Playa....Mao and his Women

I mentioned earlier I had wanted to talk more about Mao and his wives.  While thinking I might forego that particular post for what was next on my list, I decided it was probably best to go ahead and knock it out.  I’ve thus decided to make this part 2 of a 3 part post series.  Putting the posts together will simply make it more readable.

It is important here to note I will not be talking much about the very obvious disconnect Chinese society had with social mores regarding divorce from early in the last century until very recently, compared with the oh so laissez faire attitude of China’s Revolutionary Leaders.   That is, unless I change my mind in mid post. 

Knowing myself as I do, I’m really trying to get away from the 3-4 days I tend to spend on each post.  I just lack the time for the research. This particular post took me a whole week to put together.   

(Family life is just overwhelming at the moment.)

So I will try as straightforwardly as possibly to simply spend this post discussing Mao and “his women”.

Here we go.

As we all know, Mao was actually the son of a landlord.  It is a well known fact most of China’s leadership came from the “upper class” if you will of China’s society, though not at all “rich”.
However, while looking a little into Mao’s parents I came across two conclusions:  one Mao looks far more like his mother than his father.   Simply looking at a photo of his father one would never guess he was the “dad of Mao”.   Second his father seemed to be a rather good businessman for his time.  It was said when Mao left home his father had approximately 20 acres of land, no doubt fully employed in production. 

Now one must mention here that “business” as we know it today was still a very much looked down upon profession.   China was still a Confucianist society, but it seems this perhaps was more so in Beijing than perhaps in China’s countryside, where wit and cleverness more so than bookishness really was the key to financial stability.

To fully understand why Mao would leave all that behind would require reading his bio, which I’ve pointedly refused to do. 

Regarding Mao’s first wife, in a very sad way, she doesn’t even “count”.  It was the usual arranged marriage.   He was still a boy, only 14 and she was 18.  Her name was Luo Yixiu罗一秀.     This poor lady had no conceivable idea of her destiny, or of what could’ve been.   But Mao’s destiny was all his own, to share with no one.   She died only a few years after marriage, at the age of 20.  Again, her death at such a young age would be tragic indeed if death at that time had not already enveloped China.   One is tempted to simply call her a “statistic”.  

She and Mao never had a relationship in any sense of the word.  Her mother probably mourned her loss greatly, if she was still alive.  Probably not so much Mao.  He wasn’t even around, having left home shortly after the marriage.  Though in later life he did indeed reminisce.  It is important to note here that I often read her failure to consummate the marriage much less bear a child was a loss of face for her.  Still I am impressed that Mao’s father did not kick her out of his house.  Which in turn led to the rumor that she was simply Mao the Elder’s concubine.  Most certainly untrue (right?).

The year was 1910.

Afterwards Mao fell in love with a woman named Yang Kaihui, the daughter of one of Mao’s former teachers.   This particular teacher was one of Mao’s primary male influences.   A liberal intellectual, his claim to fame was not only being the father of Mao’s next wife, but the one who got Mao his job as an assistant librarian at of all places, 北大。 This time of his life is undoubtedly when Mao developed his profound distaste for intellectuals, along with his inferiority complex towards them.   A somebody perhaps in Changsha, he was a nobody in Beijing.  Especially with his poorly accented Mandarin.  There is no doubt that poor Mao was looked down upon by the wealthy scholar class of the time.

Though he had known Yang Kaihui (杨开慧) for a few years, they did not actually marry until 1920.  Smart and literate, she was a fine companion of Mao’s and a strong believer that a better China was just around the corner.  She bore Mao three children.   The oldest of which, Mao Anying, I’ve written about some time ago in the past.  Mao Anying was later killed in Korea, in the rear.   His early death in my view greatly changed the future course of China.

Yang Kaihui was an early member of the CCP, and as such, along with being the mother of Mao’s three children, was in my view very much the equal of Mao.  More importantly she was a constraint upon him.  She was the defacto sounding board for his early decisionmaking process.   No doubt, due to her position, could Mao simply carve his own identity within CCP circles without her input. 

