“The White-Boned Demon: Madame Mao”

I was fascinated by Ross Terrill’s Madame Mao: The White-Boned Demon, the revised and expanded 1999 version of the 1984 The White-Boned Demon: Madame Mao. Her first given name was Shumeng (Pure and Simple). The historical name of the wife of Mao, would-be empress during and after the Cultural Revolution, and the defiant leftist who refused to confess as good communists always had at show trials, was Jiang Qing (Green River).


Her childhood was so terrible that the reader has to feel sympathy for her clawing her way into drama school (fixated on Nora in “The Doll’s House,” and restive in the 1950s when she was reduced to being a housewife of the promiscuous Mao) and manipulating men to get into movies in Shanghai (her stage name was Lan Ping).

It remains mysterious to me how she captivated Mao. None of the photos makes her seem beautiful or glamorous to me, but she played the part of a revolutionary while remaining an individualist, a very opportunistic one. And outlasted Lin Biao, Luis Shaoqi, and Zhou Enlai. She was allied to the first and last of these, and for a time had Den Xiaoping not only demoted but nearly expelled from the Chinese Communist Party. She defended herself as “Chairman Mao’s dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite,” and bemoaned that “Chairman Mao exterminated Liu Shaoqi, but not Deng, and the result of this omission is that unending evils have been unleashed on the Chinese people and nation.”


(at her trial)

She lacked knowledge of economics and statecraft, and failed to become empress, one of the many would-be successors to Mao who fell. She had been vindictive toward many who disappointed her and was plenty delusional, but stood up to the absurdities of her show trial, and hung herself only when convinced she would be imprisoned for life.

I think that Terrill pounds away a bit to much at the influence of Nora and the Tang Dynasty Empress Wu (624-705) too much, and there is a large cast of characters, including Mao’s children by four wives, including the daughter by her. The case shows how important personal relationships (not least grudges) were in Mao’s China.


©2018, Stephen O. Murray

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