Cultural Revolution

Last member of China’s Cultural Revolution Group, Qi Benyu, dies at 85

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 3:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 10:55am

Qi Benyu, a Communist Party theorist and propagandist who played a significant role in the Cultural Revolution, died yesterday in Shanghai at the age of 85.

Qi was the last member of the ultra-left Cultural Revolution Group (CRG), which had superseded the party’s top decision-making Politburo and Secretariat to emerge as the de facto top power organ of the country at the height of the political turmoil between 1966 and 1976.

Qi, a Shandong resident born in Shanghai in 1931, died of cancer, according to mainland media, citing one of his friends.

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Once the late leader Mao Zedong’s right-hand man for propaganda, Qi is said to have played a role that led to the purge of President Liu Shaoqi.

Until recently, Qi continued to air his ultra-left views, with radical calls to relaunch the Cultural Revolution in the country.

His demise comes amid heated debate on the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s rule as May 16 will mark its 50th anniversary.

The party’s official verdict on the Cultural Revolution is that it was a period of “internal turbulence” and “disaster”. But the leadership has long avoided holding Mao responsible and has restricted academic study and artistic work on it.

Qi’s political career was associated with Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife. He was made a staff member at Mao’s personal office in 1950 after graduating from the Youth League school. The office was led by Jiang. Qi had been elevated to become the acting director of the general office of the party’s Central Committee and the deputy editor of Red Flag, the ruling party’s theoretical journal and a key source of Maoist ideological inspiration and guidance during the Cultural Revolution. It was replaced by a magazine called Qiushi, or Seeking Truth, in 1988.

Lessons from 1966: why we should never forget the disastrous consequences of the Cultural Revolution

Qi and Yao Wenyuan, a member of the notorious “Gang of Four” led by Jiang, played the crucial role in a campaign to denounce a historic Beijing opera called Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, which was seen as a prelude to the launch of the Cultural ­Revolution.

As a secretary at Mao’s office and a closeaide of Jiang, Qi had also played a key role in the draft of the so-called “May 16 Notification”, which, formalised by “an expanded Politburo” meeting, announced the establishment of the CRG and also declared the launch of the Cultural Revolution by announcing the overthrow of a group of moderates, including Beijing party boss Peng Zhen and police chief Luo ­Ruiqing.

Qi Benyu’s memoir will be published soon.