Not sure how to begin this story, but to say it is a true story, and somebody did die. I’m not writing this story because of the silly 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution. After all, why would we wish to commemorate that? We commemorate D-Day. V-E Day. The assassination of JFK. But does anyone ever commemorate the “beginning” of American involvement in Vietnam? Or Korea?
Congratulations China. When you fart, we commemorate it.
“Somebody in China this day 50 years ago farted. Let’s commemorate it.”
Do we speak of the 50th anniversary of Liu Shaoqi’s death, on that cold cement floor?
(As Mao once said when Liu’s kids got the courage up to request to see their parents, “Their father is dead, but they may see their mother.”)
Nor shall I commemorate the death of Sun Weishi, but I sure as hell want to bring it to your attention.
Her story is very unique, only in that through the bizarre fate of History she managed purely by chance to offend not one, but two of China’s monsters.
And it’s as simple as that.
That is why she died.
Her father was a military commander killed by the KMT, and as a colleague of Zhou En Lai, was thus adopted at an early age. As such she grew very close to Zhou. She was very artistic and lived in Russia both before and during the war.
While in Yanan she was very involved in China’s artistic movement and it is there she met Jiang Qing. At this time Jiang and Mao were not a “thing”. What is important to note is while Jiang’s acting experience and background was far more extensive than Sun’s, she was also older, and well….not as pretty. A rivalry naturally developed between the two. Once when Sun and Jiang both auditioned for the same role, Sun got the nod. Of course how was Sun to know what Jiang would become….or who she would become?
One must not forget just like today, China had two worlds back then. One for the Masses, and another for those revolutionary heroes that formed China’s elite. Both lived a world totally different from another, and isolated from each other, rarely mingling.
Later Sun and Zhou both went to Moscow. Sun accompanying him for medical treatment. When Zhou returned to China, Sun Weishi stayed behind, and continued to focus on her artistic endeavors.
While in Russia she inevitably met various Chinese and in due course met Lin Biao. Lin Biao at this time was married, with his wife with him in Russia. It is not clear if Lin Biao’s wife had met Sun Weishi, but one must assume she probably had. After all, within the Party Elite, it would have been natural for everyone to have mingled within their own social circles, and the Chinese revolutionary circles in Moscow were probably not that large.
It was during Lin Biao’s stay in Russia that he became estranged from his wife, while at the same time becoming infatuated with Ms. Sun herself. Though Lin was already in the upper echelon of the Party, in a way so was Sun Weishi. As such, she felt no need or pressure to reciprocate his affections. Thus when Lin Biao proposed to Sun, while still married to his current wife, she of course rejected him. Who wouldn’t have? In hindsight though I’d say Lin Biao’s error was simply chasing after a woman of his social class. Perhaps another lady from outside his prestigious social circle would’ve accepted. Not Sun.
One must wonder how Zhou En Lai thought of Lin Biao after this? After all, it is more than mildly disrespectful to the father to have his daughter proposed to by a man himself still married. In particular when the father of the daughter you are proposing too is even more powerful than you are.
Or does it also reflect how little fear or respect Lin Biao had himself for Zhou En Lai?
As time went on, especially during the 60’s, the rivalry between Zhou and Lin Biao had stakes nothing short of impacting the future of China. still, before the fall of Peng DeHuai, one can be sure Zhou and Lin Biao were certainly not the best of friends.
As for Sun Weishi, why would she herself have anything to fear from turning down Lin Biao? After all, her father was no one to tangle with himself. It was the 1941-42 timeframe. There was still so much water left to flow under the bridge.
But what if she had returned his affection? What if she did indeed want to marry this Man? How would China have changed? Would it have changed for the better? There is no question if Sun Weishi had indeed married Lin Biao, that Zhou and Lin would have formed an alliance.
One must remember that Mao greatly resented Peng DeHuai for the death of his son. He simply bid his time. And it was easier to dispose of Peng with Lin Biao waiting in the wings.
But with his wife being Zhou’s adopted daughter would this have taken place?
Though it is Sun’s rivalry with Jiang Qing that eventually doomed her, one can persuasively argue that Sun Weishi’s refusal to marry Lin Biao helped bring about the Cultural Revolution. Lin Biao was the only semi respectable Army veteran Mao could lean on. Everyone else was in the Peng Dehuai clique. And quite frankly, so was Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping.
Without Lin Biao’s help there would’ve been no fear of Mao as Mao would not have controlled the Army. His boasts at Lushan to “go the countryside and raise another army” would have rang hollow, because the Army as it was wouldn’t have allowed it. Everybody would have been united as one against him.
But beautiful Sun Weishi did not marry Lin Biao. Instead he promptly went back to China and married someone else. And the rest is history.
Indeed, one can argue Sun Weishi’s refusal to marry Lin Biao was the real beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Her decision would simply not play itself out for decades. For without Lin Biao’s Army, there could have been no effective Cultural Revolution. Indeed, one struggles to even find a fellow “Elder” that even marginally supported Mao at the time, beyond Lin Biao. The Army certainly did not.
But Sun did refuse Lin Biao, and the Cultural Revolution did happen, and chaos ensued.
On March 1, 1968 Sun Weishi was arrested. It is unclear who did the deed. But it was either Ye Qun…Lin Biao’s wife, Jiang Qing….or both of them together.
Jiang Qing ordered her torture and in October of that year she eventually capitulated. She was cremated immediately.
Yet another reminder of how certain people in China, even then, some would say like today, could kill without repercussion. It’s funny, the more I read about Jiang Qing the more I see her as a pathetic, wretched unloved woman cast aside by Mao and hell bent on wreaking revenge on every person since her days in Yanan that had treated her less as China’s Supreme First Lady and more as a gold digger with loose morals. Somebody not just unhappy with her station in life, but determined to get what was hers, and if killing would satisfy her sense of justice then so be it.
Her relations with Mao were so bad that she even needed an appointment to see him, and was usually turned down. Suddenly finding herself of use to the Man she long hoped would bring her to the top with him must have been an enthralling feeling. The opportunity to seek revenge with no strings attached upon an entire class of people that thought they were “better” than her must have been akin to taking a drug. (kinda like Mao with the intellectuals)
To her gruesome credit, and more than could be said of China’s leadership in 1959, she did not pass up the opportunity.
It is a sad reflection of Zhou’s decline in power that not only was he hopeless in preventing the arrest of his own daughter, but even had to sign her arrest warrant. All for fear of angering Mao.
While one pities what happened to Sun Weishi, it is difficult to show sympathy for Zhou En Lai. Yes, his adopted daughter died. But another million people probably died, too. And it is very doubtful as many held their fate in their hands as easily as Zhou did his daughters.
But perhaps I’m simply guilty of thinking like a naïve Westerner? Just another grain of sand on that long beach of laowai that simply doesn’t “understand” China?
As the daughter of one of China’s most powerful men, how could she not assume he would be coming any moment to free her and set things right? One wonders when the epiphany washed over her that it would never happen? Is that when Sun Weishi finally gave up the ghost?
She was a flower that bloomed too soon.