Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

Chapter 34: Trial of the Gang of Four

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 34
Trial of the Gang of Four

When the arrest of the Gang of Four was made public, spontaneous celebrations broke out all over China. The Chinese people were fed up with Jiang Qing and the Cultural Revolution. It was clear that their arrest was a very popular move, so the Communist Party jumped on the bandwagon.

The government-run media laid it on thick, denouncing the Gang, and calling them traitors. It linked them with Lin Biao, and blamed them for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. And a new movement was begun, called the Movement of Exposition, Criticism and Uncovering, where millions of former Red Guards were publicly criticized for having committed atrocities for the Gang of Four.

The Gang of Four at trial, in 1981.

The trial of the Gang began in November 1980, and was televised so the public could see for themselves how the Party had turned against the Cultural Revolution. This trial was sometimes marked by outbursts from Jiang, who would protest loudly and sometimes burst into tears. She would then be hauled out of the courtroom.

Jiang Qing at trial, 1980.

Jiang represented herself, and was the only member of the Gang who bothered to argue against the charges. Her defense was that she was always obeying the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong, and from this trial she has been famously quoted as saying, “I was Chairman Mao’s dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite.”

But her defense fell flat. And it was bound to fall flat. It was a fait accompli. The Politburo had already determined everyone’s fate, and this trial was for show only.

While Jiang presented a defense, Zhang Chunqiao did not. He simply refused to admit he’d done anything wrong. However, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen confessed to their crimes and made a show of repentance. But confession or no, repentance or no, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. The outcome had been predetermined. They were all found guilty of various crimes related to the Cultural Revolution and alleged attempted coups.

On January 25, 1981, Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao were sentenced to death. Wang Hongwen was handed a life sentence, and Yao Wenyuan got 20 years.

Exactly two years later, on January 25, 1983, Jiang and Zhang’s death sentences were commuted to life.

But while Jiang was serving her life sentence, she was diagnosed with throat cancer. She refused an operation. Naturally her condition worsened, and in 1991 she was released from prison, on medical grounds, and admitted to a hospital. Then on May 14, 1991, at age 77, she hanged herself in a bathroom of the hospital.

She left a suicide note that read, “Today the revolution has been stolen by the revisionist clique of Deng, Peng Zhen, and Yang Shangkun. Chairman Mao exterminated Liu Shaoqi, but not Deng, and the result of this omission is that unending evils have been unleashed on the Chinese people and nation. Chairman, your student and fighter is coming to see you!”

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 35: The Rise of Deng Xiaoping.

18 replies »

  1. I think Yao Wenyuan outlived the rest of the Gang of Four. Supposedly, he was the intellectual among the group, and studied Chinese history while writing a book after his release from prison. I’d be interested in knowing more about the book.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Let’s see, according to Wiki, Wang died of liver cancer in 1992. Zhang was let out of prison in 1998, and died of pancreatic cancer in April, 2005. Yao was released from prison in 1996, and died of diabetes in December, 2005. So he did, indeed outlive them all.

      That might be a good book, though perhaps colored to favor Mao, if it covers modern history.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. So I guess there was no crowd rebellion at wanting Jiang and the others released! I wonder if there would have been a rebellion if they all would have been found not guilty, being that so many were happy that they were arrested. Not surprised that she didn’t think she did anything wrong!
    Were any Red guards ever prosecuted?

    Liked by 3 people

    • No, there wasn’t. I was just trying to keep you in suspense. Which is a little tricky, since you could have googled it.

      I think there probably would have been a lot of unhappy Chinese if she had been found not guilty. But there was no chance of that happening.

      I don’t think there were any Red Guards prosecuted, but during the late 1970s there was a lot of criticism directed at them. Then after the trial of the Gang ended, the Chinese government sought to put the Cultural Revolution behind them. Talk about it was discouraged, with the notion that it was time to move on.

      Liked by 2 people

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