily Wenhuibao on November 10, 1965, launched the Cultural Revolution. In April 1969 he joined the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, working on official propaganda. A member of "Proletarian writers for purity" he was the editor of "Liberation Daily," Shanghai's main newspaper
Wang Hongwen (Chinese: 王洪文, pinyin Wáng Hóngwén, Wade-Giles: Wang Hung-wen) (1936–August 3, 1992), born in a village outside Xinjing in Japanese-controlled Manchukuo, took part in the Korean War in the early 1950s. After the war he was sent to Shanghai to work in a factory as the head of security guards, where he met Zhang Chunqiao and became involved in a Red Guards group. He organized the Shanghai Commune in January 1967, and in 1969 he was elected to the Central Committee. He joined the Standing Committee of Politburo and became vice-chairman of the Party in 1973. Wang was rumored to be a candidate to become Premier after Premier Zhou Enlai's death. However, Hua Guofeng was chosen to succeed Premier Zhou in January 1976. Wang was influential during and after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, and was the announcer for his funeral service on national radio on September 18, 1976.
Jiang Qing (Chinese: 江青, March 1914–May 14, 1991), born Lǐ Shūméng, known under various other names, including the stage name Lan Ping (Chinese: 蓝苹), and commonly referred to as Madame Mao, was the third wife of Chairman Mao Zedong of the People's Republic of China. The Chinese Communist Party accepted her marriage to Mao in 1938 on the condition that she not involve herself in politics, a condition which she obeyed until the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.
In 1965, Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing, a former actress who had maintained a relatively low political profile since their marriage in 1938, set a precedent for radicalizing the arts by conducting an investigation into the political character of Wu Han's play Hai Jui Dismissed from Office. Yao Wen-yuan published a denunciation of the play and it was subsequently banned, signaling the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
By 1965, Mao Zedong was finding himself at odds with some of the less radical leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, particularly with revisionists such as Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi, who favored Soviet-style modifications to communist economic policy, such as the introduction of piecework, greater wage differentials and measures that sought to undermine collective farms and factories. That year the Politburo issued a “May 16 Circular” warning that, “those representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the party, the government, the army, and various cultural circles are a bunch of counterrevolutionary revisionists.” 
In the summer of 1966, Mao seized on the concept of a Cultural Revolution and appealed to the masses in an effort to unseat the conservative Communist Party leaders. He called on Chinese students, whom he designated “Red Guards,” to spearhead a movement to remove “representatives of the bourgeoisie” from all areas of government and society. On August 18, one million of them were brought to a rally, organized by Jiang, in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square, where Mao circulated among them for six hours wearing a Red Guard armband. Mao told the students that the revolution was in danger, and that they must do all they could to stop the emergence of a privileged class in China, as had happened in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. Universities were closed, and students were given free passage on trains to travel round China and participate in revolutionary rallies. They marched through cities, mobilizing workers, hanging up banners and posters with revolutionary slogans, and renaming streets, monuments and businesses with new “revolutionary” names. The Red Guards became the instruments of the “Cultural Revolution,” attacking intellectuals, professionals, and anyone who had contact with the West, as well as anything representing traditional Chinese culture or religion. Believing Mao’s slogan that “Rebellion is Justified,” they defaced temples and monuments and broke into homes to destroy old books, Western-style clothing, paintings and art objects. Thousands of professionals and scholars were beaten to death, or tortured in public; many were sent to “May Seventh Cadre Schools” to perform hard labor.
On November 22, 1966, a 17-member Central Cultural Revolutionary Committee was formed, with Jiang Qing as first vice-chairwoman and Mao’s secretary Chen Boda as chairman. This committee, along with the Peoples Liberation Army led by Lin Biao, and the State Committee under Zhou Enlai, took over control of the country. Jiang Qing incited the Red Guards with fiery speeches against other senior political leaders and government officials, including Liu Shaoqi, the President of the PRC, and Deng Xiaoping, the Deputy Premier. She acquired far-reaching powers over China's cultural life and oversaw the total suppression of a wide variety of traditional Chinese cultural activities, replacing earlier works of art with revolutionary Maoist works.
By 1967, the Communist Party leadership was complaining to Mao about the disruption and instability caused by the Red Guards, but he decided to allow the Cultural Revolution to continue a little longer and attempted unsuccessfully to support them with the Peoples Liberation Army. Fiercely competitive splinter groups began to form within the Red Guards, aggravating the disorder. By 1968, industrial production had dropped 12 percent from 1966 levels, and Red Guard violence had jeopardized Chinese relations with the Soviet Union. Mao officially abolished the Red Guards, ordered the army to control the violence, and dispersed approximately seven million radical youth to rural areas, effectively ending their activities.
