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 Roxane Witke: Comrade Chiang Ch'ing Tells Her Story

Comrade Chiang Ch'ing Tells Her Story

By HP-Time.com;Roxane Witke Monday, Mar. 21, 1977


"Comrade Chiang Ch'ing is prepared!" These words were the summons to leave the guesthouse, where we had been waiting, and begin the drive to Chiang Ch'ing's villa. Leading to [the] villa was a narrow winding road flanked by deep bamboo groves. In them, young PLA [People's Liberation Army] guards, bayonets glinting, were partially hidden.

The interior was spacious but its decor was neutral. Chiang Ch'ing was wearing a superbly tailored shirtwaist dress of heavy crepe de chine, with a full pleated skirt falling to midcalf, a style evocative of our early 1950s.

With a later break for dinner and a shift to another room for fresher air, she talked continually until 3:30 in the morning. As the hours passed, her own energy level mounted, and she seemed not to mind that her listeners became enervated, even drowsy, from physical inertia in relentless heat.

Tall by Chinese standards (5 ft. 5 in.), Chiang Ch'ing was slim and small-boned, with delicate, tapered hands. She gestured with liquid motions as she spoke, occasionally running a green-and-white plastic comb through her dark short-cropped hair. In what Witke described as her "imperial proletarian style," Chiang Ch'ing was surrounded by aides, bodyguards, her own doctors; the retinue hovers around her, silent and watchful; a scribe duly notes everything that she says; nobody else talks while Chiang Ch'ing is giving her monologue. She even made it clear to Witke that she did not like to be interrupted by questions.


Since you are eager to know about my past, I can tell you briefly," she began. "I grew up in the old society and had a miserable childhood. Li Chin was the first of several names she would use before taking Chiang Ch'ing [meaning Azure River, because of her fondness for rivers and because azure "excels blue," a color she loved] her name in the community of Communism. She had numerous brothers and sisters—how many she would not say—the youngest of them at least a dozen years older than she was. Her father [a wheelwright] was an "old man" of about 60 when she was born. Though her mother was over 40, Chiang Ch'ing remembered her as being much younger than her father and showing far greater tenderness. "Because we were poor and had little to eat, my father was always beating or cursing my mother." He beat the children whenever he felt the urge, but when he savagely attacked the mother all the children rallied around her, trying their best to protect her. As she was returning home from school one day, her attention was drawn to the sound of an odd gait. She looked up. Approaching her was an old man bearing a shoulder pole with two men's heads, one dangling from each end, still dripping blood. [Evidently they had been executed by decapitation, a common practice in warlord-dominated China.] Stunned, she turned away blindly, ran home, threw her books on the floor and collapsed in bed, where she sank into a high fever. "I think this is enough to show you something of my childhood," Chiang Ch'ing said calmly.


While Chiang Ch'ing was still a young girl, her mother left her father and went to work as a servant. Of the many nights her mother left her alone at home, Chiang Ch'ing recalled especially one time when, with pouring rain leaking through the window, she sat motionless on the stone bed by a small oil lamp waiting for her mother, who did not return until the rain stopped at dawn many hours later. She learned to "walk in the dark" in search of her mother when she was five or six, and though ghosts held no terror for her, she developed a violent fear of wolves. She retained the scars caused by a ravenous pack of dogs who attacked her one of those nights.

When Chiang Ch'ing and her mother moved to Tsinan, a city long renowned for its theaters, Chiang Ch'ing found her vocation.

"In 1929 1 was admitted to the Shantung Provincial Experimental Art Theater at Tsinan. This was an art school, where I studied mainly modern drama but also some classical music and drama. I was only 15 then. The school provided free tuition and meals and an allowance of two yuan (about 60 U.S. cents) a month. I studied there only one year, but I learned a lot. I got up before daylight and tried to learn as much as possible. [The curriculum also included the special body movements used in Chinese opera, makeup, costuming, traditional Chinese musical instruments and even the piano, for three months.]

"The school was closed down when Han Fu-ch'ū, the warlord of the Northwestern Army, came to Tsinan. I joined some of the school's teachers and students in organizing a touring theatrical group that went to Peking. I left without telling my mother, only mailing her a letter at the railway station just before the train pulled out.

