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Yao Wenyuan: The Last Member of The Gang of Four Dies

The once powerful person who played a key role in embroiling the country in chaos during the "Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)" lived out his final years in prison.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported on January 6, 2006, that Yao Wenyuan, the final surviving member of the Gang of Four, who terrorized China during the violent 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, died on December 23, 2005, at the age of 74. It didn’t explain the delay in reporting Yao’s death.

Yao played an important role in launching the Cultural Revolution in China. His article on "The destitution of Hai Rui" (Chinese: 海瑞罢官), ordered by Mao Zedong, marked the beginning of the Cultural Revolution on November 10, 1965. In April 1969 he joined the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), working on official propaganda. He was arrested in October 1976 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, serving his sentence in Qincheng jail outside of Beijing, where the Gang of Four once held victims in solitary confinement. After Yao was released in 1996, he lived for a short time at his home in Shanghai. Then he was forced to move to Kunshan, Jiangshu Province, where he wrote his memoirs entitled, "Recollection and Reflection" (《回顾与反思》). The content of his memoirs has been circulated in Chinese on several websites.[1]

Mao Zedong reportedly gave the Gang of Four its name. He appointed three of the members, including Yao, Mao’s third wife, Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao to the Cultural Revolution’s leadership group and picked the fourth member, Wang Hongwen, to be his successor. After Mao launched the decade-long Cultural Revolution, the violence pitted neighbor against neighbor, wrecked the economy and forced millions of middle-school to university youth, intellectuals, and government officials to work in the countryside. Nearly every Chinese family can tell of a relative or friend who was beaten and harassed. One report states, "Statistics compiled from county annals show that 7.73 million people died of unnatural causes during the Cultural Revolution."[2] However, Western scholars have estimated that between 16.4 and 29.5 million people died because of the Cultural Revolution.[3]

One month after Mao’s death in 1976, the four were arrested, marking the end of the decade-long Cultural Revolution. The Gang of Four received most of the official blame for the violence and the killings as the communist government tried to shift attention away from the role played by the Communist Party, its chairman Mao Zedong, and other political leaders, including thousands of CCP officials.

In 1981, the four deposed leaders were subjected to a show trial and convicted of anti-Communist Party activities. During the trial, Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, was extremely defiant. She protested loudly and burst into tears several times. Zhang Chunqiao refused to admit to any wrongdoing as well. Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen expressed repentance and confessed their crimes against Deng Xiaoping. Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao received death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment, while Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Last May 2005, Xinhua reported that Zhang Chunqiao had died of cancer in April 2005. It was the first official word in decades on a man previously widely thought to have been long dead. Jiang Qing never repented. She hanged herself in Beijing in May 1991. The fourth and youngest gang member, Wang Hongwen, died of liver cancer in a Beijing hospital in 1992.{mospagebreak}

The Chinese Communist Party have never allowed the suffering that the Chinese people went through to be discussed openly. To do so could gravely threaten the Party’s legitimacy and re-open the wounds of a group of people whose lives were so badly disrupted that they think of themselves as a lost generation.

Steven Tian is a correspondent for Chinascope.