Jiang Qing comes to Yanan

The obvious thing to say is that Jiang Qing in hindsight had no chance.  She was oil and well everyone else was water.   A Shanghai “adulteress” whom all of a sudden is a fervent Party Member.   Yet another pretty face wanting to gain acceptance without having paid her dues.

This was a woman whom in a fleeting moment of affection for her boyfriend and nothing more had sworn her allegiance to Communism, then in only a few short years marched off to be an actress in the Gomorrah of China itself, Shanghai. 

In the interim, between 1931 and 1937 she had done nothing for The Party.  Nothing for China.   Everything she had done was for Li Yunhe, and now Jiang Qing. 

And to top it off in no time at all she’s bedding The Big Enchilada himself, Mr. Mao.   Quite possibly someone she had never even heard of, let alone knew what he looked like until after her arrival to Yanan.

(In better times......much better times.)

As I hinted at in part one, the hypocrisy of the Party regarding Mao’s sex life versus Jiang Qing’s sex life was obvious.  For all practical purposes, Mao was already twice married himself(I’m not counting the arranged marriage), and even still married when he “fell in” with the girl from Shanghai. 

I’ve previously written about “Mao’s women”.   They were without exception Revolutionary Stalwarts.  Much admired and respected.  To this day held in great reverence.  One in exile in Russia, the other dead from the hands of one of China's ubiquitous Warlords.    But the sad truth is they were both abandoned by Mao himself.  He had tired of them.  And that is all. 

They can be idealized by Yanan, praised for their dedication to The Cause.  Respected and idolized by their peers.  But the sad fact is none of that saved them with Mao.  Their Party Credentials meant nothing with him.  Not one damn thing. 

This was nothing but a man tiring of a woman.  And like all big and powerful men, finding a way to get rid of her. 

And by extension it meant nothing with the Party.  Afterall, “Party Purity” was for Revolutionary Ideals and not for one’s sex life.   Still, the way Mao dealt with his previous wives should have been a major red flag if nothing else.  Afterall, if Mao could be so cold and decisive with his wives, the mother of his children, then what of his attitude towards the Chinese People themselves?   There was much room for reflection here, amongst the Chinese Party Elite.   But there is no evidence that it took place.

Still, the Party Leadership surely had decided it lived in glass houses.  And that alone could have been the internal reasoning that prevailed to not punish Mao.  Perhaps 5 years earlier, before he was truly known within the Party, an irreversible blemish would’ve curtailed this rise.  But in 1937, Mao was clearly in charge, ascendant.  At worst a first among equals.

After all, didn’t FDR have his affairs?  One of which with Eleanor’s own secretary?  Didn’t LBJ have a child out of wedlock?  (A dead ringer for dad, he was, who died quite young.)   JFK?

Enter Jiang Qing.

How could she not have felt any resentment?

Despite Mao’s history she was the one that felt the heat. 

If she were 19 with an innocent smile and cute pigtails she’d be pitied.   Instead she was a woman that knew as much about Men as Mao knew about Women.   And as Mao would soon enough find out she really didn’t have any loyalty to the Party.  And no, she wasn’t going to go into exile either.  Mao had basically met his match.

This was a woman that finally had found her way in life and she wasn’t going to be pushed aside anytime soon, oh so very much to Mao’s and China’s chagrin.   

If anything, Mao certainly made a mistake picking Jiang Qing to be his mistress cum wife.  Right? To have picked a less experienced, less worldly wife would have eased the resistance.  Any Party Loyalist would’ve been better than Jiang Qing.  But history has its unpredictable twists and turns.  And Mao’s marriage to Jiang Qing simply had too many short sellers.   And they were all burned.   In the end, Mao by picking Jiang Qing as his wife, had most unpredictably chosen the perfect match, and China in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s paid the price.

Jiang Qing had a fatal flaw;  she was out for herself.  For Number One.   As such her ability to piss people off was beyond reproach.  But her story sad to say was not unusual or unique in 1930’s China.  Not even close.  China during this period was a chaotic unruly place mired deep, deep in poverty.  
Lose your dad at a young age?  Sad.  But common.