"That year (1930) I was only 16, and life in Peking was very hard indeed. I was so poorly equipped that I did not even have any underclothes. Although I had taken my family's best quilt with me, I still shivered with cold because its cotton wadding was worn thin from age. That season in Peking there were heavy sandstorms and the nights were dismal. I had not yet come to know politics. I had no notion of the significance of 'Kuomintang' and 'Communist Party.' All I knew was that I wanted to feed myself and that I adored drama."

She would soon find out about the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, which ruled China at that time. Its ramrod-straight young leader was Chiang Kaishek, who by 1928 had succeeded by force of arms in establishing control over the entire country, incorporating dozens of powerful local warlords into a tenuous union. For four years Chiang had endured an uneasy united front with the fledgling Communist Party (founded in 1921), but during his "reunification campaign, "he had broken with it, determined to destroy it. Weaker by far than the Nationalist Party, the Communist Party went underground in the cities while a small faction, led by the then little-known Mao Tse-tung, began a long effort to establish revolutionary bases in remote areas of the Chinese countryside. Meanwhile Chiang Ch'ing, a floundering actress, apprentice playwright and intellectually restless, went to the port city of Tsingtao and made contact with Communist Party members.

In late 1932 Chiang Ch'ing was introduced to Li Ta-chang, then secretary of the Tsingtao Party organization. A day was arranged for three Communist Party members to make a seemingly casual encounter with Chiang Ch'ing on the streets of Tsingtao. She was instructed to walk along a specified route in the company of a male student. They were to cling close to one another as if they were lovers, but to proceed cautiously, to be on the alert for spies and agents, and to watch for the agreed signals. The scheme worked, and she was delivered over to men directly representing the Party. Her case was prepared, and by February she became a member.

That spring, she remembered, some friends who knew nothing about what was happening to her in a political way started calling her by the nickname Erh Kan-tzu, literally Two Stalks, because her legs were skinny and she strutted about on them in brave style. She had lost weight because she was subsisting on very little, eating almost nothing, just two shao-ping (wheat-flour pancakes common to North China) a day. And she cut corners in other ways. Why was she so concerned about saving money? "To pay off Li Ta-chang!" she responded brightly, refusing to elaborate, but implying that for her at least there was a price on Party membership.


Soon Chiang Ch'ing joined thousands of China's new-left generation of writers and dramatists who were drawn to cosmopolitan Shanghai. In the 1930s leftists lived in constant fear of the so-called White Terror imposed by the Nationalist secret police.

Nonetheless, Chiang Ch'ing immediately set about to join the small and weak local Communist Party. Leftist art circles were dominated, among others, by future Cultural Commissar Chou Yang, an orthodox party functionary. (Chou was eventually purged in the Cultural Revolution.) Chou and his coterie, Chiang Ch'ing recalled with great bitterness, kept her on the edges of the Communist organization during her four years in Shanghai. She never became a member of the secret inner-party circle. For a while the party placed her in a job as a night school instructor in a Y.W.C.A. literacy program. One night, however, a Nationalist informer apparently pointed her out to the police, who ordered her to leave Shanghai immediately. Witke describes her nocturnal flight from the city:

She walked quickly, running whenever she could. As she passed through neighborhoods, undoubtedly cutting a bizarre figure, there were other attempts to waylay her. She escaped. Soon she reached the city limits, with the countryside just ahead. Breathless and weary, she sped down the road. Suddenly rough hands seized her from behind and pinned her down. With all her might she struggled to break away but failed. "I'm being kidnapped!" she screamed over and over again at the top of her lungs. That was in vain, for beyond the city limits there was no one to hear her. She had assumed that her captors were police, but when she studied them more closely she saw that they too were dressed in the civilian style of secret agents. As they proceeded along the dark road, she tumbled off the roadway, intentionally leaping into a paddy field. Before the men regained control of her she slipped her secret document, the application form from the Shanghai Party organization, out of the corner of her waistcoat. As fast as possible, she stuffed it into her mouth, chewed it vigorously, and swallowed. The sensation of paper passing into her system was peculiar to say the least. Yet she knew that she had destroyed all visible evidence of that incriminating affiliation.

