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Jiang Qing (Chinese: 江青, March 1914 – May 14, 1991), born Lǐ Shūméng, known under various other names, including the stage name Lan Ping (Chinese: 蓝苹), and commonly referred to as Madame Mao, was the third wife of Chairman Mao Zedong of the People's Republic of China. Jiang Qing was most famous as a leader of the Cultural Revolution from 1966–1968. In an attempt to circumvent more conservative Communist Party leaders, Mao called on Chinese students to spearhead a movement to remove “representatives of the bourgeoisie,” telling the students that the revolution was in danger, and that they must do all they could to stop the emergence of a privileged class in China. Calling themselves the “Red Guards,” rebellious young people defaced temples and monuments and broke into homes to destroy old books, Western-style clothing, paintings and art objects. Thousands of professionals and scholars were beaten to death, or tortured in public; many were sent to “May Seventh Cadre Schools” to perform hard labor. Jiang Qing incited the Red Guards with fiery speeches against other senior political leaders. She acquired far-reaching powers over China's cultural life and oversaw the total suppression of a wide variety of traditional Chinese cultural activities. She replaced nearly all earlier works of art with revolutionary Maoist works.
On November 22, 1966, Jiang Qing was named first vice-chairwoman of a 17-member Central Cultural Revolutionary Committee, which, along with the Peoples Liberation Army and the State Committee took over political control of the country. In 1969, she became a member of the Politburo, and was one of the most powerful figures in Chinese politics during Mao’s last years. After Mao’s death in 1976, she was arrested and tried as one of the “Gang of Four.” Critics say that the arts in China have only recently begun to recover from her restrictive influence, which stifled originality and creativity and nearly extinguished a number of traditional Chinese art forms.
Jiang Qing was born Lǐ Shūméng (李淑蒙) in March, 1914, in Zhucheng (诸城), Shandong Province. Jiang Qing's father was called Li Dewen (李德文);he was an abusive husband and rejected Jiang's mother while Jiang was still very young. Jiang Qing, first known as Li Yunhe (meaning "Crane in the Clouds"), grew up in the homes of her courtesan mother's rich lovers, and eventually went to the home of her grandfather, an only child who was never doted upon and whose instincts were never curbed. In her early 20s, after two failed marriages, Jiang Qing went to university and studied literature and drama. In 1933, she was arrested and briefly imprisoned for her involvement in a communist-front organization. After her release, she went to Shanghai, where she played minor roles for the left-wing Tien Tung Motion Pictures Company.
Jiang Qing appeared in numerous films and plays, including "A Doll's House," "Big Thunderstorm," "God of Liberty," "The Scenery of City," "Blood on Wolf Mountain", and "Old Mr. Wang." In Ibsen's play, "A Doll's House," Jiang Qing played the role of Nora, who, after being accused of talking like a child and not understanding the world she lives in, replies, "No I don't [understand the world]. But now I mean to go into that... I must find out which is right - the world or I." Jiang Qing adopted the stage name "Lan Ping" (meaning "Blue Apple"). In 1937, Jiang Qing crossed the Nationalist lines and went to the Chinese Communist headquarters in Yan'an, to study Marxist-Leninist theory and to work in the revolutionary theater. She met Mao Zedong, who had just returned from the Long March, for the first time when he came to give a talk at the Lu Hsün Art Academy, where she was a drama instructor. Mao divorced his second wife, one of the few women to survive the Long March of 1934-1935, who was then hospitalized in Moscow, and married Jiang Qing. He was 45 and she was 24. The other Communist Party leaders opposed the marriage, but finally accepted on the condition that Jiang Qing not participate in any political activities for 30 years (Morton and Lewis 2005).
After the Peoples Republic of China was established in 1949, Madame Mao stayed out of public view except when acting as hostess for foreign visitors or participating in cultural events. She was involved with the Ministry of Culture during the 1950s. In 1963, she began promoting a movement in the Peking opera and ballet to incorporate proletarian themes in traditional Chinese art forms. The Eight model plays were allegedly created under her guidance.
In 1966, Jiang Qing emerged as a leader of the Cultural Revolution. By 1965, Mao was finding himself at odds with Communist Party leadership, particularly with revisionists such as Liu Shaoqi, who favored the introduction of piecework, greater wage differentials and measures that sought to undermine collective farms and factories. He reasserted his concept of “proletarian revolution” and appealed to the masses in an effort to go over the heads of Party officials. By May of 1966, Mao had isolated his rivals in the Chinese Communist Party, and was calling on Chinese students to spearhead a movement to remove “representatives of the bourgeoisie” from all areas of government and society. He designated the students “Red Guards” and on August 18, brought one million of them to a rally in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square, where he circulated among them for six hours wearing a Red Guard armband. Mao told the students that the revolution was in danger, and that they must do all they could to stop the emergence of a privileged class in China, as had happened in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.
