AP file
Zhang Chunqiao, infamous for the persecution of thousands of people in China, is seen in this 1975 photo. He was imprisoned along with Gang of Four leader, Madame Mao Zedong, and died last month at the age of 88.
updated 5/10/2005 1:27:39 PM ET 2005-05-10T17:27:39

Zhang Chunqiao, one of the Gang of Four that terrorized China during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution by persecuting thousands of people, wrecking the economy and pushing the country to the brink of famine, has died at age 88.

Zhang died April 21 of cancer, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday. The four-sentence obituary didn’t say where he lived before his death or give details of survivors. It didn’t explain the delay in announcing his death.

The Gang of Four, which reportedly was given its name by Communist Party founder Mao Zedong, directed the purge of thousands of moderate party officials and intellectuals.

Legacy of fear
Led by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, the Gang of Four and its allies inflicted physical and emotional damage that still reverberates in Chinese society, despite economic reforms that have raised living standards and a loosened social controls.

Nearly every Chinese city dweller who was alive at the time can tell of a relative or friend who was beaten, harassed or driven to suicide, often by tormenters who took advantage of the unrest to avenge grudges.

The violence of the Cultural Revolution pitted neighbor against neighbor, traumatized the nation, and forced a generation of intellectuals to work in the countryside. A month after Mao’s death in 1976, members of the Gang of Four were arrested, marking the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Zhang and Jiang were both sentenced to death in 1981. His penalty was later commuted to life in prison, and Xinhua said he was released in 1998 on medical parole.

Jiang died in 1991 in captivity, reportedly a suicide. Another member of the Gang of Four, Wang Hongwen, died in 1992.

The fourth member, Yao Wenyuan, was released in 1996; there has been no official word on his status since then.

Movement to 'cleanse' China
Born in 1917, Zhang had risen to the influential post of Communist Party secretary of Shanghai by 1966, when Mao launched the movement to cleanse China of “bourgeois remnants.”

The ultraleftist Red Guards ransacked homes and destroyed antiques, religious artifacts and foreign books. Party and government officials were dragged to mass criticism sessions on charges of being corrupted by capitalist ideas.

Zhang and Wang set up a Shanghai Revolutionary Committee that tried to turn the city, China’s most prosperous and Westernized, into a bastion of Maoist radicalism. Zhang was accused of running Shanghai like a warlord, with a private militia of thousands.

In one incident, 100,000 radicals led by Wang attacked a factory held by a rival faction and beat, kidnapped or tortured at least 600 rivals, according to trial testimony.

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