Daughter of a concubine?  Ok, a little unusual, but not very.

Constantly moving from place to place?  Ok, maybe that was unusual.  

Jiang Qing was a rolling stone.  A woman with no interest in settling down, because only then would she begin again to feel insecure.  But in my view Jiang Qing also lacked that key virtue so important in China, which most Chinese even today believe they all individually possess:  素质.

As such she collided head on with the wives and young ladies of the other Revolutionary Leaders in China.   Two of them come to mind;  Wang Guangmei and Sun Weishi.

Wang Guangmei, originally a young English translator for George Marshall that eventually caught the eye of Liu Shaoqi, was the daughter of a diplomat and a University graduate to boot.  She spoke a few languages, and in short was no dummy. 

(Wang Guangmei in happier times)

Was Wang Guangmei perhaps more than a bit aloof towards this daughter of a concubine? Perhaps.  But did Jiang Qing prove Wang Guangmei’s views correct? Without question. 

Then there was the young but beautiful daughter of Zhou En Lai, Sun Weishi.   An actress in her own right, she was immediately a rival of Jiang Qing’s.  She was successful in Chinese cinema through both the 40’s and 50’s.   One would think she and Jiang Qing would’ve especially gotten along. 

Through the decades her inability to get along with others, her jealousness and her background as an actress, undoubtedly led to much condescension from others.   Her demise as Mao’s lover without question led to her demise in status as well.  

This in turn led many to drop the façade of kindness and friendship towards Jiang Qing.   She was no longer simply ignored, bad enough, but in the eyes of many simply irrelevant.   This was the mistake everyone made.  As Mao moved into semi-retirement, his wife found her status even lower than before.  It was quite obvious she would not be missed in Beijing.  Afterall, to simply visit her own husband,  she needed to seek permission from Mao’s own bodyguards.  

Is this how Lao Shaoqi treated his wife?  How could others within the elite circle feel anything but contempt for this woman?

And how could Jiang Qing feel anything but anger and hurt?  The agreement is well known;  Jiang Qing would stay out of politics for 30 years. 

But what was Wang Gang Mei doing?  She was travelling overseas as China’s First Lady!  Wearing a Qipao! She was even investigating the rumored deplorable conditions in the Chinese Countryside during the 3 years of famine. 

The word was clear.  She could be trusted!

Why wasn’t Jiang Qing doing as such?

I am not sure when the break came between Jiang Qing and Mao, but by the late 40’s they were living separately.   Indeed my feeling is probably much earlier, before the end of the war itself with Japan.  One struggles to find a record of Mao’s wife during America’s talks with Mao during the Chongqing years.

Jiang Qing’s lack of 素质 can be tracked back to her early desperate upbringing no doubt.   And why develop it?  It had never been an issue when it came to finding a Man? And as Jiang Qing had roamed from Beijing to Qingdao to Shanghai and now to Yanan,  not having Suzhi” had never been a detriment.   Suddenly, in a tightknit community, shacking up with the Communist Leader himself, Jiang Qing found herself under a bright light. 

Like never before her every move was being analyzed, and in my view Jiang Qing cracked.  Unlike the past, she just couldn’t pack up and go.   This gig was too good.   Doesn’t get better than sleeping with the boss, right?   So she stuck it out.   But after time simply realized this “crowd” was different from the Shanghai “crowd”.

And there was nowhere to go.  Nowhere to get “lost” for a while.

And I think the reason is simple enough.  Jiang Qing never bore Mao a son.  And this is where she differs from Cixi. (Remember her?)

Cixi stood out from the others…..why?  Because of her son.  And only because of he son.   Because of this fortune, she was able only then to leverage her natural abilities.

Not Jiang Qing.  Without question her demise with Mao started sometime after 1940 when Jiang Qing bore a child for Mao.  A daughter named Li Na.   Does one think Jiang Qing’s star would have faded as quickly if she’d instead bore him a son?

Would Mao have been so eager to rid himself of Jiang Qing then?

