Mao's widow at center stage in China trial

A proud, lonely woman stood at the bar to face a battery of 35 judges, many of them once her victims. Jiang Qing, Mao Tse-Tung's widow, was brought to trial with nine codefendants Nov. 20 before a special court at No. 1 Zhengyi Lu (Justice Street).

Madame Mao (or Miss Jiang as she is called here) looked composed and conscious that she was the star of the occasion as she entered the crowded courtroom escorted by a bailiff and took her place beside her codefendants. She was dressed simply, in a black Mao suit, her jet black hair combed straight back.

On the eve of her arrest four years ago, she was well-nigh all-powerful. In the cultural and literary fields, her tastes ruled China: As one intellectual recalled, a nation of 800 million people had just eight approved revolutionary plays.

For China, her influence, and that of her cohorts, on the aging Chairman Mao during the 10 tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was disastrous. The Chinese are only now beginning to climb out of the political, economic, and social chaos of those years, and the rigid ideological straitjacket into which Jiang Qing and her "gang of four" tried to place the entire nation.

But in human terms her story is the story of a would-be Joan of Arc who ended up in the public mind as a witch. Born in Shandong province, in her youth she was a not very successful actress in Shanghai, on stage and screen. She played Nora in Ibsen's "The Doll's House," but failed to get the part of Juliet when Zhao Dan, her partner in "The Doll's House," was given the role of Romeo.

In 1939 she went to Yenan, headquarters of Mao Tse-tung's communist regime. Here she caught the Chairman's eye and married him. She was his fourth wife and 20 years younger than he.

"She was lonely there," recalled the writer Ding Ling in a recent interview. "People deferred to her because she was the Chairman's wife, but she had nothing much to do. She wanted to put on a play, or run a cultural club, but Chairman Mao wouldn't let her. All she did was to read and mark papers for the Chairman. She used to say that all she had was one man and three caves." (Yenan was famous for its caves cut into the thick loess cliffs.)

Her favorite actress was Greta Garbo. Her favorite actor was Gary Cooper. Her favorite novel was "The Count of Monte Cristo." Only when Chairman Mao was well along in years was she allowed a public role -- at first in the cultural field, then, disastrously, in the political field as well.

"She was used by people like Zhang Chunqiao," says Ding Ling -- "and she used them." (Zhang, next to Jiang Qing the most prominent member of the gang of four, was a veteran Shanghai journalist and party worker who would have become premier had the gang of four remained in power.)

So quiet when she was in Yenan, apparently Jiang Qing remembered every slight and insult she received, real or fancied, during those austere years. Many of the people who lost their jobs during the Cultural Revolution, or who suffered imprisonment, date their misfortunes to their relations with Jiang Qing during the Yenan years or before.

Now at last Jiang Qing has her day in court. In a perhaps typical gesture, she refused the three lawyers offered her by the court when she found that she would not be allowed to testify through them but would have to take the stand herself.

Can she have a fair trial, as the current Chinese leadership promises? "I cannot predict the results," says Ding Ling. "The people have great anger against the 'gang of four.'" (Ding Ling was one of the most prominent victims of the Cultural Revolution, having been imprisoned for five years on the express orders of Jiang Qing.)

Jiang Qing is said to have shown an actress's facility for remembering names and dates, and her entire defense is said to be based on the contention that whatever she is accused of doing was done on the orders of Chairman Mao himself.

To what extent the authorities, who accuse her of crimes (as distinct from the "mistakes" committed by Mao) will allow the public access (through television and newspapers) to what she has to say for herself, remains to be seen. The trial itself is open only to 880 selected spectators from all over China.

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