Mao's Last Revolution

By Roderick Macfarquhar; Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview
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The First Salvos

On February 24, 1965, Mao Zedong sent his wife Jiang Qing to Shanghai on an undercover mission to light the first spark of the Cultural Revolution. She knew the city well, having been a minor actress on stage and screen there in the 1930s, before moving to Yan'an during the anti-Japanese war and marrying Mao. By the 1960s, Shanghai's prewar bohemian demimonde had long since disappeared, and the city had become a Maoist bastion.1 The Chairman relied on its leftist party leader, Ke Qingshi, for total support for his more extravagant schemes. It was the obvious place to send his wife to launch his most extravagant scheme yet.

Jiang Qing had been frustrated for years by her inability to influence cultural policy. When she married Mao in Yan'an in 1939, she bore the stigma of causing his divorce from an admired revolutionary heroine, Mao's comrade on the Long March. Mao's senior colleagues insisted that she devote herself to caring for the Chairman and stay out of politics for twenty-five to thirty years. By the mid1960s that prohibition was nearing its term, and Jiang Qing was making increasing efforts to play a role in the cultural sphere. She was not content to be just the consort of a great man. In her acting days, her favorite part had been Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House, the drama of a woman who broke free from her stifling conventional role as a housewife. Unlike Nora, Jiang Qing could not leave her husband because she wanted power, but she was determined not to be stifled by the party bureaucracy.2

Jiang Qing's growing desire for a political role may have been inversely related to the Chairman's diminishing desire for her; they were often apart, and Mao had long enjoyed dancing and dalliance with a bevy of attractive young women, often from cultural troupes, some of whom became members of his household.3 What is clearer is that, though Jiang Qing could legitimately claim experience and expertise, the relevant officials regarded her as an interloper and


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