After pulling her back into the road, the agents escorted her to the district police station, where they locked her behind bars.

Her olive skin glistening from the unremitting heat of the late evening become an early morning, Chiang Ch'ing said, "So I was once kidnaped and detained for eight months by the Kuomintang," a phase of her past she had never before revealed.

Released from jail early in 1935, Chiang Ch'ing resumed her acting career, gaining some fame for her portrayal of Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House and then appearing in several popular films. In 1937, however, her career as an actress came to an end. At the time, Japan began its full-scale invasion of China. The Communists' Red Army had just completed its epic Long March from the Southeast to its new headquarters at Yenan in remote northern Shensi province.

A strained peace emerged between the forces of Mao and those of Chiang during which thousands of left-leaning intellectuals went to join the Communists in Yenan. The ratio of men to women was about 18 to 1, writes Witke. Some of the Communist soldiers who had lost or abandoned their wives during the Long March formed "local liaisons. " But most were too young or poor for this and were urged by their commanders, in Witke's words, "not to dissipate their virility on sex and their money on prostitutes." In this puritanical atmosphere, the newcomers from the cities — many distinctly bohemian—were regarded with suspicion. That applied to Chiang Ch'ing, the movie actress, who arrived in August 1937. Her journey to Yenan was arduous: she rode in the backs of trucks, and where roads had been destroyed, she had to switch to horseback, although she had never been on a horse before. One mount almost ran away with her.


The key event in Chiang Ch'ing's decade-long stay in Yenan was, of course, her marriage to Mao, a man whom she already knew by reputation:

While still in Shanghai she had heard rumors about the Red Army's maverick chief Mao Tse-tung and his redoubtable partner Chu Teh. Sporadic news reports and travelers shuttling back and forth between the White and the Red Areas conveyed mixed impressions of Mao, a peasant rebel and people's defender with a modern revolutionary consciousness. She had only a faint idea of his appearance and no notion of his personality. Like other recruits to Yenan she was fascinated by differences among the leading comrades and became aware of Mao's aura of aloofness—his Olympian air, as some called it.

Mao Tse-tung learned about her as Lan P'ing, the actress, not long after she arrived. How could she tell? He sought her out personally and offered her a ticket to a lecture he was to give at the Marxist-Leninist Institute. Startled and awestruck, she declined, then swiftly conquered her shyness, accepted the ticket, and went to watch him perform.

From the early days of their marriage [he was 45, she 24] they joked about their disparate backgrounds, Chiang Ch'ing recalled wryly. The Chairman used to tell her that as a child she learned to "believe in deities and read Confucius." From there she went on to learn the "bourgeois stuff," as he put it; that came with indulgence in theater. Only later did she begin to tackle Marxism-Leninism, which was her  third stage of learning.

Her past political frustrations kept haunting her.

Long after she left Shanghai, she remembered in anguish, she could not rid her mind of the personal enemies she had made there, for many had resurfaced in Yenan. They let her know that if she refused to comply with their propositions (which she did not spell out here, though they probably included being forced to work in politically compromising films), they would kill her. [By "politically compromising," Chiang Ch'ing meant emphasizing national unity with the Nationalists against the Japanese rather than class struggle against landlords and capitalists.]

Then, after she became wife of the Chairman and still found herself alienated from the work she wanted to do, she feared that misconceptions about her personal history were still unresolved. With no one to defend her (apparently not even Mao), she made another special appearance before the Party organization just to impress upon these ostensibly fair-minded men her plight in Shanghai.

"We were clear about your history," they responded.

[But] continuing blandishments from the Party organization could not dispel her suspicion that some of the present leaders continued to oppose her and were responsible for cordoning her off, for not allowing the masses to know her.


At one point, an extraordinary incident occurred. As Witke tells it:

Restless, Chiang Ch'ing arose, beckoned me to follow, and motioned her bodyguard to lead the way through the tall doors that opened in to the pitch-black night. Obviously perplexed, [the aide] reached for his flashlight and plunged ahead into the humid night air and faint moonlight. She followed him and I her. Chiang Ch'ing had deliberately led us out of reach of the indoor microphones [two had been placed before each of them to record the interviews].

