Following Ross Terrill's biography of Madame Mao (1983, p. 1305), the chief conspirator among the Gang of Four, and an...


VERDICT IN PEKING: The Trial of the Gang of Four

Following Ross Terrill's biography of Madame Mao (1983, p. 1305), the chief conspirator among the Gang of Four, and an exposÉ of the Lin Biao plot against Mao (for which six other conspirators were tried alongside the Gang), there is little to be gained from this work by London Times and Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent Bonavia. Interweaving material from the trial transcripts with his own narrative account of the Cultural Revolution, Bonavia aspires to show how the conspirators worked at their conspiracy. Obviously hostile to his subjects, he succeeds only in repeating old reports with barely a gloss of new interest. We see Jian Qing trying to justify her endorsement of Red Guard house searches as ""revolutionary"" and therefore right, even as she acknowledges them to have been illegal. That Jiang's ceaseless attacks on Lin Shaoqi were at least partly motivated by resentment toward Liu's wife is not news anymore; neither is her systematic effort to suppress documents and photographs of her early stage and movie career--by denouncing former friends, lovers, enemies, and even servants as traitors. Her trial transcripts have been frequently quoted--and whereas Terrill and others have grudgingly admired her spirited resistance to the court, Bonavia shows only someone trying to deceive. He does concede that the court proceedings were less than objective, but confines his criticisms to a brief concluding chapter that finally notes the absence of any real defense. (Before that, in a chapter on Zhang Chunqiao, one of the Four, court transcripts are reproduced accusing Zhang of, among other things, framing party leaders: this despite the fact that Zhang refused to speak a single word--his responses are marked by ""silent"" in the transcript.) And Bonavia includes the Mao conspiracy though none of the Gang were charged with participating in it, which serves only to reinforce a vague guilt by association. The trial of the Gang was a spectacle by any standard, but particularly given its ragged and public character. As historical evidence it needs to be treated with special care, a trait that Bonavia's account distinctly lacks.

Pub Date: March 21, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1984