Jiang Qing

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Jiang Qing
Jiang in 1976
Spouse of the Paramount leader of China
In office
1 October 1949 – 9 September 1976
LeaderMao Zedong (party chairman)
Succeeded byHan Zhijun
Spouse of the President of China
In office
27 September 1954 – 27 April 1959
PresidentMao Zedong
Succeeded byWang Guangmei
Personal details
Li Shumeng

(1914-03-19)19 March 1914
Zhucheng, Shandong, Republic of China
Died14 May 1991(1991-05-14) (aged 77)
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Cause of deathSuicide by hanging
Resting placeBeijing Futian Cemetery
Political partyChinese Communist Party
  • Pei Minglun
    (m. 1931)
  • (m. 1932)
  • (m. 1936)
  • (m. 1938; died 1976)
ChildrenLi Na
Criminal penaltyDeath sentence with reprieve, later commuted to life imprisonment
Jiang Qing

Jiang Qing[note 1] (19 March 1914 – 14 May 1991), also known as Madame Mao, was a Chinese communist revolutionary, actress, and major political figure during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). She was the fourth wife of Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Communist Party and Paramount leader of China. She used the stage name Lan Ping (藍蘋) during her acting career (which ended in 1938), and was known by many other names. Jiang was best known for playing a major role in the Cultural Revolution and for forming the radical political alliance known as the "Gang of Four".

Jiang married Mao in Yan'an in November 1938 and served as the inaugural "First Lady" of the People's Republic of China. She served as Mao's personal secretary in the 1940s and was head of the Film Section of the Communist Party's Propaganda Department in the 1950s. Jiang served as an important emissary for Mao in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. In 1966, she was appointed deputy director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group. She collaborated with Lin Biao to advance Mao's unique brand of Communist ideology as well as Mao's cult of personality. At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang held significant influence in the affairs of state, particularly in the realm of culture and the arts, and was idolized in propaganda posters as the "Great Flagbearer of the Proletarian Revolution". In 1969, Jiang gained a seat on the Politburo. Before Mao's death, the Gang of Four controlled many of China's political institutions, including the media and propaganda. However, Jiang, deriving most of her political legitimacy from Mao, often found herself at odds with other top leaders.

Mao's death in 1976 dealt a significant blow to Jiang's political fortunes. She was arrested in October 1976 by Hua Guofeng and his allies, and was subsequently condemned by party authorities. Since then, Jiang has been officially branded as having been part of the "Lin Biao and Jiang Qing Counter-Revolutionary Cliques"[1] (林彪江青反革命集团), to which most of the blame for the damage and devastation caused by the Cultural Revolution was assigned. Though she was initially sentenced to death, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1983. After being released for medical treatment, Jiang died by suicide in May 1991.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Jiang Qing was born in Zhucheng, Shandong province, on 19 March 1914. Her birth name was Li Shumeng (李淑蒙). Her father was Li Dewen (李德文), a carpenter, and her mother, whose name is unknown,[4] was Li's subsidiary wife, or concubine.[5] Her father had his own carpentry and cabinet making workshop.[4] After Jiang's parents had a violent argument, her mother found work as a domestic servant[6] (some accounts cite that Jiang's mother also worked as a prostitute) and her husband separated from her.[7]

Jiang Qing on the cover of a film magazine

When Jiang enrolled in elementary school, she took the name Li Yunhe (李雲鶴), meaning "Crane in the Clouds", by which she was known for much of her early life. Due to her socioeconomic status and the fact that she was an illegitimate child, she was looked down upon by her schoolmates and she and her mother moved in with her maternal grandparents when she started middle school.[8] In 1926, when she was 12 years old, her father died. Her mother relocated them to Tianjin where Jiang worked as a child laborer in a cigarette factory for several months. Two years later, Jiang and her mother settled in 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 advanced her acting skills. She returned to Jinan in May 1931 and married Pei Minglun,[citation needed] the wealthy son of a businessman.

