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Madame Mao: The White-Boned Demon

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This is the most complete and authoritative account of the childhood and tumultuous life of Jiang Qing, from her early years as an aspiring actress to her marriage and partnership with Mao Zedong, the controversial years of power after Mao's death, her final years of disgrace and imprisonment, and her suicide in 1991.

424 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1984

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Ross Terrill

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Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,178 reviews9,208 followers
April 1, 2022
This is the best terrible book I have read for years. It’s borderline unreadable but completely compelling. You know the expression you can’t see the wood for the trees – when we read this book we can’t see the trees for the wood. Vast oceans of utter trivia wash over us, as Jiang Qing fights with a family member about funeral arrangements or a particular necklace or what she liked to wear to the beach, but when it comes to telling us why all these huge fights between communists broke out, hardly a word – they loved to call each other names like “leftist”, “ultraleftist, “counterrevolutionary”, but what was meant by these insults is anyone’s guess. Ross Terrill won’t tell you. And great events will go by in the blink of two sentences but the excruciating details of JQ’s one night stand with a football star will take five pages (see below!). If all that isn’t weird enough I would go so far as to say that this book is like to make you want to microwave your own brain (never do that) because of Ross Terrill’s ridiculous antiquated style that continually reads like a self-parody:

Shanghai was a cauldron of contradictions, a city that wore its heart on its sleeve and took in its stride the epoch’s kaleidoscope of greed, thrills and death.


She was a lurking unit of one whose charm did not conceal a metallic core of purposefulness.


She did not torment Mao with impossible challenges…for she was genuinely bedazzled at being the philosopher-king’s lover.


By the early 1970s, in the kingdom of Chinese communism, her smile was a bumper harvest, her frown was an earthquake, her indecision was a bureaucratic logjam.


By the time she was 23 she had married and dispensed with three husbands, that is some going. She was a teenage stage actress then a movie actress under the name Lan Ping. She was fierce and loud and she always got noticed. She wanted to be a big star but she didn’t quite make it. She swanned around with the boho intellectuals, she was kind of a wild child. She would turn up at a famous theatre producer’s house and say well, I’ve arrived, here I am, now what? On more than one occasion she left a husband, moved to a new city and changed her name. She was doing very well as a movie actress in Shanghai in 1937

and then the Japanese invaded and wrecked the whole industry so she did something very unusual. All by herself she left town and went to Yanan, a little town of caves, which was the headquarters of the Communist party. As she’d previously done with theatre producers, she just turned up unannounced. This time she said “I’m here for the revolution, what do you want me to do?” Mao Zedong took a look at this perky forthright more than somewhat attractive actress and divorced his wife. Reader, she married him – the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, the big kahuna, the boss of bosses, just like that. So that is some meteoric career. She was 24 years old.

Was she a communist? Well, she figured she ought to be. It was the coming thing, kind of obvious. So, in Yunan they lived in caves – literally! That must have come as a culture shock, after the martinis and daiquiris of Shanghai. The old communists eyerolled and sneered. One said

He’s a sex maniac, abandoning a comradely wife of long standing to marry a despicable actress.

Mao said:

Without Lan Ping’s love I can’t go on with the revolution.

(Page 135). What a great quote! Do you believe it? No, I don’t either.

So what we have here is a laser-focused go-getter who might have been figuring that if she couldn’t be the number one star in Chinese movies she could be the number one female star in the Chinese revolution. If she did think that, she must have been very disappointed, because the communists had other very boring ideas. The Party concluded that yes, Mao had to be allowed to keep his young sexy wife but she should be nothing but the usual self-effacing out of sight little home-maker. Title of Chapter 4 : Mao’s Housewife in Yanan (1938-49). It was not glamorous.

A curious fact – because Mao was Chairman

Mao and Lan could live together, which was very rare in Yanan, where most married couples could meet only on Saturdays.


Finally 1949 rolled around and the Communist revolution succeeded. A new phase for everyone – don’t have to live in no cave anymore for one thing! But alas, she still could not find anything to do with her ambitious energy. She wanted to DO something! Something important!

