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  • Totalitarian Jiang and The Sound of Music February 11, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    jiang qing

    There are few things as entertaining as a power struggle in the upper echelons of a totalitarian state. What could be better than glimpses of profoundly unpleasant people, with an endearing lack of boundaries, doing profoundly unpleasant things, to slightly or momentarily less powerful unpleasant people? Perhaps it is the closest we get to an ethical gladiatorial conflict. Though pity the millions below who run for cover every time these titans move their feet…

    A particularly striking example of totalitarian dog eats dog was the destruction of Jiang Qing (obit 1991). Jiang (aka ‘the Empress’ and ‘Blue Apple’) was Mao’s fourth wife and she was at the height of power during the Cultural Revolution when she waded up to her chin in the blood of about half a million Chinese subjects (usual riders about minimum estimates). Many of those who died were interestingly men and women who had crossed Jiang in her earlier career as an actress, many others had carried out more heinous crimes like playing the piano or not going to see her opera/film Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Jiang suffered a blow to her authority, in 1976 with Mao’s death (she then had no lender of last resort) and was finally put on trial for her crimes in 1980-1981 (by people who were scarcely less guilty).

    Even by the high standards of Chinese show trials Jiang’s proved fun. The indictment against her (and her three co-defendants) ran to some 20,000 words and is full of the most glorious Communist trivia. Highlights included Jiang asking for tree leaves in Canton to be dusted before her visit; eating golden carp; drinking saffron water; referring to the Emperor-Dowager as a ‘legalist’ (Beach particularly liked this one); taking out library books on empresses; playing poker while Mao lay dying (didn’t we all); and, crucially, watching The Sound of Music every night (the capitalist dog!). Jiang, who defended herself, constantly showed her contempt for the court: she also called her judges ‘fascists, renegades and traitors.’ And when she was accused of having people murdered she shouted back that she was Mao’s Alsatian and she bit whom he asked! Awkward.

    She was, of course, sentenced to death, but the Chinese court then muddied the water by giving a two year amnesty: perhaps for her to get her affairs in order?!? Then, two years later they funked it completely by sentencing her to life in prison, though most of her time was spent in a nice suburban house with her daughter. In 1991, with throat cancer, she hung herself. Before she jumped off the chair, however, she wrote a message to Chairman Mao: ‘your students and fighter is coming to see you!’ The old man must have been quailing. When you, reader, go to heaven, you’ll gambol through green fields with Julie Andrews. Mao, down in the ninth circle, gets the Blue Apple.

    Other totalitarian biffing: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com