As she walked along, Chiang Ch'ing spoke briskly and excitedly. We had to pick our way gingerly to avoid being impaled on the glinting bayonets held by young PLA guards hidden in the bamboo thicket lining the narrow pathway.

"There are certain things I want to tell you, but not the world." With these words Chiang Ch'ing opened a torrent of talk. She knew of the international gossip about the circumstances of her marriage to Mao, but was not unduly concerned by it. [According to the gossip, Mao was so smitten with the young actress that he banished his third wife * Ho Tzu-chen. Also banished was another actress, Lily Wu, who had been close to Mao before Chiang Ch'ing arrived. Rumors also claimed that Mao's marriage to Chiang Ch'ing was opposed by other party leaders who agreed to it only on condition that she stay out of politics.] Most of this was rubbish, malicious rumors possibly started by Mao's rival Wang Ming and his ilk. Nevertheless, she had something to say about it.

By the time the Party arrived in the Central Soviet Districts (she probably meant Yenan in January 1937), Chairman Mao and [his wife Ho] had been separated for over a year. By the time she herself arrived in Yenan straight from Shanghai in the late summer of 1937, Mao and Ho were divorced. Ho had left the Northwest and was already convalescing from illnesses in the Soviet Union. Who initiated the divorce procedure? Ho Tzu-chen—not the Chairman, she said pointedly.

Although she never met Ho, she pieced together elements of her character from comments by various members of the Chairman's family, and occasionally from the Chairman, who was notably reticent about her. Ho Tzu-chen, Chiang Ch'ing was made to realize, was a stubborn woman who "never came to understand the political world of Chairman Mao." Her problems were linked in part to her family background; birth into the landlord-merchant class had accustomed her to fairly high living standards. When cities were taken during the Long March, Ho announced that she wanted to quit the March and settle down there because she was used to living in cities.

Those temperamental problems were compounded by misfortune, Chiang Ch'ing continued. During the March Ho was wounded several times in enemy attacks, experiences which destroyed her physical and mental balance. By the time the Red forces reached the Northwest in late 1935, she was beyond coping with either the political situation, her children [at least two but total number unknown], or other personal relations. Naturally, the Chairman found her behavior intolerable. When the Party reached the Central Soviet Districts of the Northwest, Ho abandoned the Chairman, vowing never to settle in Yenan. She returned on her own to Sian. With no one to cajole or control her, she took out her frustrations on her two children by beating them compulsively. Even as adults they showed the effects of having been battered, Chiang Ch'ing said. Like their mother and because of her they failed to adjust to the demands of socialist life.

Around 1939 Ho and the two children—the daughter was still tiny—were sent by the Party to Moscow. Depressed in her isolation, she resumed beating her children mercilessly. Eventually she gave up trying to mother them at all. Others took custody and she was committed to an asylum. In the late 1940's (when Stalin was becoming increasingly disenchanted with Mao) she was sent back to Shanghai. Aged now, she still lives there in a mental institution. Periodically she is given shock treatments.

At some point early in her marriage Chiang Ch'ing took charge of [a] son of Mao's (whether he was Ho Tzu-chen's child was unclear). This little boy evidently had been sent to Moscow and later returned to Shanghai, where he was put in the care of a priest, a man with two wives who turned out to be vicious women. They beat the boy so mercilessly that his sense of balance was permanently impaired. How well Chiang Ch'ing remembered his little body rocking crazily left and right. Even years later he still swerved from side to side, often tripping.

Chiang Ch'ing came to love this child, rearing him as her own son until the early 1950's, when she had to undergo radiotherapy for cancer. Naturally, the intensive medical care made it difficult for her to look after him. "Others" (unnamed) decided that she was no longer able to mother him. Against her pleadings "they" tore him away from her, refusing to tell her where he would be placed. The loss was profound, for he was very bright; at the age of three he could sing the Internationale from start to finish. She never found out where his abductors hid him nor did Mao. [Who the abductors were and why even the all-powerful Mao could not find the child are mysteries that Chiang Ch'ing did not clear up in her interviews.]

