Jiang Qing (; IPA: ; 20 March 1914 14 May 1991) was the pseudonym that was used by Chinese leader Mao Zedong's last wife and major Communist Party of China power figure. She went by the stage name Lan Ping () during her acting career, and was known by various other names during her life. She married Mao in Yan'an in November 1938, and is sometimes referred to as Madame Mao in Western literature, serving as Communist China's first first lady. Jiang Qing was most well known for playing a major role in the Cultural Revolution (1966 76) and for forming the radical political alliance known as the "Gang of Four". She was named the "Great Flag-carrier of the Proletarian Culture" ( / ).
Jiang Qing served as Mao's personal secretary in the 1940s and was head of the Film Section of the CPC Propaganda Department in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, she made a bid for power during the Cultural Revolution (1966 1976), which resulted in widespread chaos within the communist party. In 1966 she was appointed deputy director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group and claimed real power over Chinese politics for the first time. She became one of the masterminds of the Cultural Revolution, and along with three others, held absolute control over all of the national institutions. 
Around the time of Chairman Mao's death, Jiang Qing and her proteges maintained control of many of China's power institutions, including a heavy hand in the media and propaganda. However, Jiang Qing's political success was limited. When Mao died in 1976, Jiang lost the support and justification for her political activities. She was arrested in October 1976 by Hua Guofeng and his allies, and was subsequently accused of being counter-revolutionary. Since then, Jiang Qing and Lin Biao have been branded by official historical documents in China as the "Lin Biao and Jiang Qing Counter-revolutionary Cliques" ( / ), to which most of the blame for the damage and devastation caused by the Cultural Revolution was assigned. The assessments of western scholars have not been as uniformly critical. Though initially sentenced to execution, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1983, however, and in May 1991 she was released for medical treatment. Before returning to prison, she committed suicide.
Jiang Qing was born in Zhucheng, Shandong Province on March 20, 1914. Her birth name was L Sh m ng ( ). She was the only child of Li Dewen ( ), a carpenter, and his subsidiary wife, or concubine. Her father ran his own carpentry and cabinet making shop. After Jiang's parents had a violent argument, her mother found work as a domestic servant (some accounts cite that Jiang's mother also worked as a prostitute) and separated from her husband. Jiang Qing on the cover of a movie magazine When Jiang enrolled in elementary school, she took the name L Y nh ( ), meaning "Crane in the Clouds", by which she was known for much of her early life. Other students did not view Jiang well due to her family background, and she and her mother moved in with her maternal grandparents when she went to attend middle school. In 1926, when she was 12 years old, her father died. Jiang's mother relocated them to Tianjin where she worked as a child laborer in a cigarette factory for several months. Two years later, Jiang and her mother settled to Jinan. The following summer, she entered an experimental theater and drama school. Her talent brought her to the attention of administrators who selected her to join a drama club in Beijing where she gained more acting skills. She returned to Jinan in May 1931 and married Pei Minglun, the wealthy son of a businessman. The marriage was an unhappy one and they soon divorced.
From July 1931 to April 1933, Jiang attended Qingdao University in Qingdao. She met Yu Qiwei, a biology student three years her senior, who was an underground member of the Communist Party Propaganda Department. By 1932, they had fallen in love and were living together. She joined the "Communist Cultural Front," a circle of artists, writers, and actors, and performed in Put Down Your Whip, a renowned popular play about a woman who escapes from the Japanese-occupied northeastern China and performs in the streets to survive. In February 1933, Jiang took the oath of the Chinese Communist Party with Yu at her side, and she was appointed member of the Chinese Communist Party youth wing. Yu was arrested in April the same year and Jiang subsequently shunned by his family. She fled to her parents' home in Shanghai and returned to the drama school in Jinan, where she was warmly received. Through friendships she had previously established, she received an introduction to attend Shanghai University for the summer where she also taught some general literacy classes. In October, she rejoined the Communist Youth League, and at the same time, began participating in an amateur drama troupe.
