Qi Xin

The Rise and Fall of the Gang of Four (1977)

This article originally appeared in “The Seventies,” a Hong Kong periodical with the stated goal of promoting a better understanding of China among overseas observers.

Several articles written by Qi Xin, an author writing under an assumed pen-name, were later published as The Case of the Gang of Four (1977) in the immediate aftermath of their downfall, before the return of Deng Xiaoping. This is the first chapter of that pamphlet.


How Did the Gang of Four Get into Power?

Q. For more than a month, China’s press has carried many articles on the crimes of the Gang of Four which brought disasters to China and her people. The disclosure of these facts is shocking, but the question I am presently concerned with is this: if the Gang of Four were so wicked and so incompetent, then why were they permitted to climb to such high positions in the first place?

A. The ten years since the Cultural Revolution have been a period of very complex and sharp struggles in China. Understanding the rise and fall of the Gang of Four and the overall march of political events isn’t easy. We have to look below the surface of things to analyze the “leftist” and rightist lines and to distinguish correct from incorrect things, because, as we know, people can “wave the red flag to oppose the red flag.” Things can be “left” in form but right in essence. One tendency can cover or hide another, judgements correct in general may be erroneous in parts, and what is wrong may appear to be right. In short, things are complicated and not easy to sort out. However, people in China have learned a lesson and improved their analytical ability over this long period of struggle. Those who have not been through these last ten years of turbulence will find it difficult to make out what is happening simply from a few reports and a superficial knowledge of the events.

Q. It is my understanding that the Gang of Four came to power only at the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. Prior to this, they were neither members nor even alternate members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). At that time, Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong, did not hold any substantive position in the Party or government. Zhang Chunqiao’s position was higher: he was the deputy secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee and the head of its propaganda department. Yao Wenyuan was the editor-in-chief of Shanghai’s Liberation Daily. Wang Hongwen was just an ordinary factory worker in Shanghai. What enabled them to leap into the highest positions in the Communist Party of China? Was it because of their relationship with Mao Zedong?

A. One should rather say that they owed their positions to Jiang Qing, who was actually the head of the Gang of Four. Jiang Qing’s own rise to power was the outcome of a certain political development and did not happen simply because she was Mao’s wife. We would say it was a necessary outcome of the time when Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution.

At some point after the Soviet Union suddenly launched its attack on the Communist Party of China in the Bucharest meeting of 1960, there was a division in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China into two “fronts,” i.e., the so-called first front and second front. The leaders of the first were those in charge of the day-to-day administration of the Party and state. The leaders of the second concerned themselves with the study of theoretical questions of the international communist movement and the struggle against Soviet revisionism. Mao implied that he belonged to the second front, while Liu Shaoqi took over the leadership of the first and served as head of state with Deng Xiaoping as General Secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of CPC, managing the Party organizations throughout the nation.

In a few years, Liu Shaoqi came to control many of the major departments in the central government, slowly promoting a revisionist line, especially in the superstructure and in the cultural sphere. Stories of emperors, kings and generals flooded the stage and screen. The schools turned out groups after groups of people with an elitist outlook. In the health field, the majority of the doctors and large hospitals were concentrated in cities, completely ignoring the scarcity of medical staff and medicine in rural areas. Mao Zedong time and again criticized these phenomena, but Liu Shaoqi simply ignored his criticisms and even prevented his directives from reaching the cadres and masses. As a result, there were two rival headquarters in the Central Committee: Mao’s headquarter and Liu’s “bourgeois headquarter.”

In 1964, Jiang Qing began to intervene in the cultural area. She produced the “Red Detachment of Women,” a modern ballet, to reflect Mao Zedong’s intentions. Later in 1965, Liu Shaoqi rejected Mao’s suggestion at a Central Committee work meeting that the new historical drama “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” [1] be criticized. Because Mao felt that his suggestion could not be carried out in Beijing, Jiang Qing was sent to Shanghai to examine the matter with Zhang Chunqiao, head of the propaganda department of the Shanghai Municipal Committee. Mao also instructed Yao Wenyuan to write the article “On the New Historical Drama Hai Rui Dismissed from Office,” which first appeared in Shanghai’s Wenhui Bao. It is said that Mao Zedong revised this article seventeen times and wrote some of the important points himself. Since they participated in writing the article and since it was this article that initiated the Cultural Revolution, Jiang, Zhang, and Yao were able to sneak into power.

Q. Can the writing of an article be of such significance? Surely Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China would not elevate unknown people to the highest level of the Party just because they had written a good article, especially when it had to be revised by Mao so many times.

A. “On the New Historical Drama ‘Hai Rui Dismissed from Office’” is not just an ordinary article. It reflected the struggles over political lines in the Communist Party of China since 1959. Mao had said that “the key point of ‘Hai Rui Dismissed from Office’ is the question of ‘dismissal from office.’ Emperor Jiajing dismissed Hai Rui from office. In 1959, we dismissed Peng Dehuai [2] from office. Peng Dehuai is Hai Rui.” This clearly shows that the appearance of this drama at that time had its specific political purpose. It was a drama which used a classical allegory to attack the Communist Party of China. There were many other similar plays and articles in Beijing’s press which indirectly tried to reverse the verdict on Peng Dehuai. “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” was just the tip of the iceberg.

Q. Although the question of “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” is important, how could Jiang, Zhang and Yao, based on writing just one article, rise to such high positions? I don’t think the matter is so simple, there must be some further explanation for this.

A. “On the New Historical Drama Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” signaled the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, but it was the events that followed which really determined the roles they played.

First of all, the article on “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” was not permitted to be reprinted in Beijing newspapers, which were under the control of Liu Shaoqi. Later, when Shanghai published the article in pamphlet form, its distribution in Beijing was denied. In February 1966, Peng Zhen, then the secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee and the mayor of Beijing, in the name of the Central Committee issued to all Party members the “Outline Report on the Current Academic Discussion Made by the Group of Five [3] in Charge of the Cultural Revolution.” This “Outline Report” avoided class struggle, evaded the essential question of “dismissal,” and turned the criticism of “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” into a purely academic discussion.

During the same month of February, Lin Biao, using his influence in the armed forces, entrusted Jiang Qing to convene the “Forum on Cultural Work of the Armed Forces.” From the notes taken by the audience of the forum, a “Summary of the Forum” was written. After being revised by Mao three times, this summary became a document which was counterposed to the “Outline Report.” The summary basically clarifies Mao Zedong’s thinking on literature and art. It points out that on the cultural front, “a black anti-Party, anti-socialist line, counter to Mao Zedong Thought, has ruled over us.” The summary put forth that a “socialist revolution must resolutely be carried out on the cultural front to wipe out this black line completely and thoroughly.”

The simultaneous appearance of these two opposing documents, the “Outline Report” and the “Summary of the Forum,” was the result of the struggles on the cultural front between the two headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. You may say that in this historical period, Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, and Yao Wenyuan were in a comparatively weaker position than Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and Peng Zhen. Later, with an understanding of Mao’s intentions but having different motives, they participated in the struggles against Liu Shaoqi. Objectively, they took to the side of Mao Zedong, who at this time needed some people to generate public opinion that would mobilize the masses to join the struggle, otherwise he would not be able to defeat the revisionist line of Liu Shaoqi and his clique. This is the background which propelled those people to power on the eve of the Cultural Revolution.

On May 16, 1966, the Central Committee headed by Mao issued a “Circular” revoking the “Outline Report,” dissolving Peng Zhen’s “Group of Five in Charge of the Cultural Revolution,” and setting up a new Cultural Revolution Group directly under the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau (Politburo) with Chen Boda [4] at its head, Jiang Qing as its first deputy, and Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan as other members of the group.

The May 16th Circular, together with the big-character poster “Bombard the Headquarters” written by Mao on August 5, 1966, and the Sixteen-Point Decision [5] passed by the Eleventh Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China headed by Mao, fanned the flames of the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution called for “overthrow of those in authority taking the capitalist road.” Many of the Party and government leaders from the central to the regional levels who had carried out revisionist lines stood aside from the struggle. Many of the Party and government organizations became paralyzed. Since the Cultural Revolution Group was the organization that led the rebellion, its power increased rapidly. It was during this time that Lin Biao and Jiang Qing stole the limelight, trading on Mao’s prestige. One was called Mao’s “close comrade-in-arms,” the other was Mao’s wife. The two bragged about and praised each other and schemed together to attack large numbers of experienced cadres in order to consolidate their own positions. Under the cover of criticizing the old cultural department and the propaganda department of the Central Committee, Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan took the opportunity to dominate the mass media in the country and raised the banner of “Revolutionary Mass Criticism,” attacking people left and right in order to establish their own positions. Because of their dynamism during the Cultural Revolution, Jiang, Zhang and Yao became members of the Politburo during the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1969.

Q. Then how did Wang Hongwen, at that time an ordinary worker, become the Vice-Chairman of the Communist Party of China in just a few years?

