Mao and the Gang of Four Still Haunt China
by Eric Margolis: Drones
Make More New Enemies Than They Kill
Two major events
in China are sure to shape the world’s newest superpower: the sensational
murder trial of Madame Gu Kailai, and the top secret leadership
conclave at the seaside resort of Beidaihe.
as widely reported, was charged with poisoning Neil Heywood. a British
businessman, fixer, and possibly her former lover. Gu is the wife
of the recently disgraced powerful Chongqing party boss, Bo Xilai
who, until the scandal, appeared set to be elevated to a senior
role in China’s leadership. Bo was regarded – and feared – by many
as a dangerous opportunist bent on reviving Maoism.
was the biggest sensation in China since the trial of Mao’s shrewish,
scheming wife, Jiang Qing, leader of the notorious Gang of Four.
Reviled as "the white-boned devil," she and her leftist
allies were blamed for the ghastly Cultural Revolution.
with the lovely northern port of Dalian, are traditional summer
venues for the pampered Communist Party leadership. This year’s
meeting is extremely important as it will likely determine the shape
of China’s next round of leaders at this fall’s 18th
party congress, a once in a decade seismic event. President Hu Jintao
will step down and is likely to be replaced by rising star, Xi Jinping.
choreographed change is key to the Communist Party’s hold on power.
The trial of
Gu raised memories of the Cultural Revolution that still haunt China.
In 1966, Chairman Mao Zedong had been kicked upstairs by more pragmatic
comrades after his calamitous Great Leap Forward starved to death
some 30 million Chinese and wrecked the economy.
The aging revolutionary
was determined to regain full power. He unleashed armies of credulous
students known as Red Guards to tear down the government and purge
the party. China’s president, Liu Shaoqi, and senior leader Deng
Xiaoping, were denounced as "capitalist roaders" and "bourgeois
revisionists." Liu died in jail; Deng was sent to forced labor.
war on all remnants of China’s glorious past and any foreign influences.
Mao’s new revolution began, oddly, with posters at Beijing University,
and Jiang Qing’s attacks on "deviant" intellectuals, writers
and playwrights. These obscure attacks were harbingers of the coming
At the time,
hardly anyone could understand what was going on in China. Chaos
and anarchy swept China as rival armies of Red Guards waving Mao’s
Little Red Book battled one another and publicly humiliated and
assaulted former leaders and scholars. I was in China in 1975 and
vividly recall the gangs of Red Guards rampaging, burning and smashing.
Watching a great nation run amok was a terrifying experience. Mao’s
China looked like a vast concentration camp filled with demented
In one of history’s
worst acts of vandalism, much of China’s glorious art and ancient
temples were destroyed as remnants of "feudalism" by mobs
of fanatical teenagers. China was virtually paralyzed from 1966-1976:
the economy broke down, education ceased, millions starved or were
thrown into grim labor camps. A failed coup against Mao in 1971
by Marshall Lin Biao furthered the chaos and tumult.
After a decade
of civil strife and national madness, in 1976 the People’s Liberation
Army and centrist reformers like Deng Xioping and the dying Zhou
Enlai managed to wrest power away from the aging Mao, who was showing
increasing signs of dementia and paranoia, and broke the Gang of
and isolation of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai suggests the party
leaders feared he might have planned to ignite another wave of Maoism
among China’s youth. His failure to follow the party line was a
old adage about standing together or hanging separately surely applies
to China. All its miraculous economic and social progress, and its
rock-hard political stability since 1976 could be swept away by
power struggles within the party leadership and challenges from
trial and the sacking of her ambitious husband will sharply remind
the Communist brass that they must keep a united front or else China’s
ancient curse – separatism, regionalism, warlordism – could rise
from the grave.
who have a good grasp of their turbulent history, instability is
the greatest of all dangers.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2012 Eric Margolis
Best of Eric Margolis