The so-called “Gang of Four” was a powerful political influence on Chinese Communism during final years of Mao’s life. Jiang’s political clout coalesced during the early phase of the (Great Proletarian) Cultural Revolution and she later aligned with Shanghai propaganda official Zhang Chunqiao (1917-2005), literary critic Yao Wenyuan , and security guard Wang Hongwen (1935-1992).
During the Cultural Revolution, Jiang’s group targeted some CCP leaders directly, including Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and Zhou Enlai. Liu was denounced repeatedly, purged and died while in prison as a result. Deng was sent to forced labour. They were denounced as “capitalist roaders” and “bourgeois revisionists “.
Zhou experienced some political unease during this period, but he emerged from the intrigue relatively unscathed.
In 1966, Chairman Mao had been kicked upstairs by more pragmatic comrades after his calamitous Great Leap Forward starved to death some 30 million Chinese and wrecked the economy.
The aging revolutionary was determined to regain full power. He unleashed armies of credulous students known as Red Guards to tear down the government and purge the party.
In one of history’s worst acts of vandalism, much of China’s glorious art and ancient temples were destroyed as remnants of “feudalism” by mobs of fanatical teenagers. China was virtually paralyzed from 1966-1976: the economy broke down, education ceased, millions starved or were thrown into grim labor camps. A failed coup against Mao in 1971 by Marshall Lin Biao furthered the chaos and tumult.
After a decade of civil strife and national madness, in 1976 the People’s Liberation Army and centrist reformers like Deng Xioping and the dying Zhou Enlai managed to wrest power away from the aging Mao, who was showing increasing signs of dementia and paranoia, and broke the Gang of Four.
Following Mao’s death in 1976, a brief political struggle ensued between Jiang’s Gang of Four and Hua Guofeng. The Gang of Four was ultimately arrested and they were politically discredited. All four members were held responsible for the upheaval and suffering wrought by the Cultural Revolution and they were placed on trial. Jiang and Zhang were sentenced to death, although their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. Yao and Wang were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
A year into China’s Cultural Revolution in 1966, pro-communist leftists in Hong Kong, inspired by the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), who turned a labour dispute into large scale demonstrations against British colonial rule. Demonstrators clashed violently with the Hong Kong Police Force. Instigated by events in the PRC, leftists called for massive strikes and organised demonstrations, while the police stormed many of the leftists’ strongholds and placed their active leaders under arrest. These riots became still more violent when the leftists resorted to terrorist attacks, planting fake and real bombs in the city and murdering some members of the press who voiced their opposition to the violence.
The waves of bombings did not subside until October 1967. In December, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai ordered the leftist groups in Hong Kong to stop all bombings; and the riots in Hong Kong finally came to an end. The disputes in total lasted 18 months. It became known much later that, during the riots, the commander of PLA’s Guangzhou Military Region Huang Yongsheng (one of Lin Biao’s top allies) secretly suggested invading and occupying Hong Kong, but his plan was vetoed by Zhou Enlai. Some 2000 people were convicted after the arrests.
Many leftist groups with close ties to the PRC were destroyed during the riots of 1967. Public support for the pro-communist leftists sank to an all-time low, as the public widely condemned their violent behaviour.
Coming to the present time and the current sensational trial of Madame Gu Kailai, wife of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai . She was charged with poisoning Neil Heywood. a British businessman, fixer, and possibly her former lover. Bo Xilai who, until the scandal, appeared set to be elevated to a senior role in China’s leadership. Bo was regarded – and feared – by many as a dangerous opportunist bent on reviving Maoism. The arrest and isolation of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai suggests the party leaders feared he might have planned to ignite another wave of Maoism among China’s youth. His failure to follow the party line was a major heresy.
Madame Gu’s trial and the sacking of her ambitious husband will sharply remind the Communist brass that they must keep a united front or else China’s ancient curse – separatism, regionalism, warlordism – could rise from the grave.
For Chinese, who have a good grasp of their turbulent history, instability is the greatest of all dangers.
And this is how China deals with Leftism.