Every position Jiang occupied during the 1950s she had to wrench from extremely reluctant hands. … Many women were happy to put their heads down at “women’s work”. But JQ was not. All her life she despised such activity… A humiliation was involved in women’s organisations that she never was able to endure

The Party never could stand her, though, and they had a great excuse not to give her any responsibility. Your job, they said, is to take care of our great leader’s personal, nutritional and household needs. There is nothing more important than that. And the Party went further – they destroyed the evidence that she used to have a career:

Prints of her movies, reviews of her performances, articles about her life as an actress, all were gradually tracked down and burned.

During the claustrophobic 1950s she was ill an awful lot. Once they packed her off to a Moscow hospital for two straight years.


This bewildering Chinese meltdown is explained by Russ Terrill as follows. After the failure of Mao’s Great Leap Forward (Russ calls it the Great Stumble Sideways, he’s a laugh) the other top communists were thinking he was past his sell by date, there were mutterings. (He said : “they treated me like a dead ancestor”.) So to re-establish his star power he came up with this fantastical anti-old-fart campaign and like a big Chinese Pandora’s Box opener he unleased the pent-up energy of his pent-up wife AND the wild energy of Chinese teenagers at the same time. Take THAT, old farts. JQ was appointed Deputy Director of the Cultural Revolution Committee. Ka-pow! Just like that. From zero to You Have to Take Me Seriously Now.

She rushed around like an usher in a theatre dividing everyone into left and right

For a chilling picture of life during the Cultural Revolution, see the movie To Live from 1994. A lot of people died in this period (1966 – 1970). Even approximate details are very difficult but probably somewhere between one and four million people. A whole lot of other people were “persecuted”. Although JQ was the number two person organising the whole catastrophe, Ross Terrill spends 40 pages telling us in excruciating detail how she spent the whole time tracking down and wrecking the lives of every single one of her personal perceived “enemies” going all the way back to the 1930s. There is no big picture here for the reader to grasp, It’s all feeble stuff.

"Wang Guangmei didn’t sleep well for several nights after I gave her my advice on dress,” Jiang went on, “in the end she agreed with me and said she would not wear a necklace in Southeast Asia.”

There are pages of this kind of stuff… do we really need it? Is that all her life was at the height of her power?


As Mao got very old and ill, naturally there were several guys who thought they might be the next Chairman. JQ had the barefaced audacity to think that SHE should get the job. Why not a woman? Just because it had only ever happened once before in China (Empress Wu Zetian, reigned 690 to 705). So she got herself a group of three true believers and together they were known as the Gang of Four. This was their best album:

I was expecting some exciting coup d’état fisticuffs at this point but no, the other guys organised their coup much more efficiently and the Gang of Four were scooped up without a shot being fired. There was a long ass show trial at which the judges and everyone received daily doses of the sharp end of her tongue. She was duly found guilty of sedition and sentenced to death suspended for two years pending prisoner’s good behaviour, then commuted to life. She was 67. She lasted another ten years, in prison and out on parole, then she committed suicide.


There’s a curious form of sexism, maybe, that emerges when the unusual women who become politically powerful are discussed – it’s like we say ah, of course we support women in politics in general, but not this particular one – Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Indira Gandhi, Jiang Qing – not these particular ones. Well, they are all going to be awkward customers, given what they’ve had to put up with on their way to the top. JQ was the boss’s wife and she took full advantage. She doesn’t come out of this book as anything other than a mean-minded arrogant footling self-loving prima donna, but there you see, I’m doing it. No reason why China couldn’t have a female leader. Just not that particular one.



My I-can't-believe-what-I-just-read interim review:

I am half way through this strange book but I can’t resist presenting this wonderful scene from the year 1935 when Lan Ping (the future Madame Mao) was 21 years old and a perky young actress in Shanghai.

She is on a very hot date with a football player named Li. First they went to the movies. The author helpfully notes that “this teeming movie house was famous for its customer couples who came to sit close to each other as much as to watch the screen”. Unlike all the other cinemas in Shanghai, which insisted on couples sitting far apart from each other, I suppose. Anyway :

Making a bid for the dashing football player, she was misjudging the degree of aggression suitable for the man and the moment.

Oops, she was coming on too strong. Li plays it cool. He explained

I was a man with some prior experiences…To her fantastic enticements I made no response.