Acting career[edit]

From July 1931 to April 1933, Jiang attended National Qingdao University (renamed National Shandong University in 1932) in Qingdao. She met Yu Qiwei, a physics 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 Japanese-occupied north-eastern 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 was subsequently shunned by his family. She fled to her parents' home and returned to the drama school in Jinan. 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.[citation needed]

In September 1934, Jiang 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 in a 1935 film poster

Jiang returned to Shanghai in March 1935, and became a professional actress, adopting the stage name "Lan Ping" (meaning "Blue Apple", Chinese: 蓝苹). She appeared in numerous films and plays, including Goddess of Freedom, Scenes of City Life, Blood on Wolf Mountain and Wang Laowu. In Ibsen's play A Doll's House, Jiang played the role of Nora.[9]

With her career established, she became involved with actor/director Tang Na, with whom she appeared in Scenes of City Life and Goddess of Freedom. 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 drama Big Thunderstorm (大雷雨). She reportedly had an affair with director, Zhang Min; however, she denied it in her autobiographical writings.[citation needed]

In 1967, at the beginning of China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Jiang declared eight works of performance art to be the new models for proletarian literature and art.[10] These "model operas", or "revolutionary operas", were designed to glorify Mao Zedong, The People's Liberation Army, and the revolutionary struggles. The ballets White-Haired Girl,[11] Red Detachment of Women, and Shajiabang ("Revolutionary Symphonic Music") were included in the list of eight, and were closely associated with Jiang, because of their inclusion of elements from Chinese and Western opera, dance, and music.[12] During Richard Nixon's famous visit to China in February 1972, he watched Red Detachment of Women, and was impressed by the opera. He famously asked Jiang who the writer, director, and composer were, to which she replied it was "created by the masses."[13]


Note: This table only lists films from the 1930s. It does not include later documentaries.

Year English title Original title Role Notes
1935 Goddess of Freedom 自由神 Yu Yueying
Scenes of City Life 都市風光 Wang Junsheng's girlfriend
1936 Blood on Wolf Mountain 狼山喋血記 Liu Sansao
1937 Lianhua Symphony 聯華交響曲 Rickshaw puller's wife Segment 1: "Twenty Cents" (兩毛錢)
1938 Wang Laowu 王老五 Young Girl Li Filmed in 1937. Leading actress

Flight to Yan'an and marriage to Mao Zedong[edit]

Mao and Jiang writing together in Yan'an, 1938

Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident on 7 July 1937, and the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, which destroyed most of its 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 "Counter-Japanese Military and Political University" (Marxist–Leninist Institute) for study. The Lu Xun Academy of Arts was newly founded in Yan'an on 10 April 1938, and Jiang became a drama department instructor, teaching and performing in college plays and operas.[citation needed]

Shortly after arriving in Yan'an, Jiang became involved with Mao Zedong. Some communist leaders were 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 twenty years. Jiang abided by this agreement. However, thirty years later, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang became active in politics.[citation needed]

Li Na, Jiang and Mao in Yan'an in 1943

On 28 November 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.[citation needed]

Rise to power[edit]

Entry into Chinese politics[edit]

Mao and Jiang in 1946

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 to 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.[citation needed]

Following the Great Leap Forward (1958–62), Mao was highly criticized within the CPC, and turned to Jiang, among others, to support him and persecute his enemies. After Mao wrote a pamphlet questioning the persistence of "feudal and bourgeois" traditional opera, Jiang took this as a license to systematically purge Chinese media and literature of everything but political propaganda. The result ended up being a near-total suppression of all creative works in China aside from rigidly-prescribed "revolutionary" material.[citation needed]

Cultural Revolution[edit]

Jiang during the Cultural Revolution

Backed by her husband, she was appointed deputy director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group (CCRG) in 1966 and emerged as a serious political figure in the summer of that year. At the 9th Party Congress in April 1969, she was elevated to the Politburo. By then, she had established a close political working relationship with the other members of what later became known as the Gang of Four: Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. She was one of the most powerful and controversial figures in China during Mao's last years.[citation needed]