A. In January 1967, the rebel factions of the Shanghai workers united together, seized power at all levels from the capitalist roaders in the Party, and established a new Revolutionary Committee. This was called the “January Storm.” Following the example of Shanghai, the rebel factions in each province and city also united together and established Revolutionary Committees.

Wang Hongwen was the leader of the rebel worker factions which played the vanguard role in Shanghai’s “January Storm.” After the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee seized power, he became its deputy head. At the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1969 he was elected to the Central Committee. Since Zhang Chunqiao headed the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee, and Yao Wenyuan served as its first deputy head, the three of them formed a working relationship. Furthermore, through Zhang and Yao, Wang linked up with Jiang Qing, forming a four-person clique.

Therefore, though starting from a relatively weak position and having different motives for opposing Liu Shaoqi at the beginning, Jiang, Zhang, and Yao together with Lin Biao and Chen Boda took advantage of the spreading flames of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s prestige to sneak into power. But the Cultural Revolution could not be carried forward simply through rebellion and turmoil. Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai emphasized time and again that people should implement policies, restore order, grasp revolution and promote production, and carry out struggle-criticism-transformation.

It was at this time that the true nature of the errors and incorrect theories of Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, and others began to surface before the masses. Even Mao was disgusted with the way Lin Biao tried to promote a Mao “personality cult,” which made Lin realize that his position as Mao’s successor was in jeopardy. To fulfill his personal ambitions, Lin Biao engaged in treasonous intrigues, resorted to a coup d’etat, surrendered to the enemy [the USSR], and in the end brought death and disgrace upon himself.

Although Jiang Qing and Lin Biao colluded with each other, they also had their contradictions. In 1966, Mao wrote to Jiang Qing expressing his disagreements with Lin and telling her that he was “ill at ease” with some of Lin Biao’s thinking. One can assume that Jiang Qing knew fairly early that Mao was not satisfied with Lin Biao. Therefore, when Lin Biao launched his coup d’etat at the Second Plenary Session of the Ninth Central Committee of the CPC in 1970, Chiang and others did not support him. Instead, they abetted Wang Hongwen in opposing him. Consequently, in the struggle against Lin Biao’s line, Wang Hongwen greatly impressed Mao, who hoped that Wang could represent the “young” in the old-middle-aged-young three-in-one combination at the Party’s highest level. Thus when Deng Xiaoping was rehabilitated in the beginning of 1973, Wang Hongwen was also transferred to Beijing. In August of the same year, at the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party of China, Wang Hongwen was elected Second Vice-Chairman [6] of the Party and delivered the report on the revision of the Party Constitution on behalf of the Central Committee.

After Wang Hongwen reached the highest level of the Central Committee, Jiang, Zhang, and Yao became more powerful, thereafter slowly forming the Gang of Four and carrying out sectarian activities.

From these facts, we can see that the Gang of Four came to power by taking advantage of the opposition to Liu Shaoqi, by using Mao’s prestige, by colluding with Lin Biao and by praising and bragging about each other to serve their own purposes. Although the things they did when they first came to power gave some impetus to the Cultural Revolution, their ambition, their desire for personal position and their continuous obstruction of the implementation of policies outweighed the initial impetus and damaged the Cultural Revolution. As people gradually came to know them for what they were, they struggled to save themselves by forming a clique and playing tricks. This was a process of gradual development and exposure.

The Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four

Q. I can’t agree with your view that the Gang of Four disrupted and interfered with the Cultural Revolution more than they advanced it. I must say that the Gang of Four earnestly defended the Cultural Revolution. They sharply criticized Deng Xiaoping because Deng attempted to reverse the correct verdicts of the Cultural Revolution. I think that if we affirm the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four, being members of the Cultural Revolution Group, must also be affirmed. It would only prove that the Cultural Revolution was a mistake if the Four were repudiated.

A. I don’t think we should adopt the attitude of either totally affirming the Cultural Revolution or completely negating it. That would be a mechanical and non-analytical way of looking at it. In my view, the successes of the Cultural Revolution are of primary importance. First, the mobilization of hundreds of millions of people for a political campaign to criticize and repudiate those persons in authority taking the capitalist road — a campaign at all levels to criticize revisionist lines that would lead to capitalist restoration — and the smashing of Liu Shaoqi’s bourgeois headquarters were in themselves an unprecedented feat. Second, people’s political understanding and ideological awareness were greatly heightened in the course of the campaign. Many have become more capable of distinguishing between genuine and sham Marxism, so that in the future they can use this ability in the same way that water can uphold a boat or sink it, thus guaranteeing the direction of the country’s development. Third, the revolutionary spirit of the Cultural Revolution brought forth many newborn things, which sought to narrow the “three big differences” [7] in various spheres, prevent the re-creation or expansion of bourgeois privileges, and guarantee that the state will forever serve the interest of the greatest majority of the people. Fourth, experiences from the Cultural Revolution illustrate explicitly that the main danger of capitalist restoration during the historical period of socialism stems from the emergence of capitalist roaders within the leadership of the Party itself. The privileges these people enjoy make it easy for a class of bureaucrats to develop. When such a danger appears, it is necessary to broadly mobilize the masses to overthrow these people from below.

However, it is inevitable that we will find shortcomings and mistakes in a political campaign on such a scale, in which hundreds of millions of people took part. Moreover, since this campaign was the first of its kind in history, there were bound to be new problems. It certainly was not as Lin Biao said, that the results of the Cultural Revolution were “the greatest, greatest, greatest” and the losses were “the smallest, smallest, smallest.” It was said that Mao Zedong viewed the results of the Cultural Revolution as seventy percent success and thirty percent failure, and that the major failures were armed conflicts and the attacks on and mistreatment of a large number of cadres, which violated the Party’s longstanding policy.

Q. Did Mao Zedong ever make public his view on the success and failure of the Cultural Revolution?

A. In December 1970, when Lin Biao had yet to turn traitor to the Party, Mao Zedong expressed his views to American author Edgar Snow. It is said that China’s “Reference News” [8] carried Snow’s report on this conversation. On the other hand, China’s newspapers have never mentioned the faults of the Cultural Revolution. I think that this is because the Gang of Four controlled the mass media, and that the major mistakes of the Cultural Revolution were linked in some ways to their damaging interference.

Q. What proof do you have that the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution are the result of the Gang of Four’s disruption and interference? Why shouldn’t Mao Zedong who initiated the Cultural Revolution, and Zhou Enlai who implemented the policies, be held responsible for these mistakes?

A. Let us first talk about armed conflicts-the most objectionable method of struggle used during the Cultural Revolution.

The Sixteen-Point Decision concerning the Cultural Revolution adopted in August 1966 stated that differences should be dealt with “by reasoning, not by coercion or force.” Mao Zedong time and again stressed that armed conflict was not to be used. He said that “debate conducted by coercion or force can merely touch the skin and flesh; only through reasoning can the soul be reached,” “most of the armed conflicts are provoked by a handful of bourgeois reactionaries in the Party who have ulterior motives.” When Zhou Enlai received Red Guard representatives during the Cultural Revolution, he always urged that differences be dealt with by reasoned debate, and not by coercion or force. Zhou Enlai did a great deal to restrain armed conflicts.

However, when Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao talked to the Red Guards, Jiang Qing put forth the slogan “attack by reasoning and defend by force,” that is, use force to defend “revolutionaries.” At that time, all rebel groups claimed themselves to be “revolutionaries,” so everyone waged armed conflicts. During a meeting of the senior cadres of the Military Commission in August 1967, Lin Biao advocated “arming the leftists, distributing guns to the leftist masses.” He even told the Red Guards: “Good people should struggle against bad people. It is only a misunderstanding when good people struggle against other good people. When groups of bad people struggle against one another, we should take advantage of it [and let them destroy one another]. When bad people struggle against good people, we should use this as an opportunity to temper ourselves in battle.” In other words, all armed conflicts were in general desirable. When Zhang Chunqiao received Red Guards in Shanghai, he said, “Your faction didn’t retaliate when attacked. I wouldn’t have been able to stand it if I were you, I would definitely go all out and fight back.” At the instigation of these people, rebel factions joined in armed conflicts one after another, taking weapons from army units and looting military supplies intended for aid to Vietnam. Factional conflicts were rampant and caused heavy casualties. To protect the masses and avoid further casualties, military units went unarmed to stop armed conflicts, and suffered some losses. Those who instigated these armed conflicts had blood on their hands.

During this period, Zhou Enlai worked the hardest. He flew to wherever armed conflicts were most violent, talked to the masses, and persuaded them to stop fighting each other. He slept only two or three hours a day, and even while eating he was briefed by his secretaries on the situation in various areas. Those few years took a heavy toll on his health.

Aside from inciting armed conflicts, Lin Biao and the Gang of Four also instigated people to “beat, wreck, and loot,” even though these actions were strictly forbidden. Jiang Qing clamored, “To beat, wreck, and loot for revolution is fine.” She also called for the smashing of public security offices, prosecutor’s offices and courts. For a time, chaos spread beyond control.

