Echoes of Marie Antoinette in Chinese court

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

In terms of show biz, Mao Tse-tung's widow, Jiang Qing, is the star. In terms of legal proceedings, judges and prosecutors so far seem as one in the trial of "the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing counterrevolutionary cliques."

The defense has yet to be heard from. There has been no cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, however damaging to the defendants their testimony may be.

What remains in the memories of the public, 10 days after the trial began in the auditorium of the public security ministry in Peking, is Jiang Qing in a dark Mao suit, her head titled slightly, almost contemptuously replying to the judge's question: "It's not true. . . .I don't know."

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Thus might Marie Antoinette have faced her accusers during the French Revolution.

Under Chinese law, Jiang Qing has been promised the right both to conduct her own defense (she has refused an offer of court-appointed lawyers) and to make a final statement. To what extent she will actually be permitted to speak her piece, when her whole defense applarently is based on the contention that throughout the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) she acted in total obedience to commands given to Chairman Mao Tse-tung himself, remains to be seen.

Chinese leaders such as Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping make the point that the defendants are not being tried for political mistakes but for crimes.

To the public, however, watching trial excerpts on television (only several hundred selected Chinese spectators are allowed in the courtroom), the show biz aspects seem paramount, at least so far.

The trial seems to be unfolding according to a well-rehearsed script, in which most of the military defendants (those associated with Lin Biao, who was killed in an air crash in 1971 after the alleged failure of a plot to assassinate Mao) seem ready to admit their errors. As for the "gang of four" -- Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen -- there is an even split. Jiang Qing and Zhang remain defiant, while Yao and Wang are repentant, and, it effect, witnesses for the prosecution.

One dramatic moment in the trial came Nov. 26, when Wang Hongwen, a codefendant who was once one of Jiang Qing's closest friends, flatly contradicted her regarding a meeting of the so-called gang or four in October 1974.

The meeting, count 8 of a 48-count indictment, was to further the gang's purpose to "frame and persecute" Premier Chou En-lai.

"Is it true that you called Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen to building No. 17 Diaoyutai [the compound housing state guests] on the night of Oct. 17, 1974?" the judge asked Jiang Qing.

"It's not true," the defendant replied coolly.

"It's not true?" the judge repeated.

"I don't know [about this meeting]," Jiang Qing continued.

"What did you four talk about?" the judge pursued.

"Since I don't know about the meeting, how could I know what was discussed?"

That point went to Jiang Qing, agreed viewers watching television excerpts of the trial that evening.

After this denial the prosecution called Wang Hongwen, his hair close-cropped , his face expressionless, to testify that there had, indeed, been a meeting at building 17 on the night in question and that Jiang Qing had called it. Jiang Qing listened imperturbably to her erstwhile colleague.

Then came two younger women, Mao's niece Wang Hairong and interpreter Nancy Tang, testifying that Jiang Qing had told them to make insinuating remarks about Chou En-lai to Chairman Mao -- then visiting Changsha in Hunan Province.

That day the judge ended the proceedings by saying that evidence and testimony by witnesses and the defendant Wang Hongwen was plentiful and sufficient.

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