The decades after his marriage to Jiang Qing were different from the decades before.  There were no heady days of Liberation, no Korean War, no crisis.   Yes there was the Long March.  The flight to Yanan.  But Mao with another son would have had another reason for keeping Jiang Qing close.
Afterall, Mao wasn’t going to raise his own son!   Jiang Qing’s power, like Cixi’s, would have been greater behind the curtain until their son was old enough to take power.

But there was no son.  Only lonely Li Na.

So I think after a time, her insecurities took over.   Her lack of education showed itself.   Her pettiness rising to the surface, in turn making her perhaps more paranoid.   Just when she needed Mao’s emotional support I believe it wasn’t forthcoming.  Still let's be honest.  Didn't Jiang Qing bring some of this onto herself?   For some reason the words "Jiang Qing" and "modest" or "self-predicating" do not seem to fit into the same sentence.

As part of China’s fall as an empire throughout the 19 century was without question due to the corruptness of the Qing, the downward spiral of Jiang Qing in my view was due in part to the failure of Mao to emotionally support his wife.    Taking a look at Jiang Qing’s failings one cannot help but in turn examine the failings of Mao as a husband.   Afterall, Mao was twenty years her Senior.  He was more than capable of “mentoring” his younger wife.  He simply defaulted on the responsibility.   

A conscious decision on his part.  Indeed, one begins to see a track record. 

I would even argue if Jiang Qing had simply packed up her daughter and left Yanan in 1943, Mao probably would have a willing twenty something replacement in no time.    And you know what?  China would have been better off for it!

With the loss of Mao’s son in the Korean War, the true last constraint on the power of Mao was gone.  Nobody just knew it yet.  But if Jiang Qing and Mao had divorced earlier, Mao’s new wife almost certainly would have provided that missing constraint.   Along with a possible heir.

As such, Jiang Qing, the annoying twit, had no intention of being kicked out of Mao’s life EVER.  Mao was stuck her with her.   She proved more than willing to put up with the social isolation and mental abuse not only Mao but others over a two decade period piled on her, all for still being the “Wife of the Chairman”. 

She could’ve left at any time, of her own fruition.  But she knew all too well life after Mao would be…boring?  Insignificant?  The pursuit of happiness never seemed to occur to her.  She would miss the power.  And she knew no man would ever want(or risk) to be her husband.   No.  Her decision was cold and calculating.  She’d rather be the scorned wife of Mao than the happy wife of anyone else.

Is it any wonder she wreaked the havoc she did? Any wonder at all?  Indeed, one can simply say he’ll have no fury like the wrath of a scorned wife of Chairman Mao.

Jiang Qing’s chance finally came in 1965, thanks to an article written by an academic that opposed Mao.  Ever since the play had been published in 1959, Mao had suspected the play was really an allegory about himself.  (Here I admit to being a bit vague.  I’ve written about this play in the past….here it is .)

The problem was Mao, holed up in Hangzhou, could get no one to write a criticism of the play.   He brought Jiang Qing back, and she proudly became the dog that bit what Mao told her to bite.  Chaos ensued and the Cultural Revolution came about.

Mao had no interest in economics. Only politics and unchallenged recognition from everyone that he was the Top Dog in China.   He unleashed Jiang Qing to help him take down, one by one, the Beijing Clique that opposed Mao’s policies. 

And this gave Jiang Qing her change at revenge.

By 1966, Jiang Qing was now seen as Mao’s instigator.  In 1967 she had Wang Guangmei arrested.  Her husband was also arrested, and died in 1969, rumor has it on a cold cement prison floor, naked.   

(Wang Guangmei in not so happy times)

Next was the apple of Zhou En Lai’s eye, Sun Weishi, the young innocent cinema favorite of the Communist Elite.   She was a natural rival of Jiang Qing’s.  Groomed from within, untouched from the sin of Shanghai, she was in obvious stark contrast from Jiang.

Image result for sun weishi
(Sun Weishi with mom and dad)

Alas, Jiang Qing was able to have a still unbelieving Sun Weishi arrested, where she died a cruel death under torture in 1968.

Such was the Cultural Revolution, where even siblings of Party Elders were arrested.
Jiang Qing was eventually arrested in 1976, only a month after Mao’s death.  She committed suicide in 1991.  It is proper to note she was given a tombstone.    


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