Wang Hongwen; Belonged to Gang of Four

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Wang Hongwen, the youngest and most flamboyant of the infamous Gang of Four who led the Chinese Cultural Revolution, has died at the age of 58, the official New China News Agency reported Tuesday.

Wang, a textile mill worker who rose to become Communist Party vice chairman, was sentenced to life in prison after the Gang of Four fell. He died Monday of an unspecified liver ailment, according to the brief report.

He was the second of the revolutionary group to die. Jiang Qing, widow of Mao Tse-tung and the most prominent figure in the Gang of Four, committed suicide last year.

There has been no recent word on the whereabouts of the other two gang members: Zhang Chunqiao, who was given a death sentence that was commuted to life in prison, and Yao Wenyuan, who was sentenced to 20 years.

The four--who allegedly were given their nickname by Mao--used the radical leftist Cultural Revolution launched by Mao in 1966 to get back at personal enemies and gain power.

Together, they were responsible for purging many thousands of moderate party officials and intellectuals before the bloody decade ended. One estimate placed the number of dead at 35,000.

They were arrested shortly after Mao's death in 1976 and were put on trial in late 1980 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, wrongful persecution and other crimes.

In the trial, Wang pleaded guilty and testified against his co-defendants, saying: "I hope the court will give me a chance to repent and reform myself." He was given a life sentence.

Wang--nicknamed "the rocket" because of his rapid rise to Beijing's elite--gained a reputation as a playboy. Young, single and handsome, he used government money to eat in the best restaurants and buy expensive cars, cameras and other personal luxuries.

He was born in northeastern China's Jilin province to a family of poor peasants.

He joined the Red Army in his teens and served in the Korean War. After the war he was assigned to work at the No. 17 Cotton Mill in Shanghai, where he became an official in the security department.

He first became known as a radical in June, 1966, when he put up a wall poster attacking the factory's management as "capitalist."

Later that year, he traveled to Beijing to protest efforts by moderate Shanghai leaders to suppress him and other rebels, and was received approvingly by Mao and Jiang.

In Shanghai, Wang helped organize thousands of workers in demonstrations that eventually toppled the city's moderates.

Wang is reported to have played a role in uncovering Marshal Lin Biao's aborted 1971 plot to assassinate Mao, which may have led to Wang's 1972 promotion to the Communist Party Central Committee.

At his trial, Wang confessed that he had attempted to undermine Premier Chou En-lai and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, later China's paramount leader, by telling Mao that they were plotting against him.

He also confessed to plotting with other Gang of Four members to seize power after Mao's death.

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