The Gang of Four (四人帮, pinyin: sì rén bāng) in the People's Republic of China was a group of Communist Party leaders who were arrested and removed from their positions in 1976, following the death of Mao Zedong. They included Mao's widow (his fourth wife) Jiang Qing, and three of his close associates, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen. After their removal, two other men who were already dead in 1976, Kang Sheng and Xie Fuzhi, were named as having been part of the "Gang."
The removal of this group from power marked the end of the Cultural Revolution, which had been launched by Mao in 1966 as part of his power struggle with leaders such as Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen. Jiang, who before 1966 had not taken a public political role, was placed in charge of the country's cultural aparatus by Mao. Zhang, Yao and Wang were party leaders in Shanghai who had played leading roles in capturing that city for Mao. The military leader Lin Biao was also part of this group, until his sudden and never fully explained death in 1971.
After Lin's death, the Cultural Revolution, which had reduced China's economy, cultural life and educational system to chaos, began to lose impetus. The new commanders of the People's Liberation Army demanded that order be restored in light of the dangerous situation along the border with the Soviet Union (see Sino-Soviet split). The Premier, Zhou Enlai, who had gone along with the Cultural Revolution but never fully supported it, regained his authority, and used it to bring Deng Xiaoping back into the Party leadership at the 10th Party Congress in 1973. (Liu Shaoqi had died in prison in 1969).
It is now officially maintained in China that Mao in his last year turned against Jiang and her associates, and that after his death on 9 September 1976 they attempted to seize power (the same allegation made against Lin Biao in 1971). Even 26 years later it is impossible to know the full truth of these events. It does appear that their influence was in decline before Mao's death. When Zhou Enlai died in January 1976, he was succeeded not by one of the radicals but by the unknown Hua Guofeng.
In any event, upon Mao's death Hua was named Party leader as well as Premier.The "Gang" had arranged for Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai's protege,to be purged in April 1976,but by early 1978 he was to become the real power in the regime. The radicals hoped that the key Army leaders Wang Dongxing and Chen Xilian would support them, but Hua seems to have won the Army over to his side. On 6 October 1976 Hua staged what amounted to a coup within the regime, arresting the four leading radicals and a number of their lesser associates. A massive media campaign was then launched against them, dubbing them the Gang of Four and blaming them for all the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.
In 1981 the four fallen leaders were paraded before a show-trial and convicted of anti-party activities. Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao received death sentences (later commuted to life imprisonment), while Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen were given twenty years imprisonment.
The vilification of the "Gang" served a useful purpose for the Deng regime. It provided a useful scapegoat for all that had gone wrong with Chinese Communism since 1959, without underming the fundamental legitimacy of the regime by assigning blame for catastrophic events like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution where it properly belonged, with Mao Zedong himself.
See also: Gang of Four (disambiguation)