The carefully contrived piece of political theatre that opened in Peking in November, ran almost to the New Year, and ended off-stage in January with a wrangle between the producers over the dénouement, was altogether a tangle of paradoxes. The trial of the ten was a performance, scripted and rehearsed at a pre-trial session in the summer. But it was not sufficiently predictable to be entrusted to full public exposure. There were 800 court tickets, available to members of selected units. Everyone else had to depend on selective transcripts and edited film footage. The proceedings were thus, in a sense, both public and secret. What appeared to be one trial was also, in fact, two. For all practical purposes, the Lin Piao and Chiang Ch'ing factions appeared in two different courtrooms simultaneously. This was appropriate enough. By the late 1960s the two had become deadly rivals. But the prosecution maintained that all the accused formed part of a single, continuing Lin-Chiang conspiracy. Why the late Marshal Lin's accomplices were belatedly drawn into the trial is not clear. They had languished nine years in jail since their leader's unsuccessful coup and death. Would it have been too blatantly anti-Mao to try the Four on their own? Is that why the old man's nephew, Yuan-hsin, has now been put in the dock separately? Or was the decision motivated by the desire to bring both the distinctive factions of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution before the bar of justice? To try, by implication, an entire era?
LRB 19 February 1981 | PDF Download