I mentioned to Chiang Ch'ing that some foreign sources have claimed that she had two daughters of her own and perhaps also a son. She gave birth to but one child, she replied firmly, and the Chairman was the father. *


The book offers some fascinating glimpses of Mao and her relations with him. In Yenan he was a kind of rural patriarch. There were many informal get-togethers (dubbed "Saturday night barn dances" by visiting Americans) at which leaders mingled with followers. Women liked to show off their new independence by choosing their own dancing partners, and even Mao might be asked (but "respectfully"): "Chairman, will you please dance with me?" There was obvious humor and tenderness between Mao and his wife.

In one of the caves that served as their home, Mao once discovered that Chiang Ch'ing had bedded down on a heap of bedbugs. Mao formally renamed the cave "Bedbug Headquarters" and helped start an "extermination campaign "against the vermin. Another time, during a difficult mountain march in a driving rainstorm, she was wearing the only rain cape in the entire army. Though it was soggy, she offered it to him—and he reluctantly accepted. (This, observes Witke, was a personal victory for her.) A little later, he removed a thermos flask of liquor from his belt and silently passed it to her. At one point during her recollections, Chiang Ch'ing reached for a gold-brocaded box and drew from it a delicately carved sandalwood fan. On it, in a sample of Mao's own renowned calligraphy, was one of his poems titled "Winter Clouds":

... Only heroes can quell tigers

and leopards

And wild bears never daunt the


Plum blossoms welcome the

whirling snow;

Small wonder flies freeze and


When Mao was under stress, he would sometimes take his troubles out on her. Once, when the Nationalists had started bombing the Communist strongholds in Yenan, she reported to him that his own aides were afraid. "You are a coward!" he snarled at her. Strain sometimes was caused by their strikingly different backgrounds. She was a city girl. Mao came from a well-to-do peasant family, and rebelled against his conservative father—whom, as Chiang Ch'ing recalled, Mao would still curse even when he was in his seventies.

The Communists—and Chiang Ch'ing—were headquartered at Yenan until 1947, when a Nationalist attack finally dislodged them. More than two years of bitter civil war followed, ending in the rout of Nationalist forces and their retreat to Taiwan. On Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Tse-tung stood atop Peking's Gate of Heavenly Peace and proclaimed the People's Republic of China.

When the Chairman, Chiang Ch'ing, and some leading comrades and their troops descended upon Peking in March 1949 and took possession of its center point, the Imperial City, they appropriated for their own use the western section bounded by the central and southern lakes called Chung-nan-hai (literally, Central and Southern Sea). Each leader, and his wife and children —those who had survived the war—were assigned an apartment within this formerimperial establishment. Although long stretches of the Imperial City walls had been removed to ease traffic along the great avenues, the leaders' residences were still beyond public view, as were their private lives. Chiang Ch'ing's and Mao's apartments, marked off by intricately carved and colorful pillars in the Ming style, were separate but connected.

They always lived simply, Chiang Ch'ing said of Mao and herself. Most of their time was given over to reading, study of current events, writing, and occasional involvement in the world outside. Rarely did she and the Chairman go out together. Almost never did they dine out for their own pleasure. Since they made their home in Peking, they went to restaurants (a pleasure of her younger days) only a few times. The Chairman was not very careful about what he ate, she admitted with a wry smile. He ate quickly, and was usually full by the time the last course arrived. What happened was that he forgot that there would be a last course, and by the time it arrived, he had no interest in it. That habit of his reminded her of Wang An-shih, the prime minister of the Sung dynasty, who was known always to consume the dishes which happened to be positioned closest to him without taking notice of other dishes arrayed on the table. When his wife told the cook that he always favored those dishes placed near him, the cook thought it was the dish he liked, not just its proximity. When she mentioned this to the Chairman, he chuckled and said to her, "That's all you know about history, and you tease me about it!"