Q. You just said that another major mistake of the Cultural Revolution was the attack on a large number of cadres, but wasn’t that Mao Zedong’s own idea? Wasn’t the overthrow of the large number of cadres who followed Liu Shaoqi the reason for initiating the Cultural Revolution?

A. “Help more people by educating them and narrow the target of attack” has been a consistent policy of Mao Zedong. The Sixteen-Point Decision concerning the Cultural Revolution also stated that it is necessary to achieve the unity of more than 95 percent of the cadres. The majority of the cadres who carried out Liu Shaoqi’s revisionist line did it unconsciously. They were merely following orders from their superiors. The overthrow of Liu Shaoqi himself would help to raise the political consciousness of these cadres and a unity of more than 95 percent could be achieved. However, for the purpose of consolidating their own personal positions, Lin Biao and the Gang of Four raised the slogan “suspect all, overthrow all,” paralyzed the Party and state organs, and put themselves in control of the situation. These people even spearheaded attacks on Zhou Enlai. They mobilized 500,000 Red Guards to besiege the State Council, seizing files and other documents as they howled, “Bombard Zhou Enlai, liberate the State Council.” They also attacked the Foreign Ministry and Chen Yi [9] in order to get at Zhou Enlai.

Lin Biao and the Gang of Four sabotaged the line established by Mao Zedong and implemented by Zhou Enlai in the area of foreign affairs. They instructed the “May 16 [Red Guards] Group” [10] to burn down the British Office of the Charge d’Affaires. In China many people knew that it was Jiang Qing who gave orders to the “May 16 Group.” Aside from this, they also caused serious damage in literature, art, and education. After the Party’s Ninth Congress in 1969, armed conflicts basically ceased and many cadres were “liberated,” but literature and art were still very dry and dogmatic, the principle of “let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend” was never really implemented. The situation in the field of education was capricious, probably resulting from the sabotage and interference of the Gang of Four. A great deal of this has already been disclosed by the press.

Q. Given that the Gang of Four wanted to usurp Party and state power yet lacked seniority, experience and competence, one would naturally expect them to try to ingratiate themselves with the cadres. So why did they isolate themselves by attacking the cadres?

A. It is precisely their inexperience, incompetence, narrow-mindedness, and wild ambition that led them to scorn competent people whose ability might overshadow theirs and make them lose their foothold. They did try to buy off some people, but those who could be bought off were the sort that would submit to their will, and not the able ones who were loyal to the country and the people. The selfish interest of the Gang of Four was also manifested in the many taboos they imposed. For example, they forbade mention of “ultraleftism” in Lin Biao, they forbade mention of the shortcomings both of the Cultural Revolution and of the “model theatrical works” which they strongly promoted. They decked each other out in outrageous praises. Lin Biao and Jiang Qing performed most outstandingly in this respect.

I think that to a certain extent the people in China felt ill at ease, unable to express their sense of right and wrong, which actually became confused. The problems and shortcomings since the Cultural Revolution were a result of the Gang of Four’s occupying a high position. It was their selfishness in protecting and furthering their own positions that discredited them with a large number of cadres and people.

Why Was the Gang Not Dealt With Earlier?

Q. According to what you said, the Gang of Four’s rise to power was a necessary outcome of the circumstances at the time, and this is understandable. Yet their interference with and sabotage of the Party’s internal and foreign policies during the ten years since the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution were also very serious. If that is the case, why was this problem not dealt with earlier? Should Chairman Mao be held responsible?

A. I think several factors are involved.

  1. There were various stages in the development of the crimes committed by the Gang of Four in the past ten years. Probably at first they merely deviated in implementing Chairman Mao’s line. Subsequently, when Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai tried to implement sound policies and to correct certain mistakes of the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four were afraid that eventually they themselves would be criticized; therefore, they used all kinds of tricks to oppose the policies of Mao and Zhou. In this way, their mistakes became more serious. Afterwards, when Chairman Mao tried to criticize and educate them, not only did they feign obedience, but they gave vent to their wild ambitions, conspired to usurp Party and state leadership upon the deaths of Mao and Zhou, thus precipitated a struggle for succession. Finally, following the deaths of Zhou and Mao, their scheme to usurp power came fully into the open as they frenziedly engaged in conspiratorial and splittist activities. The situation then became irremediable.

  2. With further exposure of their crimes, the people began to see through them more and more. First it appeared that they were wrong only in their methods of work, but subsequently it was found that their ideology was incorrect. Even if it was a matter of incorrect ideology, they could be re-educated. Mao time and again tried to re-educate them, but they refused to change. Mao therefore had to resort to suppressing them and to preventing them from gaining supreme power, while at the same time hoping that they would come to their senses. It was not until Mao had passed away and their wild ambitions fully exposed that Hua Guofeng, as the highest leader, along with the great majority of the Party Central Committee, took resolute measures against them.

  3. Prior to 1976, when Mao and Zhou were still alive, and with the rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping, the Four had not been rampant to a point where immediate action was warranted. The turning point came in 1976. after the death of Zhou Enlai and the purge of Deng Xiaoping and with Mao seriously ill, when the Gang of Four became more and more power hungry.

  4. It was reported that Mao Zedong and Jiang Qing were separated in 1973. Most people, however, did not know this. Hence Jiang Qing was still able to use her position as Mao’s wife to deceive people. Because of her relation to Mao, it was particularly difficult for the Party to deal with her.

Q. When Mao was still alive, those who wanted to deal with Jiang Qing perhaps felt the need to be respectful to Mao. But why didn’t Mao handle the matter himself? If he had only given the word to have the Gang of Four removed from office, who would have disobeyed?

A. The question is at what point would Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and other leaders consider it necessary to take serious action against them. Not to mention that the Gang of Four still had cohorts at the Party’s highest level. I think that before this year Mao and Zhou basically resorted to suppressive measures, to educate and change their attitudes. This is the longstanding policy in dealing with cadres who make mistakes.

The Gang of Four had close ties with Lin Biao before his betrayal. The power they amassed during the Cultural Revolution was quite extensive, on the cultural front as well as in the military. After the Lin Biao affair of September 1971, Mao and Zhou, aside from being overburdened with foreign affairs, also had to cope with two urgent domestic matters. One was the rectification campaign against the errors of Lin Biao, cleansing the country of his poisonous ideology, which was “left” in form but right in essence. The second problem was implementing the policy of rehabilitating large numbers of able cadres, and also solving the problem of succession. These two major questions, ideology and personnel, both directly affected the Gang of Four. During the Cultural Revolution the Gang of Four and Lin Biao had boasted about and collaborated with each other, propagating ultra-“leftist” thinking; therefore, the anti-Lin Biao campaign would inevitably fall on their heads too. Furthermore, the policy of large-scale rehabilitation of capable cadres constituted a threat to their positions.

The strategy in their counterattack had several parts.

  1. Using the mass media under their control, they constantly shifted the target of attack in the anti-Lin Biao campaign. Sometimes they turned the campaign into an academic debate on the struggle between the Confucians and the Legalists. [11] At other times they criticized people for “entering by the back door.” [12] By “shooting three arrows at the same time” they watered down the whole anti-Lin campaign. Moreover, under the pretext of criticizing revisionism, they launched another campaign against empiricism [13] aimed at veteran experienced cadres.

  2. They used all kinds of tactics to forestall the rehabilitation of old cadres, or to deny them power if they had already made a comeback, while they themselves exploited “the old-middle aged-young, three-in-one combinations” to cultivate their personal power, recommending their own people to be placed in the line of succession. For example, in 1973 they actively pushed Wang Hongwen to a high-level position on the Central Committee, hoping that he would take control after the deaths of Mao and Zhou. At the end of 1974, on the eve of the Fourth National People’s Congress (NPC), they attempted to have Zhang Chunqiao made Premier and for him to organize a cabinet, while Wang Hungwen was to become Vice-Chairman of the National People’s Congress so that he could later succeed Zhu De as its Chairman.

  3. They constantly attacked Zhou Enlai, especially after 1972 when Zhou became ill. They knew that Zhou was trusted by Mao and greatly respected by the cadres. They also knew he had been very much aware of their words and actions all along, and had disapproved of them. That was why they regarded Zhou as the major obstacle in their seizure of state power.

Q. What concrete examples are there to show that the Gang of Four were really against Zhou Enlai? Zhou had been ill with cancer since 1972. It was evident he would not live long and was no threat to their scheme for the seizure of power. So why should they aim their attack at him?

A. The question is not simply Zhou as an individual, but the way he faithfully implemented Mao’s policies, the great number of cadres he could rely on, and the say he had in choosing a successor. To the Gang of Four, support for Zhou Enlai meant repudiation of themselves.

