This struggle for political ideals quickly degenerated into political extremism and civil war. A least a million Chinese lost their lives in the upheaval and innumerable cultural treasures including temples, books and works of art were destroyed.
The Cultural Revolution cast a long shadow over Chinese politics. The death in 1971 of Mao’s designated successor Lin Biao is still unexplained. In subsequent years ideological conflicts within the Communist Party intensified. Deng Xiaoping who was expelled from the party during the Cultural Revolution competed for power with the ideologists behind the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four or Shanghai Group, one of whose members was Mao’s wife Jiang Qing.
Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was successful in mediating between the two factions but he died in 1976. Later that year Mao Zedong also died after a serious illness, whereupon events moved quickly. The Shanghai Group or Gang of Four were arrested and the then Prime Minister Hua Guofeng took over the reins of power.
Deng Xiaoping came to power again in 1977. He soon strengthened his position and promoted his policies as the party line. For him the most important concern was rebuilding China’s industrial base.
The Gang of Four under the leadership of Jiang Qing received death penalties, but these were later suspended and replaced by restrictions to freedom.
The spring of 1989 saw rebellion at the heart of Beijing in the Square of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen). Students demanded democratic reforms but the demonstration was brutally put down and thousands of protestors were killed.