During this period, Mao galvanized students and young workers as his paramilitary organization the 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 Khrushchev.[citation needed]

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.[2]

The initial storm of the Cultural Revolution came to an end when President Liu Shaoqi was forced from all his posts on 13 October 1968. Lin Biao now became Mao's designated successor. Chairman Mao now gave his support to the Gang of Four. These four radicals occupied powerful positions in the Politburo after the Tenth Party Congress of 1973.[citation needed]

Jiang 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 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, a more accessible and easier target than Chairman Mao.[14] By 1973, although unreported 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.[15]

Jiang's hobbies included photography, playing cards, and holding screenings of classic Hollywood films, especially those featuring Greta Garbo, one of her favorite actresses, even as they were banned for the average Chinese citizen as a symbol of bourgeois decadence.[16] 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.[17]

Shaping of Chinese Socialist Opera[edit]

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, theater reform was high on the agenda for the new Communist government as the Theater Reform Bureau (Xi Gai Ju) was established on Oct 2nd. However, the bureau was disbanded a year after due to widespread protests by performing artists, who referred to the bureau as “Theater Slaughter Bureau” (Xi Zai Ju). In 1950, with the creation of the first national theater academy, premier Zhou Enlai announced a new theater reform policy that aimed to politically indoctrinate the performing artists and nationalize opera companies.[18]

In 1951, Jiang Qing was given a minor position of Film Bureau Chief. After her appointment, Jiang engaged in three attempts in establishing the standard for socialist art. Jiang's first attempt was her advice to ban the 1950 Hong Kong movie The Inside Story of the Qing Dynasty Court (Qinggong Mishi), of which Jiang believed to be unpatriotic. Her opinion was not taken seriously by the communist leadership due to the minor political influence of her office and the movie was distributed in PRC's major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.[19] Despite the difficulties to have her opinion recognized by the communist leadership, Jiang was able to rely on Mao's influence to support her position within the party. Four years after the airing of The Inside Story of the Qing Dynasty Court, Mao pointed out in a letter to the top leaders that “we haven’t criticized Inside Story yet,”, echoing Jiang's criticisms. Later in 1951,  Jiang critiqued and objected to the distribution of the movie The Story of Wu Xun (Wu Xun Zhuan) for glorifying the wealthy landed class while dismissing the peasantry. Again, Jiang's opinion was dismissed by the communist leadership due to the lack of political influence from her office. However, Mao intervened for the second time as he penned the article “We Need to Pay Attention to the Discussion of the Movie The Story of Wu Xun” and published it on May 20, 1951, in The People’s Daily. Mao criticized the movie for portraying and endorsing Wu Xun as anti-revolutionary. Nonetheless, Jiang's third attempt involved the role of literary criticism in the development of socialist art. She asked the editor of The People’s Daily to republish the new literary interpretation of the classic novel Dream of Red Mansions (Hong Lou Meng) by two young scholars at Shandong University. The editor refused Jiang's request on the grounds that the party newspaper was not a forum for free debate. Again, Mao spoke up on Jiang's behalf.[19]

Jiang would spend 1955–1962 in Moscow for medical treatments. However, during this period, as a foreign dignitary, Jiang was able to access a wide variety of movies that were banned in Soviet Russia, including many Hollywood productions. With such access, Jiang was able to stay informed of the western art trends, which would go on to shape her transformation of the Beijing Opera House.[18]

