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30th Anniversary of Arrest of China's 'Gang of Four' Passes Without Official Notice

Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the arrest of China's Gang of Four, the group that ran Chinese leader Mao Zedong's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and tried to take power after Mao died.

The arrest of the Gang of Four on October 6, 1976, is viewed as a turning point in China's modern history, opening the way for economic and social reform.

Mao had died only weeks earlier, leaving China one of the poorest and most backward nations on earth. Today, the country has emerged from the isolation of the Maoist years. Its economy is one of the hottest news items in the world. It is enjoying rapid growth, and modernization that seemed an impossible dream while Mao was still alive.

But there was no public commemoration of the anniversary here Friday, as the Chinese Communist Party continues to distance itself from the turbulence of Mao's rule.

Joseph Cheng, a Chinese Politics professor at the City University of Hong Kong, says the party realizes that drawing attention to the Gang of Four would draw unwanted attention to Mao himself.

He said, "From the leadership's point of view, there is a concern that any discussion of the Gang of Four and related issues will raise the demand of reassessment of Chairman Mao's legacy, which they do not want to see."

The four members of the gang were Mao's third wife, Jiang Qing, and three party members from Shanghai, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan.

At the time of their later trials, the four were blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, diverting criticism from the man who really started it all, Mao Zedong.

The revolution was ostensibly started to reignite revolutionary fervor among China's masses, but analysts say it was Mao's way of getting rid of his enemies in the party before they got rid of him.

Numerous histories written since Mao's death show that he conceived the turbulence that the Cultural Revolution became, and then sent his wife and the other three out to execute his plans. Ten years of chaos and violence followed, during which millions died, and the country's economy was destroyed.

After Mao's death on September 9, 1976, the four attempted to seize power and continue his extreme leftist policies.

Some analysts suggest that had they succeeded, China might today be more like North Korea, suffering from poverty, oppression and isolation from the rest of the world.

Instead, party reformists moved first, arresting the four less than a month after Mao died. All stood trial, and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Two years after the arrests, Deng XiaopIng, who had been purged repeatedly by Mao for not being sufficiently left-wing, re-emerged to start China on the road toward economic and social reform.

The last surviving member of the Gang of Four, Yao Wenyuan, died in obscurity last December.