All during the late '50s, troubles were beginning to brew with the Soviet Union, then China's chief international ally. By 1960 the break between the two countries was complete. While Chiang Ch'ing did not play a direct role in foreign affairs, she did have some contact with Soviet leaders. Leonid Brezhnev she would later describe as "the biggest clown in the world"; Nikita Khrushchev was "a big fool." She was particularly bitter about him because he had talked to foreign statesmen about the "yellow peril."

Her only brush with him was in 1954. She remembered standing among the leaders on the rostrum of the Gate of Heavenly Peace to review the parades, demonstrations, and fireworks that marked the state's fifth anniversary. Chou Enlai, always alert to proprieties, made a move to introduce Chiang Ch'ing to Khrushchev. Seeing what was about to happen, Chairman Mao stood up, walked over to Chiang Ch'ing (almost never did they appear publicly side by side), and brusquely escorted her away, leading her down one of the two alleys that ran along the sides of the rostrum. There the two of them enjoyed the fireworks together, out of the public view. The memory she cherished. [Chinese leaders rarely appear publicly with their spouses.]

Khrushchev's visit to China in the fall of 1959, ostensibly to celebrate National Day on the first of October, was tedious and painful. On that occasion Khrushchev announced he would withdraw all his experts from China and pressed the Chinese to pay all their debts. [The Soviets also] told the Chinese they wanted to set up a long-range broadcast station in China. Had they won that argument they would have been able to control China's entire communications system. They also offered to establish a joint fleet that would have enabled them to dominate all of China's waters, coastal and inland. As a matter of fact, the Chairman agreed to the last proposal, but only on the condition that the Chinese pay for such a system. Chairman Mao told Khrushchev, "This is a matter of principle: otherwise you'll take every thing away."


During the 1950s, Chiang Ch'ing faded almost entirely from the political scene. Reason: cervical cancer and other ailments. In the 1960s, her health finally restored, she emerged from relative obscurity to dazzling prominence. At first she worked from behind the scenes, playing an increasing role in the arts, particularly as a chief critic of "bourgeois" plays and movies. Early opposition to her was swept aside by the Cultural Revolution. Conceived by Mao as a way of re-revolutionizing the Communist Party, the massive assault on the bureaucracy soon got completely out of control, degenerating into constant factional violence in which tens of thousands were killed. But it was Chiang Ch'ing's chance for power as China's cultural dictator, and she reached a kind of political apotheosis. Yet as violence mounted, Chiang Ch'ing's offices were attacked several times, and, as she reported, students occasionally threatened to "fry her in oil and strangle her."

A serious threat to the Peking leadership came in 1969, only months after the fighting among Cultural Revolutionary factions had been quelled by the army. Defense Minister Lin Piao, who had been formally named Mao's successor, allegedly attempted to assassinate Mao and take supreme power for himself. When his plot failed, the official but as yet unverified account continues, he died in a plane crash over Mongolia while he was trying to flee to the Soviet Union. Chiang Ch'ing recounted the entire case in great detail during her interview, disclosing several new elements in the Lin-Mao struggle:

"[Lin Piao's] men drew up a sketch map of our residences and were going to attack and bomb them and finish us off all at once." More pointedly, she said that during the time Lin Piao's men controlled their residence he arranged for toxic substances to be added gradually to the meals consumed by Chairman Mao and her. They became ill, and she remained ill, especially neurologically, during most of 1969. Only recently had she recovered, she added.

Chiang Ch'ing then went on to say, "Comrades like the Premier and myself were on the side of Chairman Mao. They [Lin Piao's Ultra-Left] set fires everywhere, and we acted like a fire brigade. [In 1971] Chairman Mao continually advised the Premier on how to deal with such clashes, but Mao's ideas were not easily carried out. During the peak of the crisis she flew to the side of the Premier several times to help "cool things down." Constant threats, divisiveness among the people, and conspiratorial actions made it almost impossible for them to work—even at their home at Chung-nan-hai, which had also become infiltrated by the enemy. Nor could they sleep or eat there safely. Just to survive the Chairman and their defenders quietly evacuated Chung-nan-hai and established themselves at the Chinhai Hotel. That was inconvenient, so they moved on to the Great Hall of the People. The leaders' search for a haven against Lin Piao's conspiracy to overthrow Chairman Mao had not been revealed to outsiders before this moment, she added.