Lan plied her coquetry:

“Perhaps you don’t care?”

“No, no,” Li answered with a hiss. “I’m just absorbed in the movie and Hu Die’s great acting.” A moment later he cried out “Well done!”…as Hue Die saved the situation with a cunning maneuver.

We have to assume that all this detail came from the lips of Li himself, remembering how he answered “with a hiss” years later. Well, Lan did not stop trying:

Lan Ping pushed her “soft jade arm” around Li’s tight warm waist, trying to inflame him before the movie ended and the lights came up.

After the movie ends, they go to a hotel room (Get a room!)

Darkness found them in a fourth-floor room of the Hui Zhong Hotel…

“All this added up to a suitable atmosphere for sexual activity,” Li noted with Chinese practical sense.

Lan is an expert in the arts of erotic small-talk :

"Are there any matches this week? Which team will you be pitted against?”

The author comments:

Her words were beginning to seem irrelevant.

But now comes the bit you’ve been waiting for:

“I love your vigour and courage on the field,” Lan said ardently. “Especially your skill at shooting,” she added with a gasp, her cheeks blushing…her body as hot as a bowl of steamed rice. Able, as always, to unstabilise a man with a shaft of mystery or outrage, she murmured as Li began to kiss her pink lips, “I am going to give you unsurpassable pleasure.”

Recalling this date Li summed up the evening in what I’m sorry to say a rather churlish manner:

“She rendered me great joy but not complete satisfaction.”


This extraordinary toe-curling hideously detailed precious prose style fortunately does not go on throughout the whole book.
Profile Image for Ensiform.
1,337 reviews134 followers
February 9, 2017
Fascinating, absolutely fascinating. It's a detailed (394 pages) psychohistory of Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, casting her as a product of her place and gender: a poor girl with a rebellious streak turned actress and political dabbler turned the most powerful Communist woman ever. Terrill's take of Jiang Qing is that she was an eternal child, blending her personal life (daughter of a concubine, bullied, cast out by her father, marrying four times) and theater life (passionate, vain, elevating acting over directing) with politics, creating a control freak who could not stand the idea that she had to be and was dependent on so much from so many males. The pinnacle of this unfortunate blurring of show business and policy, state welfare and vindictiveness, slighted ego and real world attacks was the Cultural Revolution that she was so much responsible for. Terrill's depiction goes further, to reveal her as a permanent child, a spoiled, elitist nature, with hypocritical petulance, disdain for the common people, and bullying cruelty. In his conception, she was almost unaware of the damage her attacks did, so preoccupied was she with image and power.

This analysis seems mostly sound. My criticisms of the book are that the psychological theory explains the results of her strong will well enough, but may not account for the existence of such an urge to control when so many maltreated Chinese women are acquiescent; the lack of events (war, Great Leap) is a gaping whole in the explanation of her story and Mao's, since events shape lives too; and Mao's seemingly random bouts of restraint and leniency toward his wife's causes and grasps for power are largely unexplained – why did he allow them if he disapproved and why did he criticize when he did? Still, as a psychohistory, the book is both compelling and enthralling.
435 reviews13 followers
May 1, 2018
Excellent novel about the life of Jian Qing, Mao's fourth and last wife. A former Shanghai actress and call-girl, Qing was petty, vicious and vengeful. When she came to power during the Cultural Revolution, she hijacked Chinese arts to deliver her violent revolutionary message. She also persecuted all her reall or presumed enemies dating back to the 1930s. After Mao died she took power with the infamous Gang of Four, and was overthrown by the reformers who eventually would put Deng Xiao Ping in power. She killed herself after destroying hundreds of thousands of lifes. For the way she used movies for propaganda, see Anchee Min's "Red Azalea". For an alternate take, just as good as Terrill's, see "Le Chien de Mao" by Lucien Bodard. When she was being prosecuted she blamed all her terrible actions on Mao. She said "I was Mao's dog, when he said 'bark', I barked; when he said 'bite', I bit".
Profile Image for Nicole.
4 reviews
August 29, 2007
Jiang Qing, although not awesome, was awesome. That sounds dumb, but read the book and you'll know what I mean.
Profile Image for Rob Hocking.
224 reviews10 followers
October 28, 2018
This book is a biography of Jiang Qing, the fourth and final wife of Mao Zedong, from when he was still hiding in caves in Yan'an during the civil war with the Guomindang until his death in 1976. She is most famous for her role in the Cultural Revolution, which was launched by Mao around 1966, mainly for purposes of eliminating his political enemies within the party but also for purifying what he saw as a corruption of communist values since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Although the Cultural Revolution was conceived by Mao, he had his wife - along with three Shanghai allies (referred collectively with Jiang as the "Gang of Four") - take care of much of the implementation. After the death of Mao, Jiang and the Gang of Four were arrested in 1976 and made into scapegoats. Jiang eventually committed suicide in 1991 while under house arrest.

