Led by Mao Zedong's fourth wife, Jiang Qing (1913-1991), the so - called "Gang of Four" was a powerful political influence on Chinese Communism during final years of Mao's life. Jiang's political clout coalesced during the early phase of the (Great Proletarian) Cultural Revolution and she later aligned with Shanghai propaganda official Zhang Chunqiao (1913-1991), literary critic Yao Wenyuan (1931-2005), and security guard Wang Hongwen (1935-1992).
During the Cultural Revolution, Jiang's group targeted some CCP leaders directly, including Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and Zhou Enlai. Liu was denounced repeatedly, purged and died while in prison as a result. Deng was exiled but he was rehabilitated and returned to power in later years. Zhou experienced some political unease during this period, but he emerged from the intrigue relatively unscathed.
Following Mao's death in 1976, a brief political struggle ensued between Jiang's Gang of Four and Hua Guofeng. The Gang of Four was ultimately arrested and they were politically discredited. All four members were held responsible for the upheaval and suffering wrought by the Cultural Revolution and they were placed on trial. Jiang and Zhang were sentenced to death, although their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. Yao and Wang were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.