Born In: Zhucheng, Weifang, China
Chinese Communist revolutionary and actor Jiang Qing led the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Married to Communist leader Mao Zedong, Jiang was also known by her many stage names, such as Lan Ping. After growing up in poverty, she studied drama and later gained fame as a left-wing stage and movie actor in Shanghai and Yan’an. She met Mao at an art academy. Forbidden to join politics for 20 years after her marriage to Mao, she initially hosted foreign delegates and attended cultural events. With the onset of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Jiang began controlling China’s cultural scene and motivated the Red Guards later. She also joined the Politburo and eventually became part of the influential Gang of Four. Their power declined with Mao’s death, and the Gang of Four was eventually arrested. Sentenced to death (later commuted to life), Jiang eventually committed suicide.
Also Known As: Madame Mao, Li Shumeng
Died At Age: 77
father: Li Dewen
children: Li Na
Born Country: China
place of death: Beijing, China
Cause of Death: Suicide By Hanging
Notable Alumni: Shandong University
education: Shandong University
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Jiang Qing was born Li Shumeng, on March 19, 1914, in Zhucheng, Shandong, Republic of China. Her father, a carpenter named Li Dewen, was abusive to her mother. Her mother was eventually abandoned and worked as a domestic help.
Some sources mention her mother as a prostitute. Jiang thus grew up in poverty and later in the houses of her mother’s rich lovers. Her stern mother apparently bound her feet in the traditional Chinese manner.
An only child, she was later sent to stay with her grandfather. She lost her father at 12 and later worked at a cigarette factory in Tianjin.
She later settled in Jinan, where she stepped into experimental theater and drama. She was also chosen to attend a Beijing drama school.
In May 1931, she returned to Jinan and married a businessman’s son named Pei Minglun. By her early 20s, she had already had two failed marriages.
She then joined university to study literature and drama. In 1933, Jiang was arrested and imprisoned briefly for her association with a communist-front organization.
Following her release from prison, Jiang moved to Shanghai, where she played small roles for the left-wing production house Tien Tung Motion Pictures Company. There, she gained knowledge about Marxism from a lover.
In 1937, when Shanghai was attacked by the Japanese, she moved to Chongqing and joined the government-controlled Central Movie Studio. In 1938, she crossed the Nationalist lines to move to the Chinese Communist headquarters in Yan’an to study Marxism further.
In Yan’an, she became a leading actor in revolutionary plays and movies. Some of her notable projects include Ibsen’s A Doll's House, Big Thunderstorm, God of Liberty, and Blood on Wolf Mountain. Jiang took up the stage name, Lan Ping, meaning Blue Apple.
In Yan'an, she met Mao Zedong when he came to deliver a speech at the Lu Hsün Art Academy, where Jiang was a drama instructor. Mao was already married back then, and Mao’s second wife was receiving treatment in Russia for her mental illness.
Mao, 45 back then, divorced his second wife and married Jiang in November 1938, who was 24. It is believed, she was technically Mao’s fourth wife, as he had had an arranged marriage in his early days but never revealed it. They had a daughter, Li Na, in 1940.
However, she could not be part of any political activities for 20 years, according to the condition agreed on by the other Communist Party leaders. Later, Jiang and Mao worked as political partners, but lived separately. Mao also kept many mistresses.
In 1949, the Peoples Republic of China was formally established. However, Jiang, now known as Madame Mao, mostly stayed away from the limelight, except when she hosted foreign visitors or appeared in cultural events.
In the 1950s, she was associated with the Ministry of Culture. In 1963, she started a movement in the Peking opera and ballet to include proletarian themes in traditional Chinese art. She oversaw the creation of The Eight model plays.
In 1966, she led the Chinese Cultural Revolution. By 1965, Mao had started conflicting with Communist Party leadership, especially with revisionists such as Liu Shaoqi. He supported the “proletarian revolution.” By May 1966, Mao had isolated his Chinese Communist Party rivals.
He also gathered Chinese students to throw out the bourgeoisie from the government and society and formed the Red Guards. On August 18,1966, he gathered about a million students to a rally in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square.
The student class began gathering against intellectuals and influential people with connections with the West or traditional Chinese culture. They defaced structures and destroyed old books, Western clothes, and art.
Scholars and professionals were beaten to death and many were sent to perform hard labor. On November 22, 1966, a Central Cultural Revolutionary Committee with 17 members was formed. It had Jiang Qing as its first vice-chairwoman and Mao’s secretary, Chen Boda, as the chairman.
This committee, together with the Peoples Liberation Army of Lin Biao, and the State Committee led by Zhou Enlai, began taking control over the whole country. Jiang Qing motivated the Red Guards with her speeches against leaders such as PRC president Liu Shaoqi and deputy premier Deng Xiaoping.
Jiang began controlling China's cultural life and suppressed countless traditional Chinese cultural activities. She replaced almost all previous traditional works of art with revolutionary Maoist works.
The Red Guards, however, disintegrated into many factions, and many were not friendly to Jiang Qing. During 1967 and 1968, the Red Guard factions became increasingly powerful. In the summer of 1968, the Peoples Liberation Army began to restore order, while Zhou Enlai, at the same time, formed Revolutionary Committees, trying to set a new administrative structure modeled on Maoist values.
The government started a campaign to send students to work in the countryside to end the revolution. The Cultural Revolution ended after the resignation of Liu Shaoqi on October 13, 1968. He was subsequently arrested and imprisoned.
At the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in April 1969, most of the Central Committee's 90 members were absent. The Committee was expanded to 170 members, most of them being army commanders.
Jiang soon joined the Politburo and initially collaborated with Peoples Liberation Army leader Lin Biao, who was Mao’s second-in-command. Following Lin's death in 1971, Jiang started her Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign, which turned into a against Zhou Enlai
She, along with Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, and Yao Wenyuan became known as the Gang of Four, occupying significant positions in the Politburo following the Tenth Party Congress of 1973. In 1974, Jiang went back to being a cultural leader and a spokeswoman for Mao's “settling down” policy. Jiang also led a campaign against Deng Xiaoping.
Mao’s death on September 9, 1976, spelled Jiang’s downfall. On October 6, 1976, Jiang was arrested along with Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, and Yao Wenyuan, for trying to gain control by setting up militia coups in Beijing and Shanghai.
Jiang was later sent to the Qincheng Prison and detained for 5 years. The Gang of Four went on trial in November 1980. They were charged with multiple crimes, including sedition, conspiracy to overthrow the government, persecution of major leaders, and killing over 34,000 people during the Cultural Revolution. During her trials, Jiang stated she had just obeyed Mao’s orders.
In 1981, Jiang was sentenced to death, with a 2-year reprieve. The sentence was commuted to life by 1983. Refusing to admit any guilt, she suffered from throat cancer in her final years.
In 1991, she was hospitalized and used the pseudonym Lǐ Rùnqīng. On May 14, 1991, she committed suicide by hanging herself in a hospital bathroom, at age 77.
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