Like the Taiping Rebellion, I never really thought I'd need to read a whole book about Jiang Qing. She's typically portrayed as a vicious and petty woman who rode to power she didn't deserve on the back of her husband, and who used the Cultural Revolution to destroy the lives of the people she felt had slighted her during her former life as an actress in Shanghai in the thirties.

However, I ended up reading this book as a result of an argument with my ex-girlfriend Maria. Whenever we argue these days, it's always about Chinese history. For example, in one of our previous arguments, I was commenting to Maria about how according to the book I was reading, the communist party killed as many of its own citizens during the (virtually unknown) siege of Changchun (Maria's home city) during the civil war with the Guomindang as the Japanese massacred during the much more famous rape of Nanjing during World War II. The argument went like this:

Maria: Pfft. The author is a white male - he's just sensationalizing to make the Communist Party look bad.
Me: How can you just assume that?
Maria: Well, what are his sources?
Me: Hmm...his main source seems to be this book called 白雪紅血 [white snow, red blood - it rhymes in Mandarin], written by a former PLA officer.

Because Maria is a scientist, we're usually able to resolve our arguments scientifically. So then we both went and found out everything we can about this officer and his book, and quite an interesting story emerged. He wrote the book something like 40 years after the events it depicts. The book was immediately banned in China and he was stripped of his posts and thrown in prison (on the other hand, the CCP built a giant museum about the rape of Nanjing, filled with historical inaccuracies about how the CCP resisted Japan alone while Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang did nothing). He must have known what was going to happen to him but must have been so wracked by guilt that he felt he had to do it anyways.

We also found some old photographs of the devastation of Changchun, and Maria - relenting in the face of evidence - grudgingly recalled hearing as a child growing up in Changchun adults whispering about the cannibalism that went on during that time (the Communist strategy was to blockade the city, wait for the citizens to starve, and then shoot anyone - civilian or otherwise - who tried to get past their blockade).

This time the argument went like this:

Maria: Hmmmpf. The Cultural Revolution was Mao's fault, but they can't blame him, so blame a woman instead. Fuck the patriarchy.
Me: Well, Deng Xiaoping felt that he couldn't admit the Cultural Revolution was Mao's fault because it would undermine the authority of the Communist Party. At that time the leaders of the CCP believed that Kruschev's denunciation of Stalin after his death had led to a loss of power of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, and they were paranoid about the same thing happening in China. Deng knew perfectly well that Mao was really at fault, and probably secretly hated him for it - after all, his own son was paralyzed during the Cultural Revolution and he himself was sent into forced labour. But he put the needs of The Party ahead of his own grudge. They needed to blame someone, and the gang of four - while not as responsible as Mao - still did carry out the Cultural Revolution on his behalf.
Maria: Well then why is Jiang always singled out? Can you name a single other member of the Gang of Four? You don't know the propaganda that I saw of her growing up in China.
Me: No, I can't name a single other member...and no I haven't seen the propaganda but I'd find it interesting if you still have it. But maybe she really was more responsible than the other three? I don't really know a lot about her.

At this point, Maria became convinced that I thought sexism isn't real. While I was looking for sources on the life of Jiang Qing, she was busy showering me with articles about workplace sexism. I patiently explained that I was not contesting the existence of sexism - I was only saying that we can't assume without doing research that sexism was responsible for the singling out of Jiang Qing from the rest of the Gang of Four. I found this book and suggested we both read it and then resume our discussion afterwards. However, this time Maria wasn't interested in doing any research and I read the book alone.