Despite their three young children, Mao left Yang Kaihui in 1927.  Their third child had only just been born.    I will leave it up to my readers to form their own opinion of this decision.  Yang Kaihui was obviously not going to leave him.

Referencing my previous post on Mao, Mao later in the 50’s wrote his own very much belated poem memorializing his former love.   She was “his poplar”.   Yet one can only wonder if he was just as much driven by the inevitable comparisons of his “real” first wife to Jiang Qing?    One a fervent follower of the Socialist Path within China, the latter perhaps a mere groupie?

杨开慧 was captured in 1930 and executed by a local warlord.  A very ugly looking fellow whose name is not worth mentioning in this post.   He lived a long enough life, reaching nearly 70.   Why God spares the evil and takes the innocent is a mystery we can only continue to ponder.   But let it be a reminder of how truly desperate China was in 1930, the year of her death.  Warlords ruled China.  And the worst was yet to come.  This was all before Japan even invaded!  Japan indeed brought “stability” to China, if only it left its vile racism and cultural superiority behind in Japan.   

The Japanese invasion and occupation of China simply allowed Japan to bring the efficiency of its own “killing machine” to bear upon the Chinese, far worse than the imagination of any warlord could ever begin to ponder.

A China without unity “Communist Style” might have endured a far worse endgame. 
So Mao leaves his wife and 3 children behind, not knowing of course he would never see Yang Kaihui again. 

His third “wife” was He Zizhen.  贺子珍。 I put “wife” in quotes because at the time of their “marriage”, Mao was still formally married to Yang.   Or were they?  You see Mao and Yang Kaihui had never had a ceremony.  They were actually more common law husband and wife.  So minus the paperwork, one can see how “easy” it was to leave Yang.

But one wonders how Mao replied to He Zizhen when she surely asked him about his marital status?  (Oh to have been a fly on the wall when that question was surely popped.)

From 1928 onward Mao and He had 6 children.  So including with He, Mao had a total of 9 kids.   I am not clear if Mao and He Zizhen even had a marriage ceremony.  And I’m certainly not clear if He even really knew that Mao (let’s call a spade a spade people) had deserted his three children?

One wonders what kind of woman knowing this would still want to marry Mao and not expect the same thing to happen to her?   Was Mao even divorced?  Doesn’t matter.  How can one divorce if they’ve never even married?

Now would be a good time to get the CCP’s revolutionary doctrine’s take on the matter.
Does a “good comrade” desert his children?   Or even remarry? True, Mao was a wanted man.  And by catching Mao they would surely catch Yang Kaihui and their children, right?  Better to separate.   

Increase everyone else’s chances of survival.  Right? 

Did I mention she was only 18 when she met Mao?

“Lonely” Mao was 34.

So from 1928 until 1937 Mao and He Zizhen were “married”.   And they were productive, having six children.   Which I said earlier brought Mao’s total to a “modest” nine.   In my view, their marriage was happy.  I can only speculate as to why Mao and He Zizhen had so many children so quickly.   In my view, Mao, despite owning so much land, was still a peasant at heart.  And peasants need kids to till the land. And perhaps in He’s view, well having more children with the Emperor would simply cement her status, right?

More importantly, He Zizhen’s revolutionary status gave her great cachet within Party circles.  It must have.  Afterall, she was already a member of the Party before she met Mao.  One can even argue she didn’t even know who Mao was until just before their first meeting. 

Something happened to the couple however.  I know not what.  It would require much more reading on my part to even scratch the surface, but in 1937, He Zizhen left Mao and went to Russia.  It was a graceful exit for her.  Their marriage had apparently hit the rocks.   One suspects it hit the rocks much sooner than 1937, but if that is true why continue to have kids? 