It was said that even when Zhou Enlai was hospitalized in 1973, he still insisted on working, meeting with officials, and seeing foreign visitors. At this time Jiang Qing was accusing Zhou before Mao Zedong, saying Zhou was not sick at all, but was meeting every day in the hospital with cadres to carry out conspiracies. Mao reprimanded her right on the spot. At the end of 1974 Jiang Qing again sent Wang Hongwen to Mao Zedong to discredit Zhou, and to suggest that Zhang Chunqiao should be asked to become Premier and organize a cabinet. Again he was rebuked by Mao.

In 1974 the Gang of Four also used the anti-Lin campaign to attack Zhou. It is said that at one point Jiang Qing organized a “criticize Lin Biao and Confucius” meeting in the Beijing Sports Stadium and did not notify Zhou of the meeting until the last moment. As Zhou had to see off some foreign guests, he arrived late. Jiang Qing immediately seized the opportunity to shower him with sarcasm. Furthermore, at the meeting they never uttered a word to criticize Lin, only Confucius, insinuating that a “modern Confucius” [i.e., Zhou] was trying to “bring back the past.”

Besides this, Chinese papers have recently reported that the Gang of Four used the movie “The Pioneers” [14] to focus their attack on Zhou. They also produced a movie entitled “Counter-attack” [15] to criticize Zhou Enlai.

Q. Mao must have known all this. Why didn’t he take more resolute measures against them? Or did the Four keep the facts from reaching him?

A. Judging from recent reports from China, Mao knew what they were doing before this year. But even though he distrusted them and would never give them the heavy responsibility of the Party and the country, he never thought that they would try to stage a coup d’etat.

Since the beginning of the year, as Mao’s health was deteriorating, he had decided to deal with them. But his advanced age made it impossible for him to do it directly; he had to rely on Hua Guofeng and others to deal with the problem.

For many years, in handling matters of personnel, Mao had shown his distrust of the Gang of Four. The most obvious case in point is that when Zhou Enlai became ill in 1972, Mao decided to have Deng Xiaoping rehabilitated at the beginning of 1973. I believe that by putting Deng Xiaoping in such an important position [Vice-Premier], Mao Zedong must have originally intended to have him succeed Zhou Enlai as Premier, although obviously Deng Xiaoping was also getting old and was therefore only a transitional figure. A permanent successor would have to come from the younger top leadership, which certainly would not exclude Wang, Zhang, and Yao. But the successor would probably have to be steeled and pass the test of stormy struggle during the Deng Xiaoping transitional period.

1975 was the crucial point. During that year Zhou Enlai’s illness became more and more serious and Deng Xiaoping was basically in control. Mao’s criticism of the Gang of Four became sharper. Deng also opposed the Gang of Four, but his ideological stand and methods were incorrect. He was typical of many cadres who had been attacked in the Cultural Revolution. They not only opposed the Gang of Four, but, ignoring the trend of history, repudiated the Cultural Revolution as a whole. Their errors provided an opportunity for the Gang of Four to counterattack. At the same time, Hua Guofeng had shown himself to be a leader at the national agricultural conference on “learning from Dazhai” and in other work such as the release of Guomindang prisoners of war. Next to Deng, he was the most active Vice-Premier in the State Council. Because of his performance he was able to win Mao’s confidence. Thus, at the beginning of the year, after Zhou had passed away and Deng had fallen from power, Mao Zedong immediately proposed Hua as First Vice-Chairman [of the Party] and Premier [of the state], putting him in a higher position than the Gang of Four. This clearly showed Mao’s distrust of the Four and indicated his intention to recommend Hua as his successor.

A year earlier, in January 1975, the Party Central Committee had issued a No. 1 document of a decision arrived at during the Second Plenary Session of the Tenth Central Committee of the Party to appoint Deng Xiaoping Vice-Chairman of the Central Committee and First Vice-Premier of the State Council. This document had shattered Zhang Chunqiao’s dream of organizing a cabinet with himself as the Premier. In February 1976 another announcement from the Party Central Committee proclaimed Hua Guofeng the Acting Premier. Thus, at the point when Zhou had died and Deng was beginning to come under criticism, Zhang Chunqiao, then the Second Vice-premier, was passed over for the post of Acting Premier. With deep hatred in his heart, he wrote an essay entitled “An Impression on February 3, 1976” which read: “Another No. 1 document. Last year they issued a No. 1 document too. When they have things their way, then they become wildly ambitious, they come on faster and more fiercely — they will also be toppled sooner.” At the end of the essay he quoted Wang Anshi’s [16] poem “The New Year”:

At the sound of firecrackers, a year is gone
The spring wind brings to our wine a touch of warmth
Thousands of houses glow at the break of dawn
Every family will replace its old door charm with fresh peachwood

All this showed his ambition to take over the premiership sooner or later.

Q. Apart from the arrangements about personnel, it was reported in the editorials of the October 25, 1976 issues of the Party’s journal and newspapers that Mao had criticized the Gang of Four while he was still alive. Why were these criticisms not published before his death? Are there doubts about their authenticity?

A. As mentioned before, while Mao Zedong was alive the problem of the Gang of Four had not developed to the point where action had to be taken against them. It would certainly have been inopportune to publish Mao’s criticism of them at that time.

Actually, rumours of Mao’s criticism of Jiang Qing had been circulating for a long time in China.

After Lin Biao’s attempted coup in 1971, the Party Central Committee circulated Mao’s “letter to Jiang Qing” written in July 1966, which read: “I think you had better pay more attention to this problem, don’t let success get to your head. One must frequently give thought to one’s own weaknesses, shortcomings, and mistakes. I don’t know how many times I’ve discussed this point with you. It was only this April in Shanghai that we talked about it.”

It is said that Jiang Qing persisted in her ways. At the beginning of 1973 Mao decided they should be separated so she could not take advantage of his position to build up undue influence for herself. Thereafter, if she wanted to see Mao, she first had to submit in writing the reasons for her visit to a liaison officer and receive Mao’s consent before she could proceed to his residence at Zhongnanhai. It was rumoured that once Mao wrote her in reply: “It is better if we don’t meet. You haven’t carried out many of the things I talked to you about over the years. What’s the use of more meetings with you? The works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin are there, my works are there, but you simply don’t want to study.”

In addition to Mao’s criticisms of Wang-Zhang-Jinag-Yao in 1974 and 1975 — including the warnings “Do not form factions” and “Don’t function as a gang of four” which have already been reported in Chinese newspapers — foreign dispatches, overseas newspaper reports, and visitors returned from China also give relatively reliable accounts of Mao’s other criticisms of Jiang Qing. The following are excerpts rather than the original statements.

Mao Zedong once said in 1974: “Jiang Qing is poking her nose into everything. She lectures people wherever she goes. Is she ambitious? I believe she is.”

Once at a meeting of the Politburo, Mao Zedong publicly said: “Jiang Qing speaks only for herself, she cannot speak for me. No matter what, she speaks only for herself.”

It is said that Wang-Zhang-Jiang-Yao once labeled themselves “the proletarian steel plant.” Concerning this statement Mao had criticized them: “Don’t operate two kinds of factories, a steel plant, and a hat factory.” [17] (The former refers to their factionalism, the latter to the way they put dunce caps on people’s heads.)

Concerning Jiang Qing’s request prior to the Fourth People’s Congress that Zhang Chunqiao be permitted to form a cabinet and Wang Hongwen be made Vice-Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, Mao had this to say: “Jiang Qing has wild ambitions. She wants Wang Hongwen to be Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and herself to be Chairman of the Party Central Committee.”

In 1972 Jiang Qing granted an interview with the American scholar Roxane Witke. The talk lasted sixty hours. In order to advertise herself she betrayed important Party secrets. It is said that when Mao learned of it, he flew into a rage and ordered that Jiang Qing refrain from speaking in public, and forbade her to receive foreign visitors, issue documents, or form a cabinet.

In 1975 Mao Zedong publicly criticized Jiang again: “You have made too many enemies. People want to speak out to you but hesitate to do so because you are in a special position.” Mao further added: “I am too old, already 81, and in poor health and you don’t even show any consideration for me.”

Some of Mao’s statements have been vaguely hinted at by Chinese newspapers (such as the one about the steel plant and the hat factory). Some are yet to be verified. But all these statements, whether published or unpublished, to a large extent seem to be Mao’s own words. Therefore, I am convinced that in 1974 and 1975 Mao must have often criticized the Gang of Four in public.

In those two years, when the Gang of Four had not been as recalcitrant as they later became, Mao had already sharply reprimanded them. Judging from the crimes they have committed this year, if Mao Zedong had been in good health, he would have dealt promptly with this problem.

The Campaign to Criticize Deng Xiaoping and the Tiananmen Incident

Q. You have just mentioned that since the beginning of 1976 the Gang of Four had become increasingly recalcitrant and unruly. Were you referring mainly to the campaign to criticize Deng Xiaoping and the Tiananmen Incident? [18] The analysis of these two events by the Chinese newspapers at the time was not convincing. Now that the Gang of Four has been smashed, don’t you think these two events should be re-evaluated?

