China's political elite convened unofficially this week to mark the 35th anniversary of the fall of the Gang of Four, which led to the rise of Deng Xiaoping and his economic reforms, amid calls by some for another Cultural Revolution, sources said.
"If we hadn't smashed the Gang of Four, none of what came later would have happened," said Wang Guixiu, referring to the political force within the ruling Party that was headed by Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao until its arrest on Oct. 6, 1976.
"If they had carried on with all that left-wing stuff, there would have been no progress," said Wang, a professor at the Chinese Communist Party's Central Party School.
"If the Gang of Four hadn't fallen, there would have been no third plenum of the 11th Party Congress [marking the beginning of the reform era]," Wang said. "If they had dithered, they wouldn't have been able to move ahead."
The "smashing" took the form of the arrest and trial of the Gang of Four for counterrevolutionary crimes, and brought people out onto the streets of Beijing in celebration.
It also made possible an unprecedented level of debate at the third plenum of the 11th Party Congress in 1978, according to contemporary witnesses.
Former top Communist Party official Bao Tong, who has been under house arrest at his Beijing home since the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests, has written of the third plenum: "The entire impetus for reform sprang directly out of this process of everyone talking at once."
Descendants of key figures
Among the 200 guests at Wednesday's event to mark the anniversary in Beijing were the descendants of many of the key figures in China's recent history, one participant told RFA's Mandarin service.
"Everyone was talking about the fall of the Gang of Four," said the participant, who gave only his surname Sun. "There has never been any kind of official event to celebrate this event, though."
"There was a huge banquet in the evening, and they showed some contemporary films from that period, shot in the days following the arrest of the Gang of Four, of the huge celebratory demonstrations by people from every segment of society," Sun said.
The conference, titled "Remembering the smashing of the Gang of Four, 35 Years On" was convened by Hu Deping, son of late disgraced former premier Hu Yaobang, whose funeral sparked the 1989 student movement.
Guests also included the son of Hua Guofeng, Mao's short-tenured designated successor, and the daughter of Li Xiannian, Hua's chief economic adviser.
A second participant, who declined to be named, said some people at the conference suggested a return to the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) as a way of cleansing the Party of corruption.
"There was a lot of reminiscing over certain periods in history by those who actually took part in them," the source said. "The Maoist faction suggested a return to the Cultural Revolution to rid society of corruption, social injustice and moral decay."
"They put these problems down to the failure to press on with continual revolution."
But he said their ideas found scant support among the majority of China's political elite.
"Most people there thought that the best way forward was constitutional politics, democracy and a return to the rule of law," he said.
Forty-five years after then Chairman Mao Zedong ushered in 10 years of mayhem and bloodshed with his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government has banned any commemorations or public debate on the issue.
What started as a campaign against "capitalist roader" officials turned into a decade of violence and repression, as students and workers formed squads of radical Red Guards, who killed hundreds of thousands in purges and bouts of warfare.
Qualified professionals like teachers and doctors were locked up in “cow pens,” while schools and universities were closed and health services fell into disarray under the supervision of "revolutionaries."
In today's China, officials do not permit open discussion of that tumultuous period, the victims do not want to remember those days and the persecutors are not willing to repent their actions, according to independent commentators.
Top officials have said publicly that China must “look to the future.”
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.