What is true is that Hi Zizhen in my view held all the cards.  A revolutionary in her own damn right.  With six of the future Chinese leaders’ kids to boot.   Mao would look very bad breaking up with He Zizhen.  Indeed, methinks it would have possibly cost him his leadership role, or at least opened him up to a challenge if she had stayed. 

As a true Communist there is no way Mao’s peers could have forced Hi Zizhen out without the stench of such an action reflecting poorly on all involved.

So Ms. He made Mao’s day and went to Russia.  I’m sure upon leaving China everyone involved breathed a very big sigh of relief.   It turns out more than a few Chinese lived in Russia in the late 30’s, and they all stayed there during the war. 

He Zizhen wasn’t able to return to China until 1947.  She found she hadn’t been missed. Indeed, upon returning to China she probably realized that leaving China to begin with may have been a mistake.   
Politically for sure.  Surely as the mother of Mao’s children.  The living mother of Mao’s children, she would have been more than a thorn in Mao’s side.  An ever present stain on Mao’s reputation.  A reminder to others that Mao was vulnerable.  

And who in their right mind would have chosen living in the Soviet Union during the war with Germany?

The decade He Zizhen was gone from China gave Mao all the breathing room he needed.  To focus on fighting the Japanese, and running from CKS.

He Zizhen died in 1984.  Only her daughter Li Min outlived her. 
Indeed of the 9 children to date, only two would reach some sort of prominence, and one of those died in the Korean War.

He Zizhen’s absence, they were still not divorced, of course gave Mao breathing room for other things. 
If you haven’t figured out by now, Mao was a “playa”.   Indeed, Chairman Mao is perhaps China’s most famous  “playa”.

Which brings us to “you know who”….Jiang Qing 江青。

I am telling you now, post three will deal with this villainess.  

In many ways, Jiang Qing had no prayer.  No chance of success, not just with Mao, but within China’s inner circle.

How could Jiang Qing possibly compete with either of Mao’s previous two wives? 

Not just by Chinese standards, but by Western standards of 1930’s propriety, Jiang Qing was without question a harlot of the highest order.   And she was more than a match for Mao.   She had just as many lovers as the Great Helmsman.   She had been married….and divorced.  

Her worst sin was that she had been an up and coming actress.  And by definition was a member of Chinese’ Society that had the most to lose by any Communist takeover.   She did herself no favors; upon becoming a Party Member she went back to making movies. 

And yet she was a Communist.   Indeed, she had taken the oath before even having met Mao.   Her misfortune was twofold;  not only could she simply not walk in the shoes of Mao’s previous two “wives”(remember one of them was common law only), but she was surely walking into the maelstrom created by the wrath of the Party’s displeasure with Mao. 

One must remember Mao was only first among equals in 1938 when he and Jiang Qing were married.  He wrote books.  He gave speeches.   But everyone was free to disagree with him.   Openly.  Without repercussion.   And now he was hooking up with another lady much younger than him.

Upon their marriage in 1938, Mao was 45.  Jiang Qing 24.  However, Jiang Qing was a mature 24.  Twice divorced, with multiple lovers in her past.  By Chinese standards she certainly counted as “worldly”.   Alas, Mao had what women crave:  power.   They eventually had a daughter, Li Na.  The tenth known child of Mao’s. 

Here is a rare photo of Li Min and Li Na with their dad…..

What Jiang Qing did have, and she had it in spades was a maturity beyond her years.   My point is she wasn’t going anywhere.  Even after she and Mao’s marriage crumbled(surprised?) in the 40’s.   Her ticket of course was her child.   Not a real revolutionary, how could she be shipped off to Russia?  The war over, there was no way the KMT could capture her.   All he could do was keep her at bay.   In fact she became a nuisance.  A nuisance that also happened to be the mother of Mao’s last child.  And she would remain a nuisance until Mao used her to play his last and final card.   It’s ironic the person he ignored and humiliated over the last 20 years of his life also was practically the only person in the end he could trust to do his bidding.    She happily played the part of pawn.


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