In September 1934, Jiang Qing was arrested and jailed for her political activities in Shanghai, but was released three months later, in December of the same year. She then traveled to Beijing where she reunited with Yu Qiwei who had just been released following his prison sentence, and the two began living together again.
Jiang Qing in a 1935 film poster Jiang Qing returned to Shanghai in March 1935, and became a professional actress, adopting the stage name "L n P ng" (meaning "Blue Apple", Chinese: ). She appeared in numerous films and plays, including God of Liberty, The Scenery of City, Blood on Wolf Mountain and Old Mr. Wang. In Ibsen's play A Doll's House, Jiang Qing played the role of Nora.
With her career established, she became involved with actor/director Tang Lun, with whom she appeared in Scenes of City Life and The Statue of Liberty. They were married in Hangzhou in March 1936, however he soon discovered she was continuing her relationship with Yu Qiwei. The scandal became public knowledge and he made two suicide attempts before their divorce became final. In 1937, Jiang joined the Lianhua Film Company and starred in the film Big Thunderstorm. She reportedly had an affair with director, Zhang Min, however she denied it in her autobiographical writings.
Jiang Qing, ca. 1936
Flight to Yan'an
Following the disastrous Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937 and the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and takeover of the Chinese movie industry, Jiang left her celebrity life on the stage behind. She went first to Xi'an, then to the Chinese Communist headquarters in Yan'an to "join the revolution" and the war to resist the Japanese invasion. In November, she enrolled in the "Anti-Japanese Military and Political University" (Marxist-Leninist Institute) for study. The Lu Xun Academy of Arts was newly founded in Yan'an on April 10, 1938, and Jiang Qing became a drama department instructor, teaching and performing in college plays and operas.
Mao and Jiang Qing working in Yan'an, 1938
After arriving in Yan'an, Jiang began to think seriously about "hooking someone". After several affairs, Jiang began seriously plotting the seduction of Mao Zedong, clapping ostentatiously at his lectures and inviting herself into his cave. Shortly thereafter, Mao and Jiang became acquainted, and Zhou Enlai discovered Mao having an affair in the wilderness with Jiang.
Other Communist leaders were more obviously scandalized by the relationship once it became public. At 45, Mao was nearly twice Jiang's age, and Jiang had lived a highly bourgeois lifestyle before coming to Yan'an. Mao was still married to He Zizhen, a lifelong Communist who had previously completed the Long March with him, and with whom Mao had five children. Eventually, Mao arranged a compromise with the other leaders of the CCP: Mao was granted a divorce and permitted to marry Jiang, but she was required to stay out of public politics for thirty years. Jiang abided by this agreement. After these thirty years expired, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang would become active in politics and take revenge on those she felt had wronged her.
On November 28, 1938, Jiang and Mao married in a small private ceremony following approval by the Party's Central Committee. Because Mao's marriage to He had not yet ended, Jiang was reportedly made to sign a marital contract which stipulated that she would not appear in public with Mao as her escort. Jiang and Mao's only child together, a daughter named Li Na, was born in 1940.
Rise to power
Entry into Chinese politics
From the 1940s on, Mao and Jiang quarreled frequently. After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Jiang became the nation's first lady. She worked as Director of film in the Central Propaganda Department, and as a member of the Ministry of Culture steering committee for the film industry. An uproar in 1950 led the investigation of The Life of Wu Xun, a film about a 19th century beggar who raised money to educate the poor. Jiang supported criticism of the film for celebrating counter-revolutionary ideas.
Mao and Jiang Qing, 1946
Following the Great Leap Forward (1958 1961), Mao was highly criticized within the CCP, and turned to Jiang, among others, to support himself and persecute his enemies. Taking advantage of the power given to her by Mao, Jiang began by reforming the Chinese theatre and then tracked down those whom she felt had wronged her in the past. She led an initiative for reforming modern opera in 1963 that resulted in the "eight model revolutionary operas" established at Peking Opera. This intitiative and others strictly defined permitted works of drama, music, dance, and other arts, including outright bans of unapproved works.