"[In the end,] just as Chairman Mao said to [French Foreign Minister Maurice] Schumann [on a visit to China in 1972], Mao applied a drop of alcohol and Lin Piao was finished." [Mao probably meant, figuratively, that he rubbed Lin Piao out.]


Apparently under Chiang Ch'ing's influence, Mao had proclaimed that all plays portraying "ghosts" or "emperors and princes, generals and ministers, gifted scholars and beauties" should be banned. Instead, there should be idealization of the proletariat. Thus Chiang Ch'ing had started during the Cultural Revolution to build a new "proletarian " art from scratch. One of her successes was the showy Red Detachment of Women—performed for President Nixon in Peking in 1972. She recounts the difficulties she had in staging this theatrical extravaganza:

Chiang Ch'ing explained to me how, when she undertook this ballet in the early 1960s, there was absolutely no precedent for using ballet to show military history, and almost no one would support her intent to establish it. In search of approval from among the leaders, she invited Premier Chou to attend a rehearsal of an early version, which he did. The weak spots that he pointed out they changed. To educate her dancers in the ways of the military, she decided to send them down to live with a PLA unit for some months.

As soon as she had released her order, Chou Yang announced from his high office in the Ministry of Culture that he was sending the very company she was working with to Hong Kong to perform Swan Lake! She was outraged but helpless. [Chou Yang reportedly maligned] The Red Detachment as an "infant in swaddling bands sucking its thumb" and an "ugly daughter-in-law."

[Nevertheless] she continued the revisions and finally accompanied the ballet on tour in the major cities. Back in Peking, she went with Premier Chou to another performance, which had been much revised. His calling it "real revolution" gratified her. After the final curtain she and the Premier went backstage to congratulate the dancers and musicians who had remained loyal to her throughout the battles of creation.


Chiang Ch'ing kept an eye on her favorite ballet and theater troupes, issuing the most detailed instructions. One performer recalled that when a play called for her to burst into tears, she would sit down and cover her face with her hands. Chiang Ch'ing protested: "Working class people don't sit down or bury their heads when they cry. They cry standing."

She also tried to apply her principles to the movies, inveighing against "the bourgeois system of centering on the director" and decreeing that films should be made according to "democratic centralism. " The result: the Chinese film industry was and remains shattered.

But as for herself, Chiang Ch'ing made no secret of her love for more bourgeois drama. She asked Witke:

"I greatly admire Greta Garbo's acting. Is she still around?"

Cultivating a private life in New York, I guessed.

"I must put in a good word for her. You Americans have been unfair to Garbo by failing to give her an Academy Award.* I believe this is the fault of those in power in the United States and not of the American people. When I was in Yenan a correspondent by the name of Brooks Atkinson used to discuss Garbo with me."

Brooks Atkinson had become well known in America as drama critic of the New York Times, I commented.

"No wonder he talked with me at such length about literature and art! Is he still in New York?"

"Yes, though retired."

"If you see him, please tell him that I still remember him. If you see Garbo, tell her I send her my regards. Greta Garbo is 'Great Garbo'! Her interpretation of 19th century bourgeois democratic works is outstanding. There is a rebellious side to her character. She has an air of dignity; she is not affected; and she does not theatricalize."

One evening after a late dinner in Canton and a gracious promenade around a hall in her villa, Chiang Ch'ing revealed that she had a treat in store: Garbo's Queen Christina. Her face was glowing with anticipation. That Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film of 1933 was an old favorite of hers. She had ordered it flown down from Peking for the evening's entertainment.

Her eyes danced as the lights were flicked off one by one, and as we sat in the dark she remarked that no matter how often she saw this film she was entranced by it. Projected onto a portable screen, the film creaked and jerked with age, the actors' movements speeding unnaturally or grinding slowly. The sound track—it was the original one—was practically inaudible. Nor were there Chinese subtitles, a lack that did not daunt Chiang Ch'ing, who knew the screenplay perfectly from beginning to end. In fact, her running Chinese narration murmured into my ear was far clearer than the English dialogue.