I didn't expect the book to be very interesting, but I was pleasantly surprised. Therefore, I'm glad that Maria and I had this argument.

Having now read Jiang Qing's life story, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, she possesses qualities that I admire - a powerful force of will and independent spirit - and it's true that the China she was born into was a very sexist place, and she had to fight against that sexism almost from day one. For example, China at that time still practised "foot binding". I'm not sure the details of how it works my impression is that while a girl's foot is still young and supple, the parents bend the front half under the bottom half, and bind it in place. The exact mechanism might be different from what I have described, but the result is that woman end up with deformed feet that are unnaturally small - which makes them appear more elegant, supposedly - but also end up virtually crippled for life. But not Jiang Qing! Even as a toddler she was sufficiently rebellious that she unbound her own feet. This was critical, for it made possible everything that came later.

Jiang was born into severe poverty as the daughter of a former concubine, cast out by her former husband, in an unimportant town the name of which escapes me. Her mother survived and made enough money to raise her by working as a maid, possibly supplementing her income with prostitution. Jiang made clawing her way out of poverty her life mission, and by the thirties, she had made it to Shanghai where she had a reasonably successful acting career. Although many books derail her as a low-grade actress - having now read about her career in detail - I think that while she doesn't seem successful relative to the huge movie stars, certainly relative to myself and basically everyone I know, she was very successful.

In my opinion (which is also the book's opinion, so maybe I'm not being very original), these years were Jiang Qing at her best. Through sheer force of will she'd escaped poverty to become a well-known actress in cosmopolitan Shanghai, and she'd done it all on her own.

However, this wasn't enough for Jiang. Seeking to reach even greater heights, she left Shanghai to find the communist base in Yan'an. Mao at the time was conveniently going through a divorce, and she wasted no time in getting him to notice her.

In my opinion, this is where everything started to go wrong. Yes, it's true that by marrying Mao, Jiang succeeded beyond her wildest dreams in her original life quest of escaping poverty. However, if the goal was just to escape poverty, she'd already succeeded by this point with her acting career in Shanghai. More to the point, she'd succeeded by way of her own will and while preserving her independence. Marrying Mao took her from having merely escaped poverty and propelled her into the stratosphere of extreme wealth. However, it came at a heavy cost. First of all, she could no longer take pride in having done it on her own. Second, Mao was a shitty husband who ignored his wife for much of their marriage and had innumerable affairs. Third, officials in the communist party - who didn't approve of her - only allowed the marriage on the condition that she have no career of her own. Henceforth, she would be a mere housewife. Not a good fit for a woman with the drive and ambition that Jiang possessed. As I'll point out later, this tactic ultimately backfired - firstly, because after coming to power during the Cultural Revolution, Jiang used her power to get revenge on these officials. But also secondly and more to the point, because the Cultural Revolution happened in the first place to a large extent because Jiang was bored and needed something to do.

Here I'll briefly interject with a few quotes from the book regarding Jiang's situation on the eve of the Cultural Revolution:

"Sex is engaging in the first rounds," Jiang once remarked, "but what sustains interest in the long run is power." By the late 1950s she had neither. Mao was no longer interested in her as a companion. Being Mao's wife had opened some doors, but not always the doors she really wanted to go through. A dull, passive life amid external splendour did not seem a stable resting point for a woman who believed in nothing but her own will.

Jiang Qing seemed a trapped, becalmed woman with little purpose in her life. All one could say of her as the 1960s began was that she believed, if no one else did, in a high destiny for Jiang Qing. There was an intriguing straw in the wind; Mao had run into political trouble [due to the failure of the Great Leap Forward]; would he (like Franklin Roosevelt, who, after being afflicted by polio, turned to Eleanor for support as he had never done before) begin to take fresh notice of his frustrated wife out of a need to use her bottled-up talent?

By the beginning of the 1960s, both Mao and Jiang were discontent. For Mao, the issue was the failure of the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1962, in which Mao's ill-conceived policies had shattered the Chinese economy and led to the death by starvation of an estimated 10 to 40 million Chinese. The result was a loss of credibility for Mao, who became increasingly sidelined as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping reversed the most damaging of his policies in order to save the country. For Jiang, the issue was that she was bored. The Cultural Revolution was the mutual solution to both of their problems.

