The Gang of Four was the name given by Mao Zedong to the ultra-leftist political faction composed of four high Chinese Communist Party officials, led by his last wife, Jiang Qing. When Mao placed Jiang in charge of the country’s cultural apparatus in 1966, she had not taken a public political role. Using her role, she would effectively manage the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and Communist China itself. (The other three members of the gang were Jiang’s close associates, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen, who were party leaders in Shanghai who played leading roles in securing that city for Mao during the Cultural Revolution.)
With Mao’s health faltering, the group slowly lost their influence. A power struggle inside the Communist Party ensued, and a propaganda campaign was launched against the four, calling them the Gang of Four. (Four has the same sound as ‘death’ in Chinese, and is viewed as an unlucky number). On October 6th, 1976, a month after Mao’s death, the gang was finally arrested. Blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, they were dragged in front of a show trial in 1981. Madame Mao, the former Shanghai starlet, now dubbed a witch by state media, remained defiant and theatrical to the last, protesting loudly and bursting into tears at some points. The only member of the Gang of Four who bothered to argue, she insisted that she obeyed Mao’s orders at all times. Zhang refused to admit any wrong. They would receive death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonments. Yao and Wang, who confessed to their alleged crimes, received twenty years in prison. Jiang, who never repented, hanged herself in May 1991 after a debilitating struggle with cancer.
Above, in the true Communist manner, the Gang of Four was removed from the original photograph of the memorial ceremony for Mao at Tiananmen Square. This was extremely ironic for Wang who announced Mao’s funeral service on national radio. Below, the images from the trial of the Gang of Four.