10/07/2006, 00.00
CHINA

30th anniversary of downfall of Gang of Four passes unobserved

Chinese historians and academics say the current leadership allows all sensitive anniversaries to pass by in silence, to avoid any confrontation with history. But this has created a void in the population's awareness of national history.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The 30th anniversary of the arrest of the Gang of Four passed in total silence yesterday. The Gang of Four consisted of the most radical ideologists of the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976).

According to academics and historians, the silence comes from the Chinese leadership, which continues to avoid commemorating any "politically sensitive" anniversaries. This approach effectively prevents objective analysis of the country's recent history.

Some academics have used this latest ignored anniversary to highlight how "the population no longer has any awareness of recent events, which have been changed or deliberately forgotten to avoid any comparison with the current situation."

Joseph Cheng, who teaches history at the City University of Hong Kong, said: "Most people associate the Gang of Four with the most undesirable and nightmarish period in the history of the People's Republic of China. They think of the fact that they had so much power and were able to create so much havoc and disturbance."

However, continued the lecturer, "many people have forgotten about the Gang of Four. Young people don't quite know who they were."

It is likely that the media does not supply this information to the people. In a bid to avoid any debate about the tormented history of China's power struggles, the government avoids recalling sensitive anniversaries, including Mao's death.

Liu Xiaomeng, a historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said this "reflects a general unwillingness to permit objective reflection on our country's history. The current leadership has not entirely come to terms with this history and this has caused serious misunderstanding among ordinary Chinese, who have no awareness of the nation's recent history."

The historian said: "During their trial, the gang was blamed for all the barbaric acts of the Cultural Revolution, and although this was not really true, they are still considered as the only ones who were guilty."

He added: "Even though China's economy has made great strides, systemic contradictions still haven't been solved and we still don't have true democracy, while the process of modernisation is not entirely guaranteed."

The most notorious and powerful member of the Gang of Four was Jiang Qing, Mao's widow and his fourth and last wife. The other three were Zhang Chunqiao (propaganda expert), Wang Hongwen (labour activist) e Yao Wenyuan (literary critic).

Notwithstanding the great power they wielded in the course of the Cultural Revolution, the four were aware that most of their influence depended on the acquiescence of Mao, founder of Communist China. Thus, when Mao died in September 1976, they sought to seize supreme power in Beijing, but they were defeated by the then leader of the party, Hua Guofeng, and later arrested and condemned in a highly publicised farcical trial.

Last December, the remaining member of the Gang of Four, Yao Wenyuan, died of diabetes. The other three killed themselves in prison while serving their sentence.

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