A. First of all, when I said that the Gang of Four became increasingly recalcitrant from the beginning of the year, I was not referring only to the anti-Deng campaign and the Tiananmen Incident. Most of the crimes they are reported to have committed occurred within this year [1976]. The two most unforgivable ones were the disruption of production and the sabotage of quake-relief efforts. They obstructed foreign trade, accusing people of “serving the bourgeoisie.” Furthermore, they denounced punctuality in train schedules as “punctuality taking command” [over politics], all of which are extremely absurd. I think more of their crimes will continue to come out in the news. As to the anti-Deng campaign, recent news reports revealed that they tried to use it as an excuse to sabotage production, and to brand people as followers of the “theory of productive forces.” [19] From these reports one could infer that with the smashing of the Gang of Four China seems to have admitted that the anti-Deng articles published at the beginning of the campaign might contain some mistakes.

Q. Was the anti-Deng campaign a partial error or was the entire campaign a mistake? Should Deng Xiaoping have been criticized? Or was the anti-Deng campaign simply a means the four people used to usurp Party and State power?

A. It is my opinion that some of the earlier articles criticizing Deng did contain errors but that the campaign as a whole was not a mistake. That is to say, Deng Xiaoping did make errors. His policy of “taking the three directives as the key link” [20] and his belief that “it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice it is a good cat” entirely contradict the Party’s longstanding policies of placing revolution in the forefront and “politics in command.” But the articles put out by the Gang of Four to criticize Deng did not simply point out Deng’s real mistakes. In order to achieve their personal goals they even repudiated some of Deng’s correct ideas. They were particularly unreasonable when they criticized the so-called “three poisonous weeds” — the documents “On the General Programme for All Work of the Party and the Country,” “Some Problems Concerning the Work of Science and Technology” (“The Outline Report,” for short), and “Some Problems in Accelerating Industrial Development” (“The Regulations for Industry”). What they did was to first distort the original meanings and then criticize the distorted versions. The Gang of Four had their own motives in criticizing the so-called “three poisonous weeds.” They asserted that these “three poisonous weeds” had been worked out on instructions from Deng Xiaoping. To whom did Deng give these instructions? It was said that it was to several Vice-Premiers in the State Council. The Gang of Four wanted not only to wipe out the influence of Deng’s incorrect ideas but to “strike him down with one blow,” at the same time taking the opportunity to knock out other leading cadres so they could rise to power themselves. This is how I see it.

Q. Judging from the circumstances surrounding the Tiananmen Incident, the masses at the time were protesting against the anti-Deng campaign as well as against the Gang of Four. Looking at it now, is it appropriate to label the Tiananmen Incident counter-revolutionary?

A. I feel that even though there was “a small group” of troublemakers there at the time, to label the entire incident as counter-revolutionary now is inappropriate. The majority of those who went to pay tribute to Zhou Enlai, together with some who were protesting the removal of the wreaths, were not satisfied with the current political atmosphere and the Gang of Four. Since they were expressing their own individual feelings they should not be considered counterrevolutionaries.

Q. In saying they weren’t satisfied with the political atmosphere, what were you mainly referring to besides the anti-Deng campaign?

A. I don’t think disapproval of the anti-Deng campaign was the crux of the problem.

  1. Since the death of Zhou Enlai, the people had been in deep grief. With Zhou’s passing, with Mao advanced in age, and with Deng Xiaoping coming under criticism, people felt that the Party and the nation lacked an ideal successor. They were deeply concerned over the future of the country.

  2. Most important, the Gang of Four was plotting to stir up a campaign against Zhou Enlai. To achieve their ends they tried their hand at everything. They forbade people from wearing black armbands and banned groups from holding memorial services. Moreover, in an article in the Shanghai newspaper Wenhui Bao they published a slanderous statement about Zhou Enlai, saying that “the biggest capitalist roader in the Party has rehabilitated the unrepentant capitalist roader” [meaning Zhou and Deng respectively]. This statement led to a wave of protests in Shanghai. The masses surrounded the Wenhui Bao building demanding an explanation of the statement. All trains running from Shanghai to other cities were covered with posters criticizing Wenhui Bao. Very soon the news was spread to everywhere. The Gang of Four also reprinted in “Reference Materials,” a paper under their control and read by senior cadres, an article from an overseas magazine which carried slanderous statements about Zhou Enlai. This also aroused protests from cadres that forced the editor of the “Reference Materials” to immediately publish a self-criticism. All these channels were used by the Gang of Four to sound out the popular sentiment. If there had been no objections from the people they would probably have escalated the whole anti-Deng campaign into an anti-Zhou campaign. But people did see through their plot, and therefore came out in strong support of the commemoration of Zhou.

  3. At that time Mao had indicated that the anti-Deng campaign was an internal problem [a contradiction among the people]: Deng had made mistakes, but it was not a contradiction between the people and the enemy. Since the Gang of Four wanted him removed from office, they used the most contemptible tactics, completely ignoring Mao’s instruction to “cure the sickness to save the patient.” Even before Deng was actually named by the Chinese newspapers, they went as far as taking foreign correspondents in special buses to Qinghua University to read the anti-Deng wall posters, hoping the foreign press would publicize the matter.

  4. Since the Cultural Revolution people have detested the Gang of Four, particularly Jiang Qing. When she went to pay last respects to Zhou Enlai at the memorial service she did not even remove her cap. This contempt of Zhou captured by the TV led to a great deal of commotion in many areas. A soldier of the Shenyang Division is said to have thrown a chair at the television set in anger. When the scene of the memorial service was shown on TV at Beijing Road in Guandong, the crowds that gathered in the street shouted in unison, “Beat her up!” After several days, wall posters appeared on the streets of Guandong: “Rally behind Chairman Mao; pay tribute to Premier Zhou; commemorate Yang Kaihui [21] and down with Wu Zetian [21]!” From this one can see how the people felt at that time.

Q. According to foreign news, the wording on wreaths placed at Tiananmen Square during the Qingming Festival reflected the popular sentiment you have mentioned above. One can say, therefore, that the removal of the wreaths by the authorities really led to a flare-up among the masses.

A. It was probably the removal of the wreaths which subsequently infuriated the masses and triggered the Tiananmen Incident. Obviously in the events there was a handful of troublemakers. One might ask: who gave these counterrevolutionaries the opportunity to make trouble? Not the masses that gathered there, but those who removed the wreaths. It was rumoured that those who ordered the militia to remove the wreaths and suppress the masses were directly tied to Wang Hongwen. Besides a small group of troublemakers, many workers and Party cadres, mostly supporters of Zhou Enlai, were arrested after the incident. The Gang of Four investigated every scrap of rumour and imposed white terror in the country. It was said that Wang Hongwen even ordered the execution of those arrested. Fortunately, Hua Guofeng and cadres from various levels, especially those from the Department of Public Security, stepped in and prevented the militia from carrying out a massacre. One of the commanders of the militia was allegedly rounded up with Wang Hongwen in early October.

Q. Did the Tiananmen Incident lead to the fall of the Gang of Four?

A. I think it did, indirectly.

  1. The Tiananmen Incident clearly revealed the unpopularity of the Gang of Four and led Hua Guofeng and other Party leaders to come to the decision to crush them.

  2. The direct results of the Tiananmen Incident were the removal of Deng and the rise of Hua to a position above the four people. From then on, Hua became the target of their attack.

  3. The two points mentioned above created the right conditions for Hua to assume the leadership afterwards. His decisiveness in smashing the Gang of Four and subsequently his election as Party Chairman answered to the needs of the revolution.

These events reflected the inevitable trend of history and the wishes of the people.

How Did They Fall?

Q. As for the fall of the four people and the rise of Hua Guofeng to the position of Party Chairman, how much can we believe the reports published in overseas newspapers? Why did Hua, who had relatively low seniority in the Party, receive such popular support?

A. In order to understand these questions, we must first examine the political circumstances at the beginning of the year when Hua first emerged as Premier and First Vice-Chairman. When he took these offices in April, Hua was confronted with some trying tasks:

  1. Zhou Enlai, the stabilizing force in China since the Cultural Revolution, had passed away.

  2. Mao Zedong was advanced in age and in poor health. The next policymaker had to consider the effect his decisions would have on Mao in the last couple of months of his life and whether or not he could control the political situation upon Mao’s death.

  3. The Gang of Four had seized the opportunity at this time to extend their influence. In the anti-Deng campaign, they singled out cadres at every level as “agents of revisionism.” Their action created tremendous unrest and a state of confusion.

  4. With the Tangshan earthquake, the threat of floods from the Yellow River, and production sabotage by the Gang of Four, the national economic plan was also in a precarious state.