The Cultural Revolution
Backed by her husband, she was appointed deputy director of the so-called Central Cultural Revolution Group in 1966 and emerged as a serious political figure in the summer of that year. She became a member of the Politburo in 1969. By now she has established a close political working relationship with what in due course would be known as the Gang of Four Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. She was one of the most powerful figures in China during Mao's last years and became a controversial figure.
During this period, Mao Zedong galvanized students and young workers as his Red Guards to attack what he termed as revisionists in the party. Mao told them the revolution was in danger and that they must do all they could to stop the emergence of a privileged class in China. He argued this is what had happened in the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev.
With time, Jiang began playing an increasingly active political role in the movement. She took part in most important Party and government activities. She was supported by a radical coterie, dubbed, by Mao himself, the Gang of Four. Although a prominent member of the Central Cultural Revolution Group and a major player in Chinese politics from 1966 to 1976, she essentially remained on the sidelines.
The initial storm of the Cultural Revolution came to an end when Liu Shaoqi was forced from all his posts on October 13, 1968. Lin Biao now became Mao's designated successor. Chairman Mao now gave his support to the Gang of Four: Jiang Qing, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao. These four radicals occupied powerful positions in the Politburo after the Tenth Party Congress of 1973.
Jiang Qing also directed operas and ballets with communist and revolutionary content as part of an effort to transform China's culture. She dominated the Chinese arts, and in particular attempted to reform the Beijing Opera. She developed a new form of art called the Eight model plays which depicted the world in simple, binary terms: the positive characters ("good guys") were predominantly farmers, workers and revolutionary soldiers, whilst the negative characters ("bad guys") were landlords and anti-revolutionaries. The negative characters, in contrast to their proletarian foils who performed boldly centre stage, were identifiable by their darker make-up and relegation to the outskirts of the stage until direct conflict with a positive character. Critics would argue that her influence on art was too restrictive, because she replaced nearly all earlier works of art with revolutionary Maoist works.
Jiang Qing first collaborated with then second-in-charge Lin Biao, but after Lin Biao's death in 1971, she turned against him publicly in the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign. By the mid 1970s, Jiang Qing also spearheaded the campaign against Deng Xiaoping (afterwards saying that this was inspired by Mao). The Chinese public became intensely discontented at this time and chose to blame Jiang Qing, a more accessible and easier target than Chairman Mao. By 1973, although was not reported due to it being a personal matter, Mao and his wife Jiang had separated:
- "It was reported that Mao Tsetung and Chiang Ching were separated in 1973. Most people, however, did not know this. Hence Chiang Ching was still able to use her position as Mao's wife to deceive people. Because of her relations to Mao, it was particularly difficult for the Party to deal with her."
Jiang Qing's hobbies included photography, playing cards, and watching foreign movies, especially Gone with the Wind. It was also revealed that Mao's physician, Li Zhisui, had diagnosed her as a hypochondriac. When touring a troupe of young girls excelling in marksmanship, she "discovered" Joan Chen, then 14 years old, launching Joan's career as a Chinese and then international actress.
She developed severe degrees of hypochondriasis and erratic nerves. She required two sedatives over the course of a day and three sleeping pills to fall asleep. Staff were assigned to chase away birds and cicadas from her Imperial Fishing Villa. She ordered house servants to cut down on noise by removing their shoes and avoiding clothes rustling. Mild temperature differences bothered her; thermostats were always set to 21.5 C (70.7 F) in winter and 26 C (78.8 F) in summer.
Political persecution of enemies
Jiang Qing incited radical youths organized as Red Guards against other senior political leaders and government officials, including Liu Shaoqi, the President at the time, and Deng Xiaoping, the Deputy Premier. Internally divided into factions both to the "left" and "right" of Jiang Qing and Mao, not all Red Guards were friendly to Jiang Qing.
