BEIJING -- Yao Wenyuan, the final surviving member of the Gang of Four that terrorized China during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution by persecuting thousands of people, has died, the government said yesterday. He was 74.
Mr. Yao's death on Dec. 23 was attributed to diabetes, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It didn't say where he died or explain the delay in reporting his death.
The Gang of Four, reportedly given its name by then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong, directed the purge of moderate party officials and intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution. Mr. Yao was the group's propagandist, later dubbed ''the killer with a pen" by state media.
Led by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, the Gang of Four and its allies inflicted physical and emotional damage that still reverberates in Chinese society, despite loosened social controls and economic changes that have raised living standards.
Nearly every Chinese city dweller who was alive at the time can tell of a relative or friend who was beaten, harassed, or driven to suicide, often by tormenters who took advantage of the unrest to avenge grudges.
The violence pitted neighbor against neighbor, wrecked the economy, and forced a generation of intellectuals to work in the countryside.
A month after Mao's death in 1976, the Gang of Four members were arrested, marking the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Mr. Yao, a Shanghai journalist, was convicted of trying to gain power by persecuting officials and members of the public, and spent 20 years in prison before his release in 1996. It was not known what he did in the 10 years after his release.
Evidence at his televised trial included a diary entry in which he asked: ''Why can't we shoot a few counterrevolutionary elements? After all, dictatorship is not like embroidering flowers."
On Jiang's orders, Mr. Yao fired the first salvo of the Cultural Revolution, writing a review condemning a popular Beijing play as an attack on Mao. He was rewarded with a seat on the party's ruling Politburo.
Mr. Yao later confessed to falsifying evidence against Deng Xiaoping, who was purged during the Cultural Revolution but emerged as China's supreme leader in 1978.
''His weapon to kill people was the pen," a government magazine said in 1981 after Mr. Yao's conviction.
Jiang died in 1991 in custody, reportedly by suicide. Another member, Wang Hongwen, died in 1992. The third member, Zhang Chunqiao, died in May.
The Gang of Four received most of the official blame for the political violence, as the government tried to shift attention away from the role played by others, including thousands of officials.
Mr. Yao served his sentence in the Qincheng jail, outside Beijing.