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China Reports Death of Infamous 'Gang of Four' Member

Chinese officials are reporting the death of Zhang Chunqiao, a member of China's purged ultra-leftist political clique known as the "Gang of Four."

Chinese authorities say Zhang Chunqiao died of cancer on April 21 at the age of 88. The delay in announcing his death led some analysts to speculate that the government is perhaps still uneasy about how to portray his role in history.

Mr. Zhang was one of the leading figures behind the Cultural Revolution, a movement from 1966 to 1976 in which ultra-leftists sought to destroy any trace of traditional Chinese culture and values, along with any opposition to the leadership of the Communist Party. His role was that of a propaganda specialist and theoretician who pushed for China's transformation from socialism to hard-line communism.

Along with other Gang of Four members, Zhang Chunqiao was arrested a month after party leader Mao Zedong's death in 1976. He was sentenced to death for his role in the movement, which led to thousands of deaths and the persecution of millions. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

David Zweig, who directs the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University Science and Technology, has studied Mr. Zhang's career. He says many Chinese today recall him not as a theoretician but as a power-hungry politician whose ideas were contrary to modern economic reforms.

"I think people remember him as a challenger for political power [and] how it was good that they [the Gang of Four] were arrested because they would have never allowed the Chinese economy to open up the way it has or developed the way it has," said Mr. Zweig.

Mr. Zhang's final years were spent in obscurity, and there had been reports he died perhaps as far back as 1991.

Other members of the clique included Mao Zedong's widow, Jiang Qing, who committed suicide in 1991.