All over China, students who felt rebellious because of their difficult circumstances directed their resentment towards intellectuals, professionals, and anyone who had contact with the West, as well as anything representing traditional Chinese culture or religion. Believing Mao’s slogan that “Rebellion is Justified,” they defaced temples and monuments and broke into homes to destroy old books, Western-style clothing, paintings and art objects. Thousands of professionals and scholars were beaten to death, or tortured in public; many were sent to “May Seventh Cadre Schools” to perform hard labor (Morton and Lewis 2005).
On November 22, 1966, a 17-member Central Cultural Revolutionary Committee was formed, with Jiang Qing as first vice-chairwoman and Mao’s secretary Chen Boda as chairman. This committee, along with the Peoples Liberation Army led by Lin Biao, and the State Committee under Zhou Enlai, took over control of the country. Jiang Qing incited the Red Guards with fiery speeches against other senior political leaders and government officials, including Liu Shaoqi, the President of the PRC, and Deng Xiaoping, the Deputy Premier. She acquired far-reaching powers over China's cultural life and oversaw the total suppression of a wide variety of traditional Chinese cultural activities. She replaced nearly all earlier works of art with revolutionary Maoist works. Critics say that the arts in China have only recently begun to recover from her restrictive influence, which stifled originality and creativity and nearly extinguished a number of traditional Chinese art forms.
The Red Guards developed into numerous competing factions both to the "left" and "right" of Jiang Qing and Mao; not all Red Guards were friendly to Jiang Qing. During 1967 and 1968, the violence spun out of hand as the Red Guard factions increasingly took matters into their own hands. During the summer of 1968, the Peoples Liberation Army moved to restore order, while Zhou Enlai established “Revolutionary Committees” in which PLA representatives, party cadre and representatives of the “revolutionary masses” worked out a new administrative structure based on Maoist values. The government began a drive to stamp out factionalism. A campaign to send “educated youth” to work in the countryside moved the students out of the cities and helped to end their violent activities (by the end 1972, approximately seven million students had been sent to rural areas).
The Cultural Revolution came to an end when Liu Shaoqi resigned from all his posts on October 13, 1968; he was arrested, imprisoned and abused. Other prominent leaders, including Deng Xiaoping and Zhu De were attacked and dismissed. When the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party met in April of 1969, two-thirds of the Central Committee's 90 former members ware missing. The Committee was enlarged to 170 members, nearly half of whom were army commanders, and Jiang Qing became a member of the Politburo (Morton and Lewis 2005). At first she collaborated with Lin Biao, leader of the Peoples Liberation Army, who had been designated Mao’s second-in-command in 1969. After Lin's death in 1971, she turned against him publicly with a Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign. Together with Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen, later dubbed the Gang of Four, she became one of the most powerful figures in China during Mao's last years. These four radicals occupied powerful positions in the Politburo after the Tenth Party Congress of 1973.
In 1974, Jiang Qing re-emerged as a cultural leader and a spokeswoman for Mao's new policy of “settling down.” She also spearheaded a campaign against Deng Xiaoping in the mid-1970s, which she later claimed was inspired by Mao.
The death of Mao Zedong on September 9, 1976, signaled Jiang Qing’s political downfall. On October 6, 1976, Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen were arrested for attempting to seize power by setting up militia coups in Shanghai and Beijing. After her arrest, Jiang Qing was sent to the Qincheng Prison, and was held under detention for five years. The Gang of Four was not officially put on trial until November, 1980. Among the charges were sedition, conspiring to overthrow the government, persecution of Party and state leaders, suppression of the masses, persecuting to death 34,380 persons during the Cultural Revolution, plotting to murder Mao Zedong, and fomenting an armed rebellion in Shanghai.
During her public trials at the "Special Court," Jiang Qing was the only member of the Gang of Four who argued on her behalf, claiming that she obeyed the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong at all times and maintaining that all she had done was to defend Chairman Mao. It was at this trial that Jiang Qing said, "I was Chairman Mao's dog. Whomever he asked me to bite, I bit" (Hutchings 2001). Near the end of the trial, she shouted out in court, “It is more glorious to have my head chopped off than to yield to accusers. I dare you people to sentence me to death in front of one million people in Tienanmen Square!” When the death sentence was pronounced, she shouted, “I am prepared to die!” and was removed from the court (Morton and Lewis 2005)
Jiang Qing was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in 1981. She refused to admit any guilt, repeatedly insisting that everything she had done during the Cultural Revolution had been at Mao’s request. The authorities thought it would not be wise to make her a martyr, and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment in order to "give her time to repent." While in prison, Jiang Qing was diagnosed with throat cancer, but refused an operation. In 1991, Jiang Qing was released for medical reasons to a hospital, where she used the name Lǐ Rùnqīng (李润青). On May 14, 1991, at the age of 77, Jiang Qing committed suicide by hanging herself in a bathroom of her hospital.
According to Jung Chang's and Jon Halliday's biography of Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing's favorite hobbies included photography, playing cards, and watching foreign movies, especially Gone with the Wind. It also revealed that Mao's physician, Li Zhisui, had diagnosed her as a hypochondriac.
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