It was not easy for Hua to handle all these difficult problems, particularly with the Gang of Four “raising a big flag to further their evil scheme.” For example, let’s look at the Tangshan earthquake where casualties were said to be over 100,000. Houses were almost all leveled to the ground. Damage was tremendous. After the quake, urgent operations such as rescue work, epidemic prevention, and material supply had to be carried out. Hua and others in the leadership immediately threw themselves into the quake-relief work. But the Gang of Four mocked them by calling them “a few people trying to use anti-quake and relief work to suppress revolution and brush aside the criticism of Deng Xiaoping.” “No matter where an earthquake takes place,” they insisted, “whether in the east or in the west, the criticism of Deng Xiaoping must not be watered down.” Jiang Qing even denigrated Hua as “a capitalist roader frightened out of his wits.” “What matter if Tangshan is wiped off the map?” she was reported to have said. This kind of attitude, coming from such high officials, could have obstructed the relief work. Through it all, Hua was able to remain calm and carry out the work, which was not easy to do.

Q. What concrete evidence can you give to show that Hua became the opponent of the Gang of Four as soon as he took up the positions of Premier and First Vice-Chairman?

A. I think their conflict became apparent in the anti-Deng campaign. The original aim of this campaign was to criticize Deng’s “taking the three directives as the key link.” But the Gang of Four extended the attack to the so-called “three poisonous weeds,” noting that these documents had been worked out on instructions from Deng Xiaoping and threatening that at any time they could point their fingers at those who received the “instructions.” They believed that by bringing about Deng’s fall through public opinion, in the wake of their success they could intimidate Hua and other officials in the central and local governments with their attack on the “three poisonous weeds,” thereby bringing these people into the fold too.

It seems that Hua, though a relative newcomer in the Central Committee, had the courage to confront the Gang of Four. He drew up his directives in the anti-Deng campaign according to the usual procedures used by Mao, prevented the four people from seizing the so-called “agents of capitalist roaders” at all Party levels, protected local cadres and the people, and stabilized the political situation. Hua’s hard work in these difficult months proved that he could withstand any trials and thus won him the support of the Party and the people.

Q. If in the past couple of years, the Gang of Four had been ambitiously trying to usurp supreme power and their struggle with Hua had focused on the question of succession, what plans did they make to take over the government, aside from simply using the propaganda in the anti-Deng campaign?

A. They must have realized the immediacy of the problem of succession with Zhou’s passing and with Mao in frail health, yet the Chinese newspapers gave us little enlightenment on their plot. One can only summarize the available material, realizing that some of it is unverified hearsay.

  1. The Gang of Four took great pains to cultivating relations, extending their influence, and consolidating their base. After their fall, a popular slogan went around Beijing designating eleven persons as “the big Four, the little Four, and the three underlings.” The “big four” were the Gang of Four. “The little Four and the three underlings” obviously referred to seven followers arrested together with them. These people controlled the media, education, and the cultural scene. More seriously, the Gang of Four had made use of their power to set up two offices in the Party Central Committee besides the legitimate one headed by Wang Dongxing. [22] These were the “Wang office” headed by Wang Hongwen himself and the “Jiang Qing office” headed by Mao Yuanxin. They put themselves above Mao and the Office of the Central Committee. To assert their own power, they issued documents that conflicted with those of the Office of the Central Committee. This left the lower cadres in a state of confusion.

  2. They manufactured public opinion favorable to their seizure of power, controlled the media and incessantly labeled people and attacked them as a means of bolstering themselves. After the death of Zhou Enlai, it is said that a wall poster appeared in Shanghai calling for “support of Zhang Chunqiao for Premier,” which was obviously instigated by them.

Following the death of Mao, Jiang Qing gave a speech at Qinghua University on September 29. In introducing her, one of her followers said: “Comrade Jiang Qing, repressing her own grief and bearing herself like a true leader, has come to the University to talk to us.”

On October 6, after their fall, it was said that an editorial entitled “A Message to the Party and the People” was found in the offices of the People’s Daily and the radio station which the Gang of Four had intended to issue to two newspapers and one journal upon the success of their coup. In the message they denounced Hua as anti-Party, proclaimed Jiang Qing as Party Chairman and Zhang Chunqiao the Premier, etc. Even an “official portrait” of Jiang Qing was reportedly found.

  1. They exercised control over the militia. Most urban militia are workers who are normally engaged in production. When mobilized for action they take orders from their commander. Wang Hongwen served as one of the main commanders in the Beijing militia and also as commander-in-chief of the Shanghai militia. He had allegedly ordered the newest automatic rifles and machine guns to be distributed to the 100,000 Shanghai militia. The soldiers were secretly told to be on the alert in the event of disturbances following the death of Mao. In addition, a twenty-car train was said to have been made available for the transportation of the Shanghai militia to Beijing for combat.

  2. They planned the mobilization of troops. Mao Yuanxin was a deputy commissar of the Shenyang Military Region. Zhang Chunqiao was the director of the General Political Department of the People’s Liberation Army and deputy commissar of the Nanjing Military Region. Before the death of Mao, the Gang of Four arranged to have Mao Yuanxin made deputy commissar of Unit 8341 [23] of the People’s Liberation Army. They believed they could mobilize some of the army when necessary. It was said that at the time of their abortive coup, part of the Shenyang troops had already been stationed near Beijing. But others have said they could not even mobilize a single soldier. The true picture has yet to come out.

Q. Weren’t Hua Guofeng and others aware of these goings-on at all? Did the coup become abortive because their plans had leaked out?

A. I believe Hua and others must have become aware of their ambitious designs as the Gang of Four expanded their power during the year. But there was no evidence to justify putting them under arrest before the coup was uncovered. The Party’s policy has consistently emphasized re-education. Those who oppose the Revolution choose the counter-revolutionary path on their own rather than being forced to take it. The fall of the Gang of Four began when they issued the signal for the seizure of power. As their plot leaked out they themselves provided evidence that called for their suppression.

Q. According to the Chinese newspapers, the turning point came when they falsified the “last testament” of Mao Zedong, particularly the phrase “Act according to the principles laid down.” It is hard for me to see the significance of this phrase.

A. Of course the phrase by itself does not indicate the seriousness of the problem. But placed in its political context, the falsified “last testament” had grave implications.

It was said that Jiang Qing went to Mao’s residence at Zhongnanhai on the day he passed away and refused to leave. She demanded that the secretary in charge of secret documents in the Office of the Central Committee hand over some of Mao’s handwritten documents to her for safekeeping. Hua objected, noting that Mao’s documents were treasures of the Party and should not be kept by any individual. The whole incident revealed her intention to falsify the documents to further her intrigue.

Moreover, Mao’s nephew, Mao Yuanxin, who was ordinarily stationed in Shenyang, was in Beijing because of his uncle’s illness. After Mao’s death, he was expected to return to his post. Jiang Qing, however, retained him in Beijing on the excuse that she needed his assistance in drafting a document for the Third Plenary Session of the Tenth Central Committee of the Party. This again demonstrated that they were rounding up their forces in preparation for a seizure of power.

The crucial point lies in their falsification of the “last testament” with the directive “Act according to the principles laid down.” Two days before the memorial service, without going through the Central Committee, they published that phrase in an editorial in the People’s Daily. By this action, (1) they wanted to show they were the sole transmitter of Mao’s “last testament”; (2) they hinted they had in their possession other “principles laid down” by Mao, including the falsified directive “Jiang Qing as Party Chairman,” etc.; (3) they showed they had the power to transmit Mao’s directives and publish them in Party newspapers without going through the Central Committee or getting permission from their superior, Hua Guofeng. If that were the case, they could later use Party newspapers to support some people and topple others.

After the editorial appeared in the People’s Daily, it was said that Hua showed the Gang of Four Mao’s handwritten directive. This was the document Mao had written and given him on April 30 which read: “Act according to past principles.” This was not a “last testament.” “Act according to last principles” meant to act in accordance with past precedents. Concerning the choice of a successor, the past principle had been for the First Vice-Chairman to become the Acting Chairman until a new chairman had been elected by the Central Committee. In general, such is the normal procedure for national and Party succession. If the directive had been “Act according to the principles laid down,” then one would have to know what the “principles laid down” were and who had the power to transmit them. There is quite a big difference between “past principles” and “the principles laid down.”

In a draft of a speech that Qiao Guanhua [24] was to read before the United Nations, it was reported that there was the same phrase, “Act according to the principles laid down.” When Hua examined the draft, he crossed out the phrase and wrote a note saying three of the characters were wrong. When Zhang Chunqiao saw the comment, he became so frightened he issued an order to “keep it silent so it won’t cause any ideological confusion.”

When Hua pointed out the mistake, the four people, in view of the hard facts, expressed no opinion. But on October 3, Wang Hongwen threateningly said: “Revisionism is cropping up in the Central Committee,” “one should open one’s eyes wide and watch for revisionism.” On October 4, the Gang of Four used their pen-name, Liang Xiao, to publish the essay “Forever Act According to the Principles Laid Down by Chairman Mao” in People’s Daily. In it they stated that “to alter the principles laid down by Chairman Mao is anti-Marxist, anti-socialist. It’s against the great theory of the continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.” “Any revisionist chieftain who dares to alter the ‘principles laid down’ by Chairman Mao will not come to a good end.” The essay also raised the question of how to select someone to “succeed the greatly talented one who has died.” Such statements illustrate how stubbornly they ignored the hard facts, forced other people to misinterpret the directive, and dared people to defy them.

