BEIJING — CHINESE citizens responded with surprise but little remorse Tuesday to the announcement of the suicide last month of Jiang Qing, widow of Mao Zedong and a chief activist during the violent 1966-76 cultural revolution. News of the death of Jiang, who fell from power shortly after Mao died in 1976, is unlikely to spark protests or memorial activities among Chinese, Beijing residents say.
"Jiang Qing was hated by the Chinese people. No one will use this as an excuse to take to the streets," says a liberal intellectual who was active in the 1989 student movement for democracy.
Jiang committed suicide on May 14 in her Beijing villa, the official press reported on Tuesday. The report offered no motives, but revealed for the first time that Jiang had been released from custody in May 1984 for medical treatment.
The fiery actress-turned-radical was sentenced to death during a 1981 show trial. She was accused of leading the leftist "gang of four" in persecuting tens of thousands of Chinese, some to death, during the cultural revolution. Her sentence was later reduced to life in prison.
Yet Chinese said Tuesday that the government was wrong to blame the turmoil of that period on Jiang instead of on Mao himself.
"Jiang just obeyed Mao, he was the main instigator," said a Beijing worker.
During her 1981 trial, Jiang shouted at judges, "I was Chairman Mao's dog. If he said, 'bite someone,' I bit him."