Jiang's persecution of those she believed had wronged her was cruel, vindictive, and harsh. At a mass rally in Beijing, Jiang directed a "struggle session" against a woman, Fan Jin, who had married Jiang's second husband after Jiang separated from him in 1931. According to Jiang, Fan had published satirical essays portraying Mao as a megalomaniac, and Jiang herself as a "semi-prostitute", but Fan's real crime was her marriage. Fan was arrested and died soon afterwards.
Jiang's rivalry with, and personal dislike of, Zhou Enlai led Jiang to hurt Zhou where he was most vulnerable. In 1968 Jiang had Zhou's adopted son (Sun Yang) and daughter (Sun Weishi) tortured and murdered by Maoist Red Guards. Sun Yang was murdered in the basement of Renmin University. After Sun Weishi died following seven months of torture in a secret prison (at Jiang's direction), Jiang made sure that Sun's body was cremated and disposed of so that no autopsy could be performed, and so that Sun's family could not have her ashes. In 1968 Jiang forced Zhou to sign an arrest warrant for his own brother. In 1973 and 1974, Jiang directed the "Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius" campaign against premier Zhou because Zhou was viewed as one of the Jiang's primary political opponents. In 1975, Jiang initiated a campaign named "Criticizing Song Jiang, Evaluating the Water Margin", which encouraged the use of Zhou as an example of a political loser. After Zhou Enlai died in 1976, Jiang initiated the "Five Nos" campaign in order to discourage and prohibit any public mourning for Zhou.
When given free rein, Jiang also wreaked vengeance on Mao's family. Jiang confined Mao's third wife, Jiang's predecessor, to a mental hospital for several decades. When Mao's eldest son was killed in the Korean War, his widow accused Jiang of feeling "immense ecstasy". Jiang had several of Mao's children, and/or their spouses, arrested. Jiang forced her own daughter with Mao to divorce her husband because her husband was only a farmer, causing Jiang's daughter to go insane.
Death of Mao Zedong
By September 5, 1976, Mao's condition turned critical. Upon being contacted by Hua Guofeng, Jiang Qing returned from her trip and spent only a few moments in the hospital's Building 202, where Mao was being treated. Later she returned to her own residence in the Spring Lotus Chamber.
Poster showing Jiang Qing promoting the fine arts during the Cultural Revolution while holding Mao's "Little Red Book
." The slogan reads: "The invincible thoughts of Mao Zedong illuminate the stages of revolutionary art!"
On the afternoon of September 7, Mao took a turn for the worse. Mao had just fallen asleep and needed to rest, but Jiang Qing insisted on rubbing his back and moving his limbs, and she sprinkled powder on his body. The medical team protested that the dust from the powder was not good for his lungs, but she instructed the nurses on duty to follow her example later.
The next morning, September 8, she went again. This time she wanted the medical staff to change Mao's sleeping position, claiming that he had been lying too long on his left side. The doctor on duty objected, knowing that he could breathe only on his left side. Jiang had him move Mao nonetheless. As a result, Mao's breathing stopped and his face turned blue. Jiang Qing left the room while the medical staff put Mao on a respirator and performed emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Eventually, Mao was revived and Hua Guofeng urged Jiang Qing not to interfere further with the doctor's work. However, Mao's organs failed and the Chinese government decided to disconnect Mao's life support mechanism.
Mao's death on September 9, 1976, sent shockwaves through the country. As the symbol of China's revolution, Mao was held in high regard amongst the majority of the Chinese population. Mao's chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, chaired his funeral committee. It was believed Hua was a compromise candidate between the free-marketeers and the party orthodox. Some argue this may have been due to his ambivalence and his low-key profile, particularly compared to Deng Xiaoping, the preferred candidate of the market-oriented factions. The party apparatus, under orders from Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao, wrote a eulogy affirming Mao's achievements and in order to justify their claims to power.
By this time state media was effectively under the control of the Gang of Four. State newspapers continued to denounce Deng shortly after Mao's death. Jiang Qing was especially paranoid of Deng's influence on national affairs, whereas she considered Hua Guofeng a mere nuisance. In numerous documents published in the 1980s it was claimed that Jiang Qing was conspiring to make herself the new Chairman of the Communist Party.
Downfall and death
Jiang Qing showed few signs of sorrow during the days following Mao's death. It was uncertain who controlled the Communist Party's central organs during this transition period. Hua Guofeng, as Mao's designated successor, held the titular power as the acting Chairman of the Communist Party and as Premier. However, Hua was not very influential. Some sources indicate that Mao mentioned Jiang Qing before his death in a note to Hua Guofeng, telling him to "go consult her" if he runs into problems ().
"Decisively Throw Out the Wang-Zhang-Jiang-Yao Anti-Party Clique!"
Jiang Qing believed that upholding the status quo, where she was one of the highest ranked members of the central authorities, would mean that she would effectively hold onto power. In addition, she believed that her status as Mao's widow would make it difficult for her to be removed. She continued to invoke Mao's name in her major decisions, and acted as first-in-charge.
Her political ambitions and lack of respect for most of the elder revolutionaries within the Central Committee became notorious. Her support within the Central Committee was dwindling, and her public approval was dismal. Ye Jianying, a renowned general, met in private with Hua Guofeng and Wang Dongxing, commander of a secret service-like organization called the 8341 Special Regiment. They determined that Jiang Qing and her associates must be removed by force in order to restore stability.
On the morning of October 6, 1976, Jiang Qing came to Mao's former residence in Zhongnanhai, gathered her close aides and Mao's former personal aides in a "Study Mao's Work" session. According to Du Xiuxian, her photographer, Jiang Qing remarked that she knew people within the Central Committee were plotting against her.
The arrest of Jiang Qing was credited to the president and one of the leading people of the country at that time, Li Xiannian, who was the right-hand man of Hua Guofeng.
At a meeting of leading party men in late 1976, seated at the same table, the chief men of the party were: Hua Guofeng, Li Xiannian and Ye Jianying. Since it was common knowledge that Li Xiannian was a great opponent of Jiang Qing and the whole Gang of Four, and that after Mao's death in September of that year, they were still quite influential, Li Xiannian feared eavesdropping. Li took some paper, wrote a plan for breaking the Gang of Four, and gave it to Ye Jianying who sat beside him. Soon Hua Guofeng called a secret meeting with Ye and Li, and then together they devised a plan for the arrest and removal from membership of the Communist Party of the other former senior officials who, together with the Gang of Four were responsible for the death and execution of tens of millions of people.
After the session, Jiang Qing took several aides to Jingshan Park to pick apples. In the evening, Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, and Yao Wenyuan were arrested and kept in the lower level of Zhongnanhai. According to Zhang Yaoci, who carried out the arrest, Jiang Qing did not say much when she was arrested. In a bloodless coup, the Gang of Four was charged with attempts to seize power by setting up militia coups in Shanghai and Beijing, subverting the government, counterrevolutionary activity, and treason.
After her arrest, Jiang Qing was sent to the Qincheng Prison and detained for five years. In both official and civilian accounts of the period, the fall of the Gang was met with celebrations all over China. Indeed, Jiang Qing's role in the Cultural Revolution was perceived by the public to be largely negative, and the Gang of Four was a convenient scapegoat for the ten years of political and social turmoil. Her role during the Cultural Revolution is still a subject of historical debate.
In 1980, the trials of the Gang of Four began. The trials were televised nationwide. By showing the way the Gang of Four was tried, Deng Xiaoping wanted the people to realize that a new age had arrived.
Jiang Qing at her trial in 1980
Portions of the 20,000-word indictment were printed in China's press before the trial started; they accused the defendants of a host of heinous crimes that took place during the Cultural Revolution. The charges specify that 727,420 Chinese were "persecuted" during that period, and that 34,274 died, though the often vague indictment did not specify exactly how. Among the chief victims: onetime Chief of State Liu Shaoqi, whose widow Wang Guangmei, herself imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution for 12 years, attended the trial as an observer.
The indictment described two plots by the "Jiang Qing-Lin Biao Counterrevolutionary Clique" to seize power. Jiang Qing was not accused of conspiring with Lin Biao, or with other members of the Gang of Four who allegedly planned an armed rebellion to "usurp power" in 1976, when Mao was close to death. Instead, the charges against her focused on her systematic persecution of creative artists during the Cultural Revolution. Amongst other things, she was accused of hiring 40 people in Shanghai to disguise themselves as Red Guards and ransack the homes of writers and performers. The apparent purpose was said to find and destroy letters, photos and other potentially damaging materials on Jiang Qing's early career in Shanghai, which she wanted to keep secret.
Despite the seriousness of the accusations against her, Jiang Qing appeared unrepentant. She had not confessed her guilt, something that the Chinese press has emphasized to show her bad attitude. There had been reports that she planned to defend herself by cloaking herself in Mao's mantle, saying that she did only what he approved. As the trial got under way, Jiang Qing dismissed her assigned lawyers, deciding instead to represent herself. During her public trials at the "Special Court", Jiang Qing was the only member of the Gang of Four who bothered to argue on her behalf. The defense's argument was that she obeyed the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong at all times. Jiang Qing maintained that all she had done was to defend Chairman Mao. It was at this trial that Jiang Qing made the famous quote: "I was Chairman Mao's dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite." (). The official records of the trial have not yet been released.
Jiang Qing was sentenced to death in 1981. In 1983, her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
While in prison, Jiang Qing was diagnosed with throat cancer, but she refused an operation. She was eventually released, on medical grounds, in 1991. At the hospital, Jiang Qing used the name L R nq ng (). She was alleged to have committed suicide on May 14, 1991, aged 77, by hanging herself in a bathroom of her hospital. She reputedly wrote on her suicide note, "Chairman [Mao]! I love you! Your student and comrade is coming to see you!" ( ). Her suicide occurred two days short of the 25th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution.
She wished her remains could be buried in her home province of Shandong, but in consideration of possible future vandalism to her tomb, the state decided to have her remains moved to a safer common cemetery in Beijing. Jiang Qing is buried in Fukuda Cemetery in the western hills of Beijing. Her grave is marked by a tall white stone inscribed with her school name, not the name by which she was famously known, which reads: "Tomb of Late Mother, L Y nh , 1914 1991" ( ).
Names of Jiang Qing
There are several reasons for Jiang Qing's large repertoire of names. A large part of it has to do with the turbulent historical period she lived in. At the time of her birth, many female children never received given names or formal education.
Her father named her Li Jinhai because he wanted a son, but this was altered after her birth to Li Shumeng. She enrolled in school under a more dignified name, Li Yunhe, and simply changed it for convenience to Li He.
As was customary for Chinese actors during that time (and for some, until the present-day), she chose a stage name, which was used in all the plays and films that credited her roles. Lan Ping was the name she was known by within Chinese film circles and a name she came to identify with.
It is unclear when she changed her name to Jiang Qing, but it probably occurred before her arrival to Yan'an. It is believed that the character "Qing" was chosen because it related to the concept of Blue ("Lan"). There is some evidence that the name signified her status as a Communist and a severance from her "bourgeoisie" past. She also used Li Jin to pen a number of articles she wrote during the Cultural Revolution.
Eventually, to protect her identity, she used Li Runqing when she was hospitalized after being released from prison. She was buried under her tombstone which bore the name "Li Yunhe".
- Birth name: L Sh m ng ()
- Given name: L J nh i ()
- School name: L Y nh ()
- Modified name: L H ()
- Stage name: L n P ng ()
- Revolutionary pseudonym: Ji ng Q ng ()
- Pen name: L J n ()
- Last used name: L R nq ng ()
- Western name: Madame Mao
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