China's Maoist gang of four becomes history





The last surviving member of the Gang of Four - the fanatical Maoists who were blamed for the terror of the Cultural Revolution - has died at the age of 74, the Chinese Government announced.

Nicknamed "the killer with a pen", Yao Wenyuan was the chief propagandist of the ultra-leftist cabal, who helped to turn children on their parents, students on their teachers and civilians on bureaucrats in a class struggle that destroyed millions of lives between 1966 and 1976.

Underlining the sensitivity surrounding one of the darkest periods of communist rule, his death was not reported for more than two weeks. In a terse statement, the Xinhua news agency said that "one of the chief culprits of the anti-revolution clique" had died of diabetes on December 23.

Yao, the son of a wealthy Shanghai publisher, rose to prominence in the Communist Party as a writer of withering political invectives. His most famous work - an article in 1965 attacking a play by the vice-mayor of Beijing - is often described as the prelude to the Cultural Revolution.

In the 10 years that followed, he and the three other members - led by Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing - were blamed for the purge of moderate officials and intellectuals that spread into a furious nationwide assault on anyone or anything deemed counter-revolutionary.

Yao and his cohorts were arrested a month after Mao died in 1976. In a televised trial, they - rather than the dead chairman - were made scapegoats for a period that is officially referred to as the "10 years of chaos".

Prosecutors quoted Yao as saying: "Why can't we shoot a few counter-revolutionary elements? After all, dictatorship is not like embroidering flowers."

The court sentenced them to death, later commuted to 20 years in prison. When Yao was released in 1996, he was reportedly provided with security to protect him from revenge attacks by his former victims.

His death comes less than a year after one of his co-defendants, Zhang Chunqiao, who died of cancer last April. Another member of the Gang of Four, Wang Hongwen, died of liver cancer in 1992. Their leader Jiang - dubbed a witch by state media after her downfall - hanged herself in May 1991.



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