Yang will be remembered as a Deng Xiaoping ally and keen supporter of his reforms. The Sichuanese pair fell out, however, three years after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Yang joined the party in 1926 as a member of the Communist Youth League. He studied at the Sun Yat-Sen University in Moscow until 1931. During the next two years, Yang handled party propaganda work before moving to the Red Army, in which he worked as a political commissar. He took part in the Zunyi party meeting of the mid-1930s which made Mao Zedong the party's supreme leader. Yang took part in the Long March, distinguishing himself in numerous battles. After 1949, he worked in various offices of the Central Committee, responsible for party organisation and administration. In 1956, Yang was elected to the committee and made an alternate member of its secretariat. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976, Yang was prosecuted by the Gang of Four and imprisoned for 12 years. After the fall of the Gang of Four, he was rehabilitated and worked in Guangdong for two years where he carried out the reform and open door policies of Deng, including pioneering the experimental special economic zones. In the 1980s, he moved to Beijing and worked as a vice-chairman and secretary-general of the National People's Congress. Yang was inducted to the policy-setting Central Military Commission as a its secretary-general in 1981. The following year, he was promoted as the commission's executive vice-chairman and secretary-general. He helped commission chairman Deng with its day-to-day affairs and implemented the army's reforms, including reorganisation and streamlining, adjustment of defence industries and speeding up the modernisation of weaponry and equipment. In 1987, Yang became a member of the political bureau. His career reached its height in April 1988 when he became president. In 1989, Yang supported Deng's decision to move soldiers into Beijing to clear student protesters from Tiananmen Square. Afterwards, Yang was accused by opponents, and some Deng loyalists, as trying to manoeuvre himself to become paramount leader after Deng's death. It was a goal Deng denied his old comrade-in-arms by grooming Jiang Zemin as his successor. Yang was forced by Deng to retire from the politburo and the army in 1992. He stepped down from the presidency a year later.