After Jiang's return to China in 1962, she frequently attended local opera performances. In 1963, Jiang asked A Jia, the director of the National Beijing Opera Company, to assist her in transforming the works of Beijing Opera with the modern revolutionary socialist theme. She would later ask the Beijing Municipal Opera Company to develop the opera Among the Reeds (Shajiabang) featuring the struggle between the Nationalists and Communists during the Second Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945). She was also behind the development of the opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy (Zhiqu Weihu Shan), which she tasked the Shanghai Beijing Opera Company for the production. In July 1964, Jiang Qing delivered the speech “On The Revolution of Beijing Opera” at the “Forum of Theatrical Workers Participating in the Festival of Peking Opera on Contemporary Themes.” In her speech, Jiang expressed her discontent with how the “socialist country led by the Communist Party, the dominant position on the stage is not occupied by the workers, peasants, and soldiers, who are the real creators of history and the true masters of our country.” Jiang noted that the majority of the opera stage in China were still occupied by scholars, royalties, ministers, and beauties, which she collectively categorized as “ancient Chinese and foreign figures.” Jiang also criticized Beijing Opera for its use of “artistic exaggeration” that “has always depicted ancient times and people belonging to those times.”[20] Jiang considered these ancient characters as negative. According to Jiang, the continuous portrayal of these negative characters made it hard to produce any positive figures, which are “characters of advanced revolutionary heroes.” She used the example of the opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy to show that the change in the protagonist's portrayal was related to how “the roles of the People's Liberation Army men Yang Tzu-jung and Shao Chien-po have been made more prominent.” Jiang also argued that the portrayal of positive characters was important as “good people are always the great majority” and that the productions should “educate and inspire the people and lead them forward”, suggesting that many of the existing works must be revised to portray the masses.[20]

During the 1964 “Modern Beijing Opera Trial Performance Convention”, Jiang's new productions, including the Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, were highly praised by the Communist leadership. These works helped her to establish her reputation in China's artistic realm and her plans to transform the Beijing Opera House. In June 1965, Jiang met and formed a working relationship with Yu Huiyong, the future Minister of Culture of the PRC. Jiang considered their ideas on the reformation of Beijing Opera to be “in total harmony.” Jiang's considerable political power allowed Yu to push the yangbanxi (model drama) projects to fruition. She first arranged for Yu to join the composition team of her opera On the Docks, which was the first Beijing Opera to portray the themes from contemporary society and the lives of Shanghai's working class after liberation. Jiang also tasked Yu to revise the musical scores of the yangbanxi for the modern Chinese masses, and both of them believed that the revolutionary artwork must represent the reality of modern life.[19]

During the Cultural Revolution, The Red Guards condemned Yu to be a “bad element” for propagating feudalism through his utilization of traditional Chinese music in operas. Yu was also tagged as “a democrat hiding under the banner of the Communist Party” due to his frequent absences in party meetings. In 1966, Yu was subsequently sent to a Cow Shed, a small room where the “bad elements” were confined. In October 1966, Yu was released after Jiang requested a meeting with Yu to stage the production of two operas in Beijing. Jiang seated Yu next to her, as a display of Yu's importance in the making of yangbanxi, during the showing of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.[19]

During the production of yangbanxi, Jiang had shown keen intuition, due to her experience as an actress, in showing the shape yangbanxi should take. However, Jiang's directions on opera reforms were often vague. Yu, acting as the pawn of Jiang, was able to manifest Jiang's orders into technical details that can be followed by the performers. Despite Yu's growing influence, he was never able to defy Jiang's orders, as he could only influence her thinking.[18]

Jiang identified the weakness of Beijing opera as the lack of well organized music, which according to Jiang, “builds the image of the characters.” This conception was influenced by Yu's writing on the functional conception of music. Yu focused on reforming the language of music. This was due to Yu's belief that for yangbanxi to become successful in educating the masses on the structure and benefits of the new socialist state, the language of the music must be understandable to the common person. He first recommended that the lyrics be written in Mandarin, which was in line with the Chinese government policy that mandated the use of Mandarin as the language of instruction in schools nationwide. Yu also advocated that “the melody should be composed in such a way that it also shadowed the syllabic tonal patterns”, which “should sound natural to the ear as well as being easily understandable to the listener.”[19]