The Cultural Revolution allowed Mao to reconsolidate his power and it propelled Jiang into the upper echelons of the Communist Party. As Mao's health deteriorated in the late sixties, the question of who would be his successor became important. Although Mao had never intended Jiang for this role, because he had a habit of growing suspicious of whoever was number two in the communist party and having them purged (first Liu Shaoqi, then Lin Biao, then Deng Xiaoping), by the end of Mao's life Jiang was a serious contender for the top position - Mao had destroyed all the other candidates. Jiang, who had never before displayed much interest in Chinese history, became obsessed with the life of China's only Empress, Empress Wu - who ruled China around 700 AD. She made the study of Wu's life part of the school curriculum.

Mao's greatest fear in his final months was that after his death the Cultural Revolution would be denounced, its verdicts reversed, and his legacy tarnished. One way of ensuring that this didn't happen - at least not immediately - was to make Jiang his successor. However, Mao didn't trust Jiang with total power - even Mao, who knew how to rally the masses for the purposes of destruction but had no idea how to run a country in peacetime - considered Jiang too extreme. Therefore, Mao settled on a compromise - shortly before his death, he made a little-known official by the name of Hua Guofeng his official successor - but instructed Hua to work together with Jiang. However, neither Hua nor Jiang were prepared to share power. After Mao's death, Jiang and Hua immediately gathered their respective loyalists within the party and began preparing respective coup d'état's. Civil war loomed.

Hua struck first. Calling a fake Politburo meeting late one night, Hua and his associates arrested two members of the Gang of Four (Zhang Chunqiao and Wang Hongwen) as they arrived. The remaining two - Jiang Qing and Yao Wenyuan - didn't show up. Yao was arrested at his home a short while later. Next, Hua Guofeng's team they made its way to Jiang Qing's villa.

An hour later, a posse of motorcycles and military jeep glided through empty streets close to the Peking Zoo. Inside the jeep, Wang Dongxing pointed out to his three men a grey wall broken by a high iron gate. It was the Guanyuan Villa. Wang was nervous, unable to push away the sentimental memories that made his night mission seem dastardly. But the colonel and two captains, selected specially from Unit 8341's Thirty-seventh Detachment for this evening's extraordinary work, had their instructions and already were out of the jeep. At the gate they presented credentials that enabled them to replace the two sentries. Into the darkened villa they crept, knowing from careful study of its floor plan exactly which room they were to assault. Quiet as cats in their rubber sneakers, they found the light switches to the master bedroom, flicked them on, and burst into the elegant room with automatic rifles pointing toward the bed.

Jiang Qing sprang like a tinger from the sheets, eyes blazing, night-gown flying in all directions. "Don't move!" the troops shouted in unison. A moment of silence seemed like an epoch. Then Jiang slid to the floor, weeping loudly.

Jiang Qing had risen from poverty to become the most powerful woman in China, and one of the most powerful women in the world. The top position within the Chinese Communist Party was within reach. However, in a moment, it was all over. Jiang Qing had played the game of thrones and she had lost.

It's difficult not to have a certain grudging respect for the way Jiang handled herself at trial. The communist party - now led by Deng Xiaoping who had returned from exile to push Hua Guofeng aside - had indeed criticized the Cultural Revolution and reversed its verdicts, just as Mao had feared. However, they were unwilling to criticize Mao himself and instead pinned the blame on Lin Biao (a purged and deceased former number two) and the Gang of Four. While the other three members of the gang grovelled and went along with the charade in the hope of receiving a lenient sentence, Jiang Qing alone called a spade a spade, repeatedly reminding her persecutors of the uncomfortable truth that the crimes she was being held to account for were undertaken under Mao's orders. Her defiance earned her some admiration amongst the public - a Chinese watching the trail on TV at the time is said to have murmured to his friend "I have long hated Jiang Qing, but now I hate her a bit less."