Hua Guofeng, after reading the article, reportedly told some people in the Politburo that this was a signal for attack. Ye Jianying [25] was of the opinion that “the four pests should be eliminated.” They independently set about carrying out this plan. On October 6, Hua suddenly called a meeting of the Politburo. The four people were arrested on the spot. Their proteges were rounded up the same evening. On the morning of October 7, Geng Biao, head of the International Liaison Department of the Party Central Committee, took over the People’s Daily, the Xinhua News Agency and the radio station. Troops were sent to Qinghua University, Beijing University, and Xiaojinzhuang at Tianjin where the Gang of Four maintained strongholds. Xu Shiyu proceeded to the Nanjing Military Region to assume temporary control of Shanghai. The Central Committee sent Su Chenhua, Ni Zhifu, and Beng Zhong to take over the posts held by Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen in Shanghai. Shenyang was also temporarily placed under army control. The whole thing was so neatly executed that a Yugoslav newspaper called it “the most clear-cut and beautiful political battle in the modern history of mankind.” In this campaign, Hua and others in the leadership showed political courage, decisiveness, flexibility, and sensitivity to the feelings of the masses.

Q. After Hua became the Party Chairman, Chinese newspapers have continued to emphasize that Hua was “Chairman Mao’s personally chosen successor.” Was he really personally chosen by Mao? Does Mao’s personal choice carry such importance? Wasn’t it also Mao himself who chose Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao?

A. To say that Hua was Mao’s “personal choice” is aimed as a counterattack on the directive “Act according to the principles laid down” put out by the Gang of Four which was a gimmick to bolster Jiang Qing. Mao’s choice of Hua as the First Vice-Chairman carried the implication of Hua’s succession to the chairmanship. He can be considered, therefore, as “personally chosen.” The ultimate decision, of course, had to come from the October 7 meeting of the Central Committee. Is Mao’s personal choice important? I think it is because of (1) the high esteem people have for Mao, (2) the opposition of Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, and (3) the rigging up of the “last testament.” For many people, this “personal choice” has a reassuring effect. From a Marxist standpoint, it is improper for one person to designate a successor. How long a person will live is impossible to predict. Moreover, men and political situations are constantly in a state of flux. A leader should emerge through mass struggle, hardened by revolutionary upheavals and tested before the eyes of the masses. That is why I feel the designation of Lin Biao as successor by the Ninth Party Congress was a mistake. A leader of the masses is a product of revolutionary necessity. An outstanding person, though not previously chosen, will in the end become leader. On the other hand, an adventurist or conspirator, despite being designated, will eventually fail. Let us suppose that Jiang Qing had become Chairman “according to the principles laid down.” How long would she stay in power without the support of the Party, the army, and the people? Hua has proved to be a needed leader who emerged from the political storm of the past year. After Mao’s death, it was impossible for him to refuse the chairmanship; the alternative was to hand it over to Jiang Qing with both hands. This would have been contrary to popular sentiments.

Q. It is easy to understand that Jiang Qing and her associates are adventurists, schemers, and dogmatists. But why call them revisionists and capitalist roaders? Didn’t they always preach Marxism and actively oppose bourgeois right? [26] How can they ever be called revisionist?

A. Revisionism means a revising of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and, in the Chinese case, a revising of the basic theory of Mao Zedong thought. Marxism-Leninism is based on dialectical materialism. The theoretical essays put out by the Gang of Four, however, are full of metaphysics and idealism. For example, they talked only about revolution but never about grasping production. They preached that “once you grasped revolution, production would go up automatically.” This is sheer idealism, a theory totally divorced from reality. Marxism-Leninism is not a dogma but rather a guide for action. Recent Chinese newspapers have also mentioned that at the beginning of 1975 the Gang of Four vigorously attacked empiricism as the “main enemy.” Mao at that time criticized them, saying that “it seems the formulation should be: oppose revisionism which includes empiricism and dogmatism. Both revise Marxism-Leninism. Don’t mention just one while omitting the other.” Anti-dogmatism is an important aspect in the Selected Works of Mao Zedong. Dogmatists in fact are opposed to practice as the basis. Dogmatism is against the materialist theory of reflection. [27] It contradicts the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and therefore is a form of revisionism.

The basic theory in the political thought of Mao Zedong is a union of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete situation in China, the use of theory to solve concrete problems. Zhang Chunqiao’s article “On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie” is unrealistic. In China, where socialism is being practiced, one can exercise only an ideological dictatorship over the bourgeois class. The Chinese Constitution states that, besides the landlords, the rich, the reactionaries, the bad elements, and the rightists, dictatorship should be exercised only over the “reactionary capitalists.” As for the national bourgeoisie, it is a matter of re-education and reform, not an arbitrary exercise of dictatorship over them. [28] Zhang’s theory is actually divorced from reality, therefore revisionist.

Moreover, we should not be deceived by those who pay lip service to Marxism-Leninism and the restriction of bourgeois right. We have to listen to what they say and watch what they do. The life-style of these four people was in itself an expansion of bourgeois right. It was the life-style of the privileged classes of the past, strikingly similar to that of the Soviet revisionists in the upper strata.

Q. On the whole, the present struggle, comparable to the anti-Lin Biao campaign, focuses on the question of “succession.” This is purely a struggle for power. Why do the Chinese insist on calling it a class struggle or a struggle of two lines?

A. Mao Zedong said: “Every revolutionary struggle in this world has the purpose of seizing and consolidating political power. The struggle between the revolutionary forces and the counter-revolutionaries, desperately trying to save themselves, also centers on the preservation of political power.” Following this line of reasoning, one cannot deny that the present campaign is a power struggle. We should say, however, that this power struggle is an extremely sharp reflection of class struggle and the struggle of two lines.

Q. Why did so many high officials and veterans of the Chinese Revolution, such as Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, and now the Gang of Four, in the end turn out to be “adventurists and schemers”? Is this human nature?

A. First, from a Marxist standpoint, there is no abstract human nature in a class society; there is only human nature reflecting one’s class. The degeneration of such people reflects the existence of class struggle in that society. Second, it takes a lot of people to launch a revolution, including the Cultural Revolution. It only takes a short-term common goal to bring the participants together, even though everyone is differently motivated. It is impossible to expect complete unity. As the revolution unfolds, short-term goals are realized. When new goals are set, divergence is likely to appear within the revolutionary ranks. Many Communist Party members who joined the democratic revolution [29] found themselves unable to go forward into the socialist revolution. In the Cultural Revolution, the objective of toppling Liu Shaoqi was achieved. When the revolution had to be pushed further and policies had to be implemented, the ambition of these four people began to surface. All this falls into a regular pattern. Third, I think that Mao’s death was not the point at which the Gang of Four began to expand their ambitions, which transformed the contradiction from non-antagonistic to antagonistic. Theirs had been an antagonistic contradiction for a long time, although not fully recognized as such.

Q. What is the future for China now that they have fallen?


  1. I believe a great many people can heave a sigh of relief. People bad been frustrated for some time because the Central Committee had never actually dealt with the Gang of Four’s malignant and perverse actions, particularly after the Tiananmen Incident when the Four started to investigate every rumour and censored people from expressing their honest opinion. Their newspapers and journals were filled with rigid dogmas and slogans, full of redundant theories but lacking in concrete examples. How did they expect people to accept them? All this has changed since their fall. Chinese newspapers and periodicals quote facts now, appeal to reason. and are more readable. On the whole, people are in better spirits, their feelings of frustration are beginning to dissipate, and the political situation is returning to normal.

  2. People will be devoted more to the economy. In the last months Chinese newspapers have charged the Gang of Four with disrupting production and have strongly emphasized the development of production to recover this loss. Correct political line must be reflected in the achievements in economic reconstruction. This has been the traditional view of the Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong in the past decades. Once again they are stressing the four modernization plans proposed by Mao and Zhou. [30] Yet the damage caused by the Gang of Four is very serious. In talking with foreigners, Gu Mu, a Vice-Premier, said that it might take two years to make up for the losses. For a while in the immediate future, China will have to bear the consequences of this economic disruption. I believe there will be a period of economic difficulty, but the future will be brighter.

  3. I believe there will be relatively big changes in the cultural sphere which had been subverted by Jiang Qing for a long time. There are indications from Chinese newspapers that some of the pre-Cultural Revolution movies will be re-examined and the good ones will be released. Some foreign literary works already translated will also go to press. There will be a re-emphasis on Mao’s policy of “letting a hundred flowers blossom, a hundred schools of thought contend,” and on his six criteria [31] for distinguishing “fragrant flowers” from “poisonous weeds.” I believe there will be changes in the dry cultural life experienced by the people for so long. Of course, creative works do not develop overnight. It will take a while for culture to flourish after a correct cultural policy has been set.

