THE WHITE-BONED DEMON: A Biography of Madame Mao Zedong by Ross Terrill
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THE WHITE-BONED DEMON: A Biography of Madame Mao Zedong

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Jiang Qing, in other words, though that's only her fourth and final name. In the competent hands of China specialist (and Mao biographer) Terrell, the would-be empress of China comes across pretty much as expected: brash, promiscuous, didactic, self-centered, and bossy. A basic source is Jiang's interview with Roxane Witke (Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, in the now-abandoned method of transliteration), conducted in 1972, before Jiang's fall from power and spectacular trial as leader of the Gang of Four; other sources are a Japanese biography; some Chinese publications, and some interviews Terrell conducted himself. The result, though not definitive, is satisfactory for general purposes. Before she met Mao, Jiang led a fast life that began as the daughter of a housekeeper and probable part-time prostitute. Precociously rebellious, she removed the bindings on her own feet; and at 14 found herself pretty much on her own. She joined up with a traveling theater group (or she may have been kidnapped) and caught the stage bug. Dramatic school and more actors' groups followed, along with marriage to an older merchant--the first of three husbands who preceded Mao and established a pattern of older men. Terrill runs fast to keep up with Jiang's bedhopping (one of his more lurid episodes is of a one-night-stand with a football player, who told-all); Jiang does seem to have been quite alluring, and at least as Nora in Ibsen's Doll's House, not a bad actress. She became a regular of the Shanghai film-making community and there, under the influence of a lover (not, in Terrill's view, out of ideological conviction), joined the Communist Party. When she was forced to flee the Nationalist crackdown and wound up around Mao in the communist stronghold of Yenan, the die was cast. Mao, says Terrill, was a lecher and a country bumpkin, and the attractive big-city actress had no trouble taking him away from his wife. From then on she had a new role as Mme. Mao, frustrated in trying to exploit her situation by being an appendage and by her lack of political or theoretical sophistication. During the 1950s, as the passion of Yenan faded and the routine of being China's First couple set in, Jiang became an elevated housewife and hated it. The Cultural Revolution changed all that: Jiang, instrumental in forging relationships between Mao and army leader Lin Biao, and with Shanghai intellectuals, emerged as goddess of the Red Guards and dictator of Chinese theater and art. She was important in turning Mao's attention to culture as a battleground, and strode onto it with revenge in mind (against former rivals in both theater and politics). But after Mao's death the backlash against his excesses engulfed Jiang, whose bid to become his successor was soon doomed. Terrili thinks that in letting Jiang speak out intermittently during her trial, when she sneered, snapped, and generally showed more spirit than her nine codefendants put together, China's new leaders were expressing their own guilt; after all, much that she said about their previous acts in Mao's name was true. The evidence--impressive in its own way--is that she is still unrepentant.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1983
Publisher: Morrow