Jiang was sentenced to death but with a two year holding period "to see how she behaves". Later her sentence was changed to life imprisonment, and later still to house arrest. On May 13th 1991 - 11 years after her trial and on the 25th anniversary of a Politburo meeting that named her head of the "Cultural Revolution Group", Jiang Qing wrote the following suicide note:

Over more than twenty years, the people defeated the Guomindang reactionaries under the leadership of Chairman Mao and won the victory of the revolution. Today the revolution has been stolen by the revisionist clique of Deng Xiaoping, Peng Zhen, and Yang Shangkun. The chairman exterminated Liu Shaoqi, but not Deng, and the omission bestowed endless evils upon the people and the nation. Chairman, your student and co-fighter is coming to see you now.

At 1:30 AM on the morning of May 14th, Jiang's nurse left her bedroom for the night. Sometime around 3 AM, Jiang Qing snuck into her bathroom where she hung herself using a noose fashioned from handkerchiefs tied to an iron frame above the bathtub. Her body was found at 3:30 AM.
Profile Image for Kata Bitowt.
81 reviews10 followers
February 23, 2021

Perskaičius nežinau, kaip jaučiasi. Ar džiaugiuosi, kad pagaliau baigėsi, ar norisi dar, nes dar kaip ir ne pilnas paveiksliukas ir norisi daugiau faktų ir istorijų, kurių aišku bent jau iki 1998 nemanau, kad buvo įmanoma gauti, nes kaip parašė autorius, dažnai užsieniečiams reikėjo išspausdinti faktą apie aukštas pareigas ėjusi žmogų, kad vėliau jis būtų patvirtintas PRC valdžios.
Daug daug vardų ir pavardžių, ir faktų. Atrodo būtų smagu žinoti daugiau backgroundo, nes kai kurie dalykai man liko neaiškus, kaip kad kaip po tragiško Great Leap Forward Mao vėl tapo visų mėgstamas fainuolis? Bet knyga kaip ir ne apie taip, bet kaip ir tarsi truputį apie tai. Mixed feelings. Bet, kaip stotelė kelionėje po moterų diktatorių istorijas, labai nebloga.
Next, please...
Profile Image for Stephen Rowland.
1,130 reviews47 followers
March 29, 2018
Very insightful and well-written, but I feel it goes a little too easy on Jiang Qing.
574 reviews
May 21, 2017
Although Madame Mao was ruthless and often cruel (definitely vindictive) in clawing her way to the top, her refusal to confess when accused of crimes gave her existence value, in my opinion. The Chinese Communist Party can rewrite truth, a la 1984, and if an accused doesn't confess, he isn't a good Communist. Madame Mao was defiant to the end since she always believed herself right. This was such a refreshing change from the norm. Although she was selfish and self-centered, the Chinese needed a reminder that the self CAN exist in and survive Communism. Indeed her wrongdoings were not so awful when one considers that most Chinese politicians used similar ways and means.
11 reviews
September 28, 2021
I wish I could give it 3.5 stars, because 3 seems too low, but 4 is too much. I wanted to love this book, I really did, but it fell a bit short. Now, because I didnt love it, let me also state, that by no means did I hate it.

I learned a lot and it was really interesting to explore Madame Mao so in depth. She could be brutal, cruel, emotionally manipulative and self-centered, but she was also fiercely strong willed and went after what she wanted in life. You don't need to agree with her choices or actions, but she knew what she wanted and did it.

My biggest drawback, was at times, the writing was really dry. It is clear a lot of research went into this book, but for such an interesting person and polarizing figure, the writing droned.
Profile Image for singingdalong.
43 reviews
February 26, 2020
Her defiance and hatred are displayed without regret in her final stage, the trial. Strongly denying all charges, she maintained a dignified and dignified appearance throughout the trial. Even if the world accuses her of being an evil woman, her amazon-like appearance is unforgettable.

Profile Image for LonewolfMX Luna.
55 reviews4 followers
August 13, 2010
This book is the history of Jiang Qing AKA Madame Mao who was known to her enemies as the White Boned Demon. Who started life as Li Yunhe grew up in an abusive household where her father was a well to do carpenter and her mother was a concubine who like in the book becoming Madame Mao was a victim of the old imperial China. But she would not sit quietly and let life get the better of her and would throughout her young life would live with her grandparents and run away to become a young actress and be married several of times. She became famous in her own right as an actress in Shanghai before the Japanese invasion of China would force her out of the business and into Yenan where she would meet the Communist Guerilla Chief Mao Tze-Tung who was waging a two front war against Chiang Kai Shek the Nationalist Chinese leader who was a corrupt warlord who was more focused in wiping out the Communists than the invading Japanese who are bent on taking over China.

