The Gang of Four Emerges
Deng's position of strength in 1975 owed everything to Mao's blessing. The Chairman had not just rehabilitated him and given him important posts; Mao's criticism of the radicals convinced party officials that he backed the policies Deng pursued. In particular, when Mao began to label the radicals—Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen— as a "Gang of Four," and made particularly biting remarks about his own wife, Deng and his colleagues could reasonably have concluded that the Chairman was finally waking up to the depredations committed in his name over the previous decade. Mao's new line would later prove a godsend to post-Mao historians. If the Chairman could not be exculpated for launching the Cultural Revolution, he could be excused from some of its horrors, just as Mao himself used Lin Biao as a convenient scapegoat to explain why marshals and generals had been treated badly.
For the outside observer, however, Mao's behavior remains a puzzle. If Mao really had been waking up to illegitimate acts by the Gang of Four, he could have had them purged with a snap of his fingers. But he would not, because the Gang of Four were his ideological praetorian guard. They, and perhaps only they, would propound and defend the ideals of the Cultural Revolution to the end. In that case, why did he undermine them to the benefit of Deng in 1975?
At the time of previous ideological breakthroughs—collectivization in 1955 and the commune movement in 1958—Mao had stressed the need for the achievement to be sanctified by improved living standards. The notional liberation of China from the tyranny of "revisionist" leaders during the Cultural Revolution needed to have had the same effect. Mao had looked to Zhou and was now looking to Deng to propel China toward prosperity. On those previous occasions, however, Mao had had to intervene forcefully to prevent backsliding from the