Jiang was known to be blunt in directing the yangbanxi, but Yu was able to serve as the mediator between Jiang and the performers. Since Jiang could not communicate her vision clearly, performers often take her criticisms as personal insults. Du Mingxin, one of Jiang's composers, recalled Jiang dismissed his music in the ballet The Red Detachment of Women (Hong Se Niang Zi Jun) as “erotic ballad that used to be performed in the 1930s Shanghai nightclubs”. Du was then criticized for trying to destroy the yangbanxi project by hiding bourgeois music in a revolutionary ballet. Du felt humiliated by this remark. It was until Yu asked the group to submit another composition that Du regained his motivation and composed the now famous Wanquan Heshui (On Wanquan River). According to Du, this incident revealed Yu's artistic integrity, personal courage, and the ability to gain Jiang's acknowledgement on his decisions.[19]

Political persecution of enemies[edit]

Jiang took advantage of the Cultural Revolution to wreak vengeance on her personal enemies, including people who had slighted her during her acting career in the 1930s. She 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 Vice Premier. Internally divided into factions both to the "left" and "right" of Jiang and Mao, not all Red Guards were friendly to Jiang.[citation needed]

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 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 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 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.[21]

Death of Mao Zedong[edit]

Poster showing Jiang 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 5 September 1976, Mao's failing health turned critical when he suffered a heart attack, far more serious than his previous two earlier in the year.

Mao's death occurred just after midnight at 00:10 hours on 9 September 1976. Mao's chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, became the chairman of 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 and Zhang Chunqiao, wrote a eulogy affirming Mao's achievements in order to justify their claims to power.[citation needed]

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 was little-concerned about the weak Hua Guofeng, but she feared Deng Xiaoping greatly. In numerous documents published in the 1970s, it was claimed that Jiang was conspiring to make herself the new Chairman of the Communist Party.[22]


1976 coup[edit]

Jiang 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 and consult her" if he runs into problems (Chinese: 有事找江青).[23]

Jiang 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 on to 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.[citation needed]

Her political ambitions became notorious within the Central Committee. Ye Jianying, a renowned general, met in private with Hua Guofeng and Wang Dongxing, commander of a secret service-like organization called the 8341 Corps (present-day Central Guard Corps). They determined that Jiang and her associates must be removed by force in order to restore stability.[citation needed]

On the morning of 6 October 1976, Jiang 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 remarked that she knew people within the Central Committee were plotting against her.[citation needed]

After the session, Jiang took several aides to Jingshan Park to pick apples. In the evening, Jiang, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, and Yao Wenyuan were brutally beaten, arrested and kept in the lower level of Zhongnanhai where they were starved, tortured and interrogated. According to Zhang Yaoci, who carried out the arrest, Jiang did not say much when she was arrested. It was reported that one of her servants spat at her as she was being taken away under a flurry of blows by onlookers and police.[24] In a bloodless coup d'état, the Gang of Four were charged with attempts to seize power by organizing militant coups in Shanghai and Beijing, subverting the government, counter-revolutionary activity, and treason.[citation needed]

After her arrest, Jiang was sent to the Qincheng Prison and detained for five years where she was further beaten, starved, tortured and interrogated. In both official and civilian accounts of the period, the fall of the Gang was met with celebrations all over China.[citation needed]


Jiang at her trial in 1980

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 era had begun.[citation needed]

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: one-time President Liu Shaoqi's 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 Counter-revolutionary Clique" to seize power. Jiang 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's early career in Shanghai, which she wanted to keep secret.[25]

Despite the seriousness of the accusations against her, Jiang appeared unrepentant. She did not confess her guilt, something that the Chinese press 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 dismissed her assigned lawyers, deciding instead to represent herself. During her public trials at the "Special Court", Jiang was the only member of the Gang of Four who argued on her own behalf. The defense's argument was that she obeyed the orders of Mao at all times. Jiang maintained that all she had done was to defend Chairman Mao. It was at this trial that Jiang made the famous quote: "I was Chairman Mao's dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite." (Chinese: 我是主席的一条狗,主席要我咬谁就咬谁。)[26]


Jiang was sentenced to death, with a reprieve of two years, in 1981. By 1983, her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. During this time, she made several requests to visit Mao Zedong's embalmed body in Beijing, but they were turned down. When the Tiananmen Square protests occurred, Jiang believed that the student activists were liberals rather than Maoists, but she blamed them on Deng Xiaoping, writing that "He let in all those Western ideas!"[This quote needs a citation]