Why was it permissible for her to enjoy such bourgeois stars as Garbo while strictly prohibiting the Chinese masses doing the same thing? Chiang Ch'ing's response to that question:

"Those bourgeois democratic films are to be reserved for private showing," she declared flatly. If the people could view them they would criticize them bitterly on political grounds. Such public exposure and attack would be most unfair to Garbo because she is not Chinese. The same was true for Chaplin, almost all of whose films she saw in the 1930s. Modern Times she recognized as a diatribe against dictatorship. Others of his films seemed to be pitched against Stalin and, most powerfully, against Hitler, which makes them "progressive." It is all right to screen these films "among ourselves" (the leaders), who decide on their strong and weak points. But those private showings cannot be publicized.


Western movies were not Chiang Ch'ing's only nonproletarian indulgence. Indeed one night she seemed far more bourgeois than revolutionary.

Once she signaled over her shoulder to her bodyguard, who promptly delivered a large oblong box of undecorated cardboard. Laughing like a girl, she lifted the cover and pulled out, as if by magic, one long, pleated black skirt after another.

"I like skirts," she announced as she handed out one each to her female attendants (myself excluded). "And they're comfortable in summer."

I asked her where they came from.

"From the Friendship Store!"

No matter to her that the official line on the Friendship Stores was that they were reserved exclusively for foreign consumers.

For her Canton retreat, Chiang Ch'ing had reserved an orchid park stretching between her villa and the Pearl River. On the fourth day of the interviews, Witke and her guides went to see Chiang Ch'ing in the park.

At a gentle pace we passed through moongates, traversed gardens skillfully landscaped "naturalistically," bypassed rustic tea pavilions, and crossed arched bridges over artificial streams and ponds. In the hazy distance arose a moon-viewing pavilion. Chiang Ch'ing, dressed in luminous silk, was seated on its veranda overlooking a lotus pond.

As we approached her, she greeted us gaily from her wide wicker chair and continued her "work," as she explained. From a basket she lifted rare specimens of orchid plants and laid them upon blotting paper stretched on light wooden frames built by her bodyguard. "You may photograph me at work," she allowed as she kept up her brisk pace, laughing and chatting in accompaniment. So I did. Despite the strong sun of the late afternoon, her bodyguard cast powerful artificial lighting upon her figure. Suddenly, she admonished herself for appearing so frivolous, walked to the balustrade, and affected a neutral expression of officiality against the lotus pond's lush background.

She changed the subject to the evening.

"Change before dinner, and why not wear something brighter? Why did you choose to wear black when you knew I would photograph in color naturally?"

I explained to her that my companions had recommended this somber costume.

"You should never listen to others," she declared. "You should always make your own decisions. Wear what you like and feel happiest in."


In the end, it was her all-too-glib ability to make distinctions between herself and the masses—whether in regard to movies, clothes or weightier matters—that would count against Chiang Ch'ing. Her fall, four years after her interviews with Witke, ended one of the century's most dramatic and important political careers. Mao himself had warned his wife of the extreme perils she would eventually have to face. In a 1966 letter to her, he speculated that after his death, anti-Communist rightists would make a bid to seize power. Then ...

Ten years later Mao sent Chiang Ch'ing another message in the form of a poem. She circulated it among her supporters while he was still alive, as if it were his last testament.

"You have been wronged," he told her. "Today we are separating into two worlds. I am old and will soon die. May each keep his peace. These few words may be my last message to you. Human life is limited, but revolution knows no bounds. In the struggle of the past ten years I have tried to reach the peak of revolution, but I was not successful. But you could reach the top. If you fail, you will plunge into a fathomless abyss. Your body will shatter. Your bones will break."

* [Mao's first marriage, to an illiterate peasant girl, was arranged in the traditional way by his parents and was never consummated. His second wife was Yang K'ai-hui, daughter of one of his teachers and mother of their three sons. She was beheaded in 1930 by the Nationalists.)

* [That daughter. Li Na. a historian by training, lives in obscurity and is probably in disgrace.]

* [In 1954, Greta Garbo was given a Special Award for "unforgettable" performances.]

顶端 Posted: 2009-02-08 00:10 | [楼 主]
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