Beijing: Nearly five decades after he drove three intellectuals to commit suicide, Chinese leader Mao
Zedong's propaganda aide in his memoir regretted branding them as traitors and blamed the influential leader for his tirade against them.
Qi Benyu, who died at 85 in Shanghai last week, was the last surviving member of the ultra-left Cultural Revolution Group which superseded the Communist Party's Politburo and Secretariat to emerge as the country's top power organ at the height of the Cultural Revolution turmoil between 1966 and 1976.
His death comes amid debate on Mao's rule and the Cultural Revolution, which marks its 50th anniversary on 16 May.
Qi was among the few writers Mao trusted with key documents and commentaries essential to the start of the Cultural Revolution. Intellectuals targeted in his articles faced persecution, often with deadly consequences.
Qi later wrote that he regretted the suicides of historian Jian Bozan and his wife and journalist Deng Tuo.
"Jian and his wife did not commit suicide because of our article, but our article did exert pressure on them. I’ve always regretted it," Hong Kong based South China Morning Post quoted him as saying his memoir.
Jian and his wife killed themselves in 1968 while under pressure to confess in a state-led purge.
In December 1966, in the magazine Red Flag, Qi and two other writers accused Jian of "sheltering his landlord family" and of being an "alien class element".
Deng, a former editor of People's Daily, killed himself in 1966, a week after Qi wrote that he was a 'traitor'. Jian and his wife killed themselves two years later while under pressure to confess in a state-led purge.
Qi wrote that Mao encouraged him to write the article, which was based on unverified accusations by lower-level cadres. But by the time of Jian's suicide, Qi was himself behind bars after a row with Mao's wife Jiang Qing. "Speaking from my heart, I felt responsible for the death of Deng Tuo," he wrote in his memoir.