Q. Many overseas Chinese are concerned about changes in foreign policy. Will there be a breakthrough in Sino-American relations now that Carter has become President? The Soviet Union has recently given signals to China for a settlement of their disputes. For their part, the Chinese did not walk out of the October Revolution celebration in Moscow. Will there be a thaw in Sino-Soviet relations?

A. At a reception given to a delegation of French reporters on November 1, Chinese officials from the Foreign Ministry restated China’s longstanding foreign policy. China, they said, “is glad to see improvements in relations with the United States on the basis of the Shanghai Communique. The U.S. should take responsibility for the fact that relations between the two countries have still not been normalized.” The Chinese also stated that they had no illusions whatsoever about a president “elected by the American monopoly capitalists.” Normalization can come only if “the U.S. withdraws diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, abrogates the mutual defense treaty, and withdraws its military forces from Taiwan.”

Concerning Sino-Soviet relations, the Chinese high officials had this to say: “The Soviet Union has not changed its stand on China. China has not and will not change its stand toward the Soviet Union.”

The Chinese attended the October Revolution celebration until the end because, unlike previous occasions, the Russians refrained from making anti-Chinese statements. However, the message of condolence from the Soviet Communist Party to China on Mao’s death and the message of congratulations from Brezhnev to Hua when the latter became Chairman were returned. The reason given was that China and the Soviet Union had no party-to-party relations.

It is my guess that the two messages did not signal a change in the Russians’ attitude. If the Russians had really wanted a change of relations in such a delicate political situation, they would have gone through private channels to sound out Beijing’s reaction, just as the U.S. held secret talks with China before the breakthrough. When the Russians sent open messages instead of making use of secret diplomacy, they knew very well that these messages would be rejected by the Chinese. This move was made by the Russians to show how “friendly” they were and how the other side was stubbornly taking a hard line. If they really mean friendship, they should send their negotiator for the Sino-Soviet border dispute, Ilycchev, back to Beijing and pull back some of the forty-three divisions now stationed at the border. Their not doing so shows their attitude has not changed. Consequently, the Chinese will not change theirs.

  1. Hai Rui was an official who was dismissed by Emperor Jiajing at the beginning of the nineteenth century. [32] 

  2. Peng Dehuai was Minister of Defense until he was dismissed in September 1959 for advocating the building of a traditional-type army, emphasizing technology and armaments rather than the political motivation of the soldiers. To follow this policy would have required massive aid from the Soviet Union. 

  3. The members of the “Group of Five” were Peng Zhen, Lu Dingyi, Zhou Yang, Wu Lengxi, and Kang Sheng. Except for Kang Sheng, the rest were close followers of Liu Shaoqi who wanted to divert the political nature of the Cultural Revolution into an academic debate. 

  4. Chen Boda was a Politburo member who was expelled from the Party in the anti-Lin Biao campaign. 

  5. The Sixteen-Point Decision-officially titled “Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”-was adopted on August 8, 1966. It evaluated the movement up to that point and set forth principles and policies for future actions. 

  6. Second Vice-Chairman: Wang Hongwen’s official title was simply Vice-Chairman. Except in the case of Hua Guofeng, the CPC has never used titles such as First Vice-Chairman and Second Vice-Chairman. In the listing of Vice-Chairmen, however, Wang Hongwen’s name usually appeared second, after Zhou Enlai’s. 

  7. The “three big differences” are those between workers and peasants, cities and countryside, and mental and manual labor. 

  8. Reference News is a widely read newspaper containing broad coverage of domestic and foreign affairs. 

  9. Chen Yi was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1958 to the early years of the Cultural Revolution. He was attacked by an ultra-“left” faction of the Red Guards and was subsequently relieved of his post in 1967. He died in January 1972, and the honors accorded him at his funeral were tantamount to a rehabilitation. 

  10. The “May 16 Group” was an ultra-“left” faction of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. 

  11. Confucians & Legalists: During the transition of Chinese society from slavery to feudalism, the Confucians supported the class interests of the slave-owners who wanted to maintain the slave society, whereas the Legalists sided with the class of the rising feudal landlords. Therefore, at the time, the Confucians played a reactionary role while the Legalists were progressive. 

  12. “Entering by the back door” refers to those students who obtain entrance to universities through the use of personal connections, influence, etc. 

  13. Empiricism is a form of subjectivism which claims that knowledge comes only from one’s own direct experience. It negates the contribution of revolutionary theory which develops from summing up past experiences and from scientific analyses. 

  14. “The Pioneer”’ is based on the experience of the workers in the Daqing oilfields. It is associated with Zhou Enlai’s plans for the modernization of China (see note [30]). The Gang of Four claimed that it was a revisionist film with “ten major errors,” whereas Mao found the film basically good. 

  15. “Counter-Attack” was produced by the followers of the Gang of Four to oppose the plans for developing the national economy. 

  16. Wang Anshi was a Legalist reformer of the eleventh century. 

  17. In Chinese, “to put a hat (dunce cap) on someone” means to label a person, singling out that person for criticism. Mao said the Gang of Four was running a “hat factory” because they put labels on many people. “Steel plant” refers to the fact that they also beat people over the head with their dogmas in the same way that workers at a steel plant beat iron on an anvil. 

  18. The Tiananmen Incident occurred in Beijing on April 5, 1976, the day following the Qingming Festival, a traditional day of mourning for the dead. When wreaths placed in memory of Zhou Enlai were removed, the feelings of the people were aroused. Troublemakers instigated fighting, looting, and burning. The incident ended with the arrests of the ringleaders who were charged with fomenting counter-revolutionary activities. Deng Xiaoping was charged with masterminding the whole incident and was removed from all Party and state positions. 

  19. The theory of productive forces is a revisionist theory which contends that the development of productive forces (such as technology and the division of labor) is the sole determinant of human social development. It downplays class struggle and negates the necessity to revolutionize the relations of production (e.g. the relations between employers and workers). 

  20. The three directives are those by Mao Zedong on (1) studying the theory of the proletarian dictatorship and combating and preventing revisionism; (2) promoting stability and unity; and (3) pushing the national economy forward. 

  21. Yang Kaihui, Mao Zedong’s second wife, was executed for her revolutionary activities by Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in November 1930. 

  22. Wang Dongxing is a member of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee. 

  23. The soldiers in Unit 8341 of the People’s Liberation Army arc the security guards for the Chairman of the CPC Central Committee. 

  24. Qiao Guanhua. former Minister of Foreign Affairs, was removed from office because of his connection with the Gang of Four. 

  25. Ye Jianying is Vice-Chairman of the Central Committee and Minister of National Defense. 

  26. Bourgeois right refers to such capitalist practices as material incentives and wage differentials which can still exist in the period of socialism. If bourgeois right is left unchecked, it can lead to a restoration of capitalism. Therefore, it is imperative for the prolet:iriat in a socialist country to gradually restrict bourgeois right. 

  27. The theory of reflection is the materialist theory of knowledge, whose basic premise is that knowledge derives from social practice in the real world. 

  28. Article 14 of the Chinese Constitution adopted in 1975 states that “the state safeguards the socialist system, suppresses all treasonable and counter-revolutionary activities and punishes all traitors and counter-revolutionaries. The state deprives the landlords, rich peasants, reactionary capitalists and other bad elements of political rights for specified periods of time according to law, and at the same time provides them with the opportunity to earn a living so that they may be reformed through labor and become law-abiding citizens supporting themselves by their own labor.” The Constitution makes no reference to the national bourgeoisie. 

  29. “Democratic revolution” refers to that stage of the Chinese Revolution which overthrew the semi-feudal, semi-colonial system that had prevailed in China since the late 1800’s. 

  30. The “four modernization plans” refer to the comprehensive modernization of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. This is the second stage of the projected development of China’s economy scheduled to be accomplished before the end of the century. 

  31. For details see Chapter VI, “Some Conjectures on the Future of Arts in China.” 

  32. The play “Hai Rui Dismissed From Office” sympathized with Hai Rui and this theme was used by the followers of Liu Shaoqi to arouse sympathy for Peng Dehuai, who was also dismissed from office (see note [2]). The play therefore had a political significance in that it tried to “reverse correct verdicts” on Peng Dehuai. When this play was criticized, its author and his supporters tried to cover up their political motivations by claiming that the play was merely historical. The article “On the New Historical Drama ‘Hai Rui Dismissed From Office’” was therefore very important because it exposed the political motivations of the author and, by opening up the questions of bourgeois ideology in culture, played an important role in initiating the Cultural Revolution. 

  33. Wu Zetian, the only empress in Chinese history, ruled from 690 to 705 during the Tang Dynasty. “Down with Wu Zetian” was a way of saying “down with Jiang Qing,” who wanted to be empress of China.