While in prison, Jiang was diagnosed with throat cancer, but she refused an operation. She was eventually released, on medical grounds, in 1991.[citation needed]

At the hospital, Jiang used the name Lǐ Rùnqīng (李润青). She died by suicide on 14 May 1991, at the age of 77, by hanging herself in a bathroom of her hospital. She penned a suicide note reading, "Today the revolution has been stolen by the revisionist clique of Deng, Peng Zhen, and Yang Shangkun. Chairman Mao exterminated Liu Shaoqi, but not Deng, and the result of this omission is that unending evils have been unleashed on the Chinese people and nation. Chairman, your student and fighter is coming to see you!"[6] Her suicide occurred two days before the 25th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution.

She wished for her remains to 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.[27] Jiang is buried in Futian 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, Li Yunhe, 1914–1991" (先母李云鹤之墓,一九一四年至一九九一年).[27]

Names of Jiang Qing[edit]

There are several reasons for Jiang's large repertoire of names. A large part of it has to do with the fluctuating period she lived in. At the time of her birth, many female children never received given names or formal education.[citation needed]

Her father named her Li Jinhai (To Receive A Boy) because he wanted a son, but this was altered after her birth to Li Shumeng (Dim Lady). She enrolled in school under a more dignified name, Li Yunhe (Cloud Crane) and simply changed it for convenience to Li He.[citation needed]

As was customary for Chinese actors during that time, she chose a stage name, which was used in all the plays and films that credited her roles. Lan Ping (Blue Apple) was the name she was known by within Chinese film circles and a name she came to identify with.[28]

It is unclear when she changed her name to Jiang Qing (Blue River), but it probably occurred before her arrival in 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[how?] and a severance from her "bourgeois" past.[citation needed] She also used Li Jin to pen a number of articles she wrote during the Cultural Revolution.[29]

Eventually, to protect her identity, she used Li Runqing (Shining Blue) when she was hospitalized after being released from prison. Her tombstone bears the name "Li Yunhe".[30]

In English, many contemporary articles used the Wade–Giles romanization system to spell Chinese names. For this reason, some sources – especially older ones – spell her name "Chiang Ch'ing".[31]

  1. Birth name: Lǐ Jìnhái (simplified Chinese: 李进孩; traditional Chinese: 李進孩)
  2. Given name: Lǐ Shūméng (Chinese: 李淑蒙)
  3. School name: Lǐ Yúnhè (李云鹤; 李雲鶴)
  4. Modified name: Lǐ Hè (李鹤; 李鶴)
  5. Stage name: Lán Píng (蓝苹; 藍蘋)
  6. Revolutionary pseudonym: Jiāng Qīng (江青)
  7. Pen name: Lǐ Jìn (李进; 李進)
  8. Last used name: Lǐ Rùnqīng (李润青; 李潤青)
  9. Commonly referred to in English-language literature as: Madame Mao

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Jiang Qing" is a pseudonym, adopted later in her life. It is the most commonly used name in historical literature when discussing the subject. She was known by a wide range of names during her life and after her death.



