Zhang Chunqiao

Propagandist of China's Gang of Four

Zhang Chunqiao, journalist, propagandist and politician: born Juye, China 1917; died Shanghai 21 April 2005.

Zhang Chunqiao is one of those now mostly forgotten figures who occasionally re-emerge like ghosts from China's historical fog to remind the world of the huge ideological distance the country has travelled since the days of Chairman Mao Zedong.

As a key member of the notorious Gang of Four, Zhang was once one of the most powerful men in China, tipped as a possible successor to the Chairman himself. He is remembered now by older Chinese mainly for his contemptuously defiant court appearances during the Gang's show trial in 1980, when he feigned sleep and refused to say one word in his defence.

During the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s, the ex-journalist and party propagandist helped orchestrate, with Mao's third wife Jiang Qing, an enormously destructive campaign against "counter-revolutionaries" which caused some 35,000 deaths, blighted millions of lives and which lives on today in China as a barely concealed mass psychological wound.

Mao launched the revolution in 1966 in a bid to shore up his faltering power-base and head off a leadership challenge from reformists, including Deng Xiaoping, the man who would replace him after his death. The challenge followed the disastrous Great Leap Forward when Mao's illogical plans for Soviet-style industrial expansion caused a famine that killed, by some estimates, 20 million Chinese.

By arming the young with a truncated political doctrine he had himself created and instructing them to challenge authority, Mao helped create a personality cult that quickly spun out of control. Schools and universities closed, work stopped and Mao's young Red Guards took to the streets with his Little Red Book, harassing and attacking anyone suspected of disloyalty to the Chairman. At the height of this madness, propaganda that Zhang helped create claimed that Mao - then a pensioner - had swum the Yangtse at a world-record speed; dozens of Red Guards died emulating his feat.

The revolution set China back years and Mao distanced himself from it, relying on his wife and party faithful like Zhang to use the revolution to force his enemies from government. Zhang proved equal to the task: an active Communist since the 1930s, he was a seasoned propagandist by the time of the Second World War, and after the Communists took power in 1949 he rose through the party hierarchy from his political base as director of party propaganda in Shanghai.

With Mao's wife Jiang and the other two members of the Gang of Four, Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan, he helped orchestrate a political and artistic offensive against what they called "capitalist roaders" or an incipient bourgeoisie who they said were intent on reversing the gains of the revolution. In the midst of this chaos, he was one of the top party officials who met President Richard M. Nixon when he visited China on his groundbreaking trip in 1972.

As Mao's health waned, Zhang and other party leaders battled quietly for power and ultimately for what direction the world's most populous nation would take. A month after the Chairman died in September 1976, however, the Gang were arrested and marched to prison, a coup that effectively changed the course of Chinese history.

Zhang was quickly airbrushed from history after - in an irony he might not have appreciated - a huge propaganda campaign that blamed him and his three colleagues for the "excesses" of the Cultural Revolution; and a trial that sentenced him to death in 1981, later commuted to 18 years. He was released because of poor health in 1998 and spent the remainder of his life in enforced seclusion in Shanghai.

It is one measure of the lingering impact of the Cultural Revolutionary era that his death was not announced by Chinese state media until Tuesday, although he died on 21 April. Delays in official death notices are sometimes a sign of internal party debate about how to handle the news, and Beijing no doubt fears where any opening of those old wounds might lead.

Zhang's 1975 article "On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship over the Bourgeoisie" is still revered by a dwindling band of Maoists who believe that the death of Chairman Mao and the subsequent arrest of Zhang and his colleagues by "counter-revolutionaries" led by Deng opened the gates to capitalist restoration in China. The article, written at the height of his political self-confidence and still widely circulated on the internet, now reads like the obituary of Mao's China.

After a preamble that praises the workers for prevailing against the "bourgeois wind", the article concludes:

This infinitely bright future will surely continue to inspire growing numbers of awakened workers . . . and their vanguard, the Communists, to keep to the Party's basic line and persevere in exercising all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie . . . The fall of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and the victory of Communism are inevitable, certain and independent of man's will.

One can only imagine that as an old man in Shanghai, he watched the rise of China's new hyper-rich bourgeoisie with some unhappiness.

David McNeill

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Goalkeeping howler allows Man City to scrap a draw – but Premier League title is Liverpool's to lose
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Consultant – Building Management

up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Senior Industrial Energy Consultant

Up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Mechanical Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal