This year marks not only the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, but also the 40th anniversary of the downfall of the “Gang of Four”.
On Oct. 6, 1976, Marshal Ye Jianying (葉劍英), one of the founding fathers of the People’s Republic of China; Hua Guofeng (華國鋒), Mao Zedong’s handpicked successor; and Wang Dongxing (汪東興), Mao’s right-hand man, mounted a bloodless palace coup and arrested Jiang Qing (江青), Mao’s wife and head of the Gang of Four, as well as her key subordinates, thereby putting an end to the 10-year-long Cultural Revolution.
Forty years on, a heated debate over whether the Cultural Revolution was a sinister political conspiracy or just a well-intentioned mistake has been raging between pro-Maoist and liberal intellectuals in the mainland.
In this article I am going to provide readers with a glimpse into the power struggle among the different factions within the Communist Party leadership in the months leading up to the coup on Oct. 6, now known as the “October Incident”.
Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) died in January 1976, followed by Marshal Zhu De (朱德), commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in July.
Then on Sept. 9 of the same year, Chairman Mao also passed away.
Losing its three paramount leaders one after another within a single year, the entire Communist Party of China (CPC) was thrown into disarray.
With former Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping still under house arrest by the Gang of Four, the party was under the de facto leadership of Marshal Ye, who was then vice-chairman of the CPC Central Committee; Hua Guofeng, then the premier; Wang Dongxing, director of the general secretariat of the CPC and commander of the PLA garrison in Beijing (or the “8341 unit”); and Jiang Qing.
The highly respected Marshal Ye was the spiritual leader of the “seasoned party stalwarts faction”, which was mainly composed of first-generation revolutionaries such as Deng Xiaoping, Marshal Nie Rongzhen (聶榮臻) and Zhu De who fought alongside with Mao during the civil war against the Kuomintang.
Members of this faction had been marginalized and some of them even brutally persecuted by the Gang of Four since the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution.
Then there was the so-called moderate faction, or the “third force”, which was led by Premier Hua and PLA commander Wang.
They were second-generation communist leaders chosen and promoted by Mao since the ’50s.
This faction had also been at odds with the Gang of Four and competing for party leadership.
Apparently, the “seasoned stalwarts faction” led by Marshal Ye and the “third force” led by Premier Hua had a common enemy to deal with, i.e., the Gang of Four.
After Mao’s death, both sides began to meet secretly on several occasions in Zhongnanhai (中南海), plotting to mount a pre-emptive strike against the Gang of Four.
In the meantime, Jiang Qing and other members of the Gang of Four were also plotting to take advantage of the power vacuum left behind by Mao’s death and eradicate the two rival factions in order to take complete control of the party.
However, they had a fatal weakness: they did not have the support of the military and the Central Committee like their enemies did.
Then, after a series of secret meetings from Oct. 2 to 4, leaders of the two factions decided to make a move against the Gang of Four on Oct. 6 with the help of the Beijing garrison.
On the early morning of Oct. 6, Jiang Qing and other members of the Gang of Four were arrested at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The following day, Marshal Ye and Premier Hua summoned an urgent meeting of the Politburo, announcing that the Gang of Four had been stripped of their official posts and duties, thereby spelling the end of the Cultural Revolution.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 6
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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