  1. ^ A Great Trial in Chinese History – the Trial of the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing Counter-Revolutionary Cliques, Beijing/Oxford: New World Press/Pergamon Press, 1981, p. title, ISBN 0-08-027918-X
  2. ^ a b Stefan R. Landsberger (2008). Madame Mao: Sharing Power with the Chairman.
  3. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (5 June 1991). "New York Times". Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  4. ^ a b Terrill, Ross (2014). The Life of Madame Mao. New Word City. ISBN 9781612306520.
  5. ^ Lee, Lily Xiao Hong (1998). 中國婦女傳記詞典: The Twentieth Century, 1912–2000. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 9780765607980.
  6. ^ a b Terrill, Ross (1984). The White-boned Demon: A Biography of Madame Mao Zedong. Morrow. ISBN 9780688024611.
  7. ^ Butterfield, Fox (4 March 1984). "Butterfield, Fox. "Lust, Revenge, and Revolution". The New York Times. 4 March 1984. Retrieved 10 June 2011. p. 1". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  8. ^ Witke, Roxanne. Comrade Chiang Ch'ing. Little Brown, 1977. pp. 7–11.
  9. ^ Time magazine March 21, 1977, p.26 with photo http://content.time.com/time/magazine/0,9263,7601770321,00.html
  10. ^ Roberts, Rosemary (March 2008). "Performing Gender in Maoist Ballet: Mutual Subversions of Genre and Ideology in The Red Detachment of Women". Intersections.
  11. ^ Khoua, Choui; Wang, Bin (1950), The White-haired Girl, Qiang Chen, Baiwan Li, Hua Tian, retrieved 7 November 2017
  12. ^ Winzenburg, John (2016). Musical-Dramatic Experimentation in the Yangbanxi: A Case for Precedence in The Great Wall. US: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 189–212.
  13. ^ Harris, Kristine (30 August 2010). "Re-makes/Re-models: The Red Detachment of Women between Stage and Screen". Opera Q. 26 (2–3): 316–342. doi:10.1093/oq/kbq015. S2CID 191566356.
  14. ^ Demick, Barbara (18 December 2020). "Uncovering the Cultural Revolution's Awful Truths". The Atlantic. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  15. ^ Hsin, Chi (1977). The Case of the Gang of Four: With First Translation of Teng Hsiao-Ping's Three Poisonous Weeds. Cosmos Books, Ltd. p. 19. ASIN B000OLUOE2.
  16. ^ Chang, Jung; Halliday, Jon (2006). Mao: The Unknown Story. Anchor. p. 864. ISBN 0-679-74632-3.
  17. ^ Joan Chen. aratandculture.com
  18. ^ a b c Ludden, Yawen (1 September 2017). "The transformation of Beijing opera: Jiang Qing, Yu Huiyong and yangbanxi". Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. 4 (2): 143–160. doi:10.1386/jcca.4.2-3.143_1. ISSN 2051-7041.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Ludden, Yawen (2013). "China's Musical Revolution: From Beijing Opera to Yangbanxi": 114–202. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ a b "Jiang Qing (1964): On the Revolution of Peking Opera". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 6 May 2023.
  21. ^ Teiwes, Frederick C.; Sun, Warren (2004). "The First Tiananmen Incident Revisited: Elite Politics and Crisis Management at the End of the Maoist Era". Pacific Affairs. 77 (2): 211–235 (213). JSTOR 40022499.
  22. ^ "Jiang Qing wants to be Empress". Dashiw.com. 11 February 2009. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  23. ^ "Pages from Chinese History". Civilwind.com. 8 August 2003. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  24. ^ "Communist Party History: Memoirs of Jiang Qing on 6 October 1976". Cpc.people.com.cn. Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  25. ^ Zheng, Haiping (2010). "The Gang of Four Trial". Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  26. ^ Hutchings, Graham (2001). Modern China. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01240-2.
  27. ^ a b "Duowei: Jiang Qing's gravesite" (in Chinese). Dwnews.com. 12 January 2009. Archived from the original on 5 February 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  28. ^ Terrill, Ross (1999). Madame Mao: The White Boned Demon. Stanford University Press. p. 52. ISBN 9780804729222. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  29. ^ "Yu Guangyuan: The Jiang Qing I remember". Culture.people.com.cn. Archived from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  30. ^ "Duowei: Jiang Qing's gravesite" (in Chinese). Dwnews.com. 12 January 2009. Archived from the original on 31 August 2009. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  31. ^ Keyser, Catherine H. "Guide to Pronouncing Romanized Chinese (Wade-Giles and Pinyin)". Columbia University. Retrieved 15 April 2021.

General and cited sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
New title Spouse of the paramount leader of the People's Republic of China
Han Zhijun
New title
Spouse of the President of the People's Republic of China
Succeeded by