It was there as a young actress where she would meet the Guerrilla Mao which would change here destiny and fate which would make her in time with the triumph of Mao's forces the most powerful woman in China in which she would be focused on taking revenge on those who hurt her in the past and would help launch the Cultural Revolution at a time when Mao is on the verge of losing power, after 20 years of being cloistered in the background her time as a a star would shine again with the Cultural Revolution not only as an attempt to save Mao from losing power but to remold Chinese society in Mao's image.
Profile Image for Damien Black.
Author 1 book26 followers
February 17, 2017
A real page turner!
"Still, the shadow of Mao’s widow fell upon Chinese politics. Because the issue of Mao’s reputation underlay the Deng regime’s obsession with legitimacy, Jiang could, at any time, unsettle Deng and his colleagues by reasserting two points: She had followed Mao’s line, and Deng in the 1980s had departed from Mao’s line. Deng had made Jiang a scapegoat for Mao, but the legacy of Mao’s rule lived on in the Communist political system. In the absence of elections, the government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and legitimacy had to be manufactured by ideological attacks on the fallen. Conflict was handled not as a natural interplay of diverse opinions and interests, but as mythology; the loser was a criminal. And the only method of accession to the top office was raw power struggle."
5 reviews
August 9, 2009
Reading The Wild Swans has started me on a journey to learn more about modern China. This story of Jiang Qing, aka Madame Mao, began to add flesh to the bones of a woman who has never been more than a name to me. In reading her story I learned as much about the China of her lifetime as about her. For instance, consider the (to a Westerner) astonishing fact that her mother's name is not known. She -- Jiang's mother -- was a concubine and of such little consequence in society that there is no record of her identity. A very interesting and unsettling account of how one woman's personality and, perhaps, pathologies impacted the lives of millions of Chinese.
Profile Image for Maggie.
49 reviews
April 11, 2015
This was a slow read but it built as it went along, telling the previously unheard and more or less unbiased story of Jiang Qing aka Lan Ping aka Madame Mao from her childhood to death. It is edifying to learn about her role in many events in modern China especially the "Cultural Revolution". The research seems solid and incorporates many interviews with people who were there such as her second husband Tang Na (or was he her 3rd?). This is also a good book to fight the typically male-centered histories of China.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Michael Flick.
493 reviews584 followers
January 31, 2012
A history heavy on speculative psychology. Missing many important events--like the Great Leap Forward debacle and the Hundred Flowers double-cross--and necessary details (especially the human costs of the aforementioned and the Cultural Revolution). It's fascinating, nonetheless: a portrait of a party of one--a shallow, rather uninteresting party of one swept up in events and times way out of her league and beyond her comprehension.
Profile Image for Charlie.
69 reviews
August 31, 2013
Tedious at first wrapping one's mind around all those Chinese names, parties, factions,locations, but gains in intensity. Intricately told, enormous detail, but very informative. Madame Mao, leader of the gang of four, leading the infamous and lethal Cultural revolution has a bent logic that baffles the mind.The politics are intense and complex. Glad I stuck with the book. Helped me understand the complexity of enormous events that happened in my time.
Profile Image for Tony Vecchi.
5 reviews
November 2, 2013
This book will appeal to anyone that wants to understand a largely hidden part of recent Chinese history. Much here that I did not know about sone major actors in recent history. Not a particularly easy read but a definite interesting read, I recommend it to any history buffs.
Profile Image for Jeff.
3 reviews
June 22, 2022
A very informative biography of the most remarkable and most reviled woman in 20th century China. Although flawed as an academic resource-much of it relies on second hand, anonymous accounts-it remains the best book on Jiang Qing in the English language.
Profile Image for Chris Brimmer.
485 reviews4 followers
May 28, 2009
Inside look at the insanity that was Maoist China and the dangers of government by cult of personality.
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