Chapter 18: Madame Mao, Jiang Qing

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.


Chapter 18
Madame Mao, Jiang Qing

The Socialist Education Movement was only the beginning for Mao, because it only persecuted intellectuals, and could not reach as high as State Chairman Liu Shaoqi. Liu was the one who had taken power from Mao, and so he was Mao’s prime target. To get at Liu, Mao knew he had to up his game of continuous revolution. And that is why he masterminded the Cultural Revolution.

He began setting up the Cultural Revolution in a way that one might stand up a row of dominoes, where when the first domino is knocked over, the others rapidly fall in a chain-reaction. Chain-reactions run the risk of getting out of control, but that was not much concern for Mao. His biggest desire was to return to power, and he needed some chaos to bring that about.

But he also needed help with this conspiracy, and from someone he could trust. So he turned to Jiang Qing. Jiang Qing was Mao’s fourth wife. Of all his wives, she was the most devious, cruel, and vindictive. Jiang’s character had been a perfect fit for Mao’s, when he married her nearly 30 years before.

His first wife had probably not been a good fit, since she and Mao had not done the fitting. It was an arranged marriage, and his father had made the arrangement. Her name was Luo Yigu. She was Mao’s cousin, and he married her when he was just 13 years old, over his protestations. He resented the marriage, never lived with Luo, and soon abandoned her.

Fortunately for him, but unfortunately for his wife, Luo died of dysentery in 1910, making Mao a widower at age 16. This freed him up to marry whomever he wanted. The experience turned Mao against arranged marriages and made him something of a feminist for the rest of his life.

His second wife was Yang Kaihui, and this marriage with her was mutually consensual. They wed in 1920, when Mao was 26, and they had three children together. But in November 1930, Yang was captured by Kuomintang (KMT) forces. She was tortured for a month and then beheaded in front of her eight-year-old son.

You might conclude this made Mao a widower again. In a sense it did, of course, but in another sense it did not.

That’s because although Mao was a feminist, he was also a womanizer. In the late-1920s he battled alongside a female guerrilla fighter named He Zizhen, who was a tough lady, whom he must have come to admire very much. She was so tough, she was also known as the “Two-Gunned Girl General.” They fell in love, and He bore a child with him in 1929. In May 1930, he married He. This while still being married to her (Yang).

In other words, Mao was a bigamist, so his status of being a married man did not change with the death of Yang, six months into his bigamy.

Although the beheading of Yang was tragic, it worked out conveniently for Mao. He was already married to He, and now he didn’t have to go through a nasty divorce with Yang, and all the scandal of bigamy revelations that would entail.

He and Mao were quite amorous, as evidenced by all the children they had. Altogether, He had six children with him. But this did not increase the size of Mao’s family much, because all but one died young or were separated from their parents, during the wild, tumultuous war years of the 1930s.

During the Long March, He was wounded in the head by shrapnel, and she was sent to Moscow to recover. But in 1937, while He was away, her husband decided to play. He (Mao) met the actress Jiang Qing, and began a dalliance with her.

This was a cause for concern among Communist leaders. Mao was 45 years old, and Jiang was only 23, and their vast age difference was considered licentious. Besides, even though Jiang was a member of the Communist Party, her lavish lifestyle prior to meeting Mao was criticized as being too bourgeoisie. And finally, Mao was still married to He. This was officially considered immoral, and not a good example to set for the proletariat.

Jiang Qing and Mao, with their daughter, Li Na, in 1943.

But Mao worked out a compromise with his fellow leaders. He (Mao) would marry Jiang in a small, private ceremony. But because he was still married to He, she (Jiang) could not be seen in public with him. Also, Jiang was forbidden to participate in politics for 20 years.

They married on November 28, 1938. They had one child together in 1940, named Li Na. And true to their word, Jiang stayed out of politics for 20 years. In fact a little longer than 20 years. As the first lady of China she was often referred to as Madame Mao. And Madame Mao abstained from political involvement until Mr. Mao got her involved in his twisted plot to regain power, in 1965.


Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 19: The Cultural Revolution Begins.

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