Jiang Qing and three of her close associates, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen, who had been fairly obscure before 1966, had risen to political prominence during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang, Yao and Wang had played leading roles in securing Shanghai for Mao early in 1967. As the Cultural Revolution intensified, they rose to high positions in the government and the Communist Party. They controlled four areas; intellectual education, basic theories in science and technology, teacher-student relations and school discipline, and party policies regarding intellectuals. After the Cultural Revolution subsided in 1969, they retained Mao’s support and maintained political power through control of the media and propaganda outlets.
Near the end of Mao's life, a power struggle occurred between Jiang, Zhang, Yao and Wang and the alliance of Zhou Enlai, Ye Jianying, and Deng Xiaoping, whom Zhou Enlai had managed to rehabilitate and bring back into Party leadership at the 10th Party Congress in 1973. Zhou Enlai died of cancer early in 1976, and in April, Deng Xiaoping was blamed for a riot caused by people attempting to memorialize Zhou, and removed from office. Though it had been thought that Wang would replaced Zhou as the new second-in-command, Mao instead choseHua Guofeng, a relative unknown from the provinces. Less than one month after the death of Mao in 1976, moderate leaders seized power in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and on October 6, 1976, 30 radical leaders were arrested and deposed from their official positions in the CCP. Among those arrested were Jiang, Zhang, Yao and Wang.
In her biography of Zhou Enlai, Han Suyin gives an account of the arrest:
On October 22, 1976, the Communist Party issued an announcement labeling them “the Gang of Four” and charging them with a plot to overthrow the Chinese government. The initial charges included attempting to forge Mao’s will; issuing orders and attributing them to Mao; and hiring a gunman to make an attempt on the life of Hua Guofeng. . It was claimed that Madame Mao was in the act of forging her husband’s will when she was arrested. The accusations against them were increased, blaming them for all the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.
When they were arrested, fighting broke out in various places, particularly in the agricultural provinces of central China. Two days after their arrest, 30,000 militiamen had to be called up to control the disturbances in Shanghai. In March of 1977, “enemies” of the Chinese Communist Party were executed. The government began a two-year campaign to criticize and blame the Gang of Four for everything that had gone wrong in China.
In 1981, the four deposed leaders were tried for “crimes against the people.” Among the charges were sedition, conspiring to overthrow the government, persecution of Party and state leaders, suppression of the masses, persecuting to death 34,380 persons during the Cultural Revolution, plotting to murder Mao Zedong, and fomenting an armed rebellion in Shanghai. During the trial at the "Special Court," Jiang Qing was the only member of the Gang of Four who argued on her behalf, claiming that she obeyed the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong at all times and maintaining that all she had done was to defend Chairman Mao. Near the end of the trial, she shouted out in court, “It is more glorious to have my head chopped off than to yield to accusers. I dare you people to sentence me to death in front of one million people in Tienanmen Square!” When the death sentence was pronounced, she shouted, “I am prepared to die!” and was removed from the court. Zhang Chunqiao also refused to admit any wrong; Yao Wenyan and Wang Hongwen expressed repentance and confessed their supposed crimes.
Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao received death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment, while Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan were given lifetime and twenty years in prison, respectively. Supporters of the Gang of Four, including Chen Boda and Mao Yuanxin, were also sentenced.
Jiang died in 1991, an apparent suicide, shortly after being released on medical grounds. Wang died of liver cancer in a Beijing hospital in 1992. Zhang was released for medical reasons in August 2002 and arranged to live in obscurity back in Shanghai; in May 2005 it was announced that he had died of cancer the previous month. Yao Wenyuan was released on October 23, 1996, and spent the remainder of his life in his hometown of Shanghai, writing a book and studying Chinese history. According to China's official Xinhua news agency, he died of diabetes on December 23, 2005. 
It is now officially claimed by Chinese propaganda agencies that in his last year, Mao turned against Jiang Qing and her associates, and that after his death on September 9, 1976, they attempted to seize power (the same allegation made against Lin Biao in 1971). Decades later, it is impossible to know the full truth. It does appear that their influence was in decline before Mao's death, because 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, perhaps hoping that the key military leaders Wang Dongxing and Chen Xilian would support them, but Hua seems to have won the Army over to his side. By 1978, Deng Xiaoping had returned and pushed Hua aside, becoming the political leader of the Party.
Mao Zedong was not held responsible for the problems which his policies had caused in China; instead the blame was shifted onto the Gang of Four and other scapegoats. Mao continued to be revered as the "Great Leader." Images of Jiang, Zhang, Yao and Wang were even airbrushed out of the photographs of Mao's funeral.
All links retrieved May 23, 2017.
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.