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Jiang Qing and the “Year of Nora” 1935: Drama and Politics in the Republican Period

 Natascha Gentz

(Frankfurt University)

(Draft prepared for the International Conference „Women in Republican China“, Berlin 6-11 October 2002. Please do not quote or circulate without permission)  

Jiang Qing, one of the main figures of the Cultural Revolution (CR) and last wife of Mao Zedong, is doubtless one of the most prominent and most controversially commented woman in modern Chinese history. In most PRC life descriptions of Jiang Qing two fundamental principles of the CCP historiographic method are applied: one is, to denounce a person with incorrect political positions as a fundamentally immoral person; the second is, to construct a life history which reveals the basic evil character of this person from his or her very beginning.[1] In Jiang Qing’s case, these evil beginnings are to be found in Shanghai. Although her activities in Shanghai have rarely been studied from a sound historical perspective, they have become a central point of reference to latter evaluations of her political career respectively to statements about her (evil) nature and character, which had inevitably caused national catastrophe of the CR. Jiang Qing’s Shanghai sojourn lasted from 1934-1937, during which she occurred on the surface of quite many newspaper reports and articles, either as a rather successful actress or a prominent social celebrity who had become the target of reports because of private scandals.

A major part of this paper reconstructs the history of Jiang’s „scandalous“ life as the actress Lan Ping in the context of the rising cultural industry in Shanghai. Remapping the complex and long-winded routes of her activities in this period is especially difficult, as there is not much reliable material available.[2] By tracing down contemporary news reports, I will attempt to sketch a picture of Lan Ping, as which she could have appeared to an audience in Shanghai which did not know yet about a forthcoming Jiang Qing. Jiang Qing’s most famous role was the main protagonist Nora in the play by Ibsen and the Nora-theme seems to run through her life and her life descriptions. Contextualizing her activities and own statements in the cultural sphere of the mid 1930’s in Shanghai shall explain, in which way she was attempting to dramatize herself in a very ambivalent manner, as a modern, progressive and (yet) attractive woman.

 This approach seems rewarding to me in a twofold way: on one hand it reveals the struggles and possibilities for survival of a - certainly strong-willed – independent individual women in the very uncertain and ever changing situation of the cultural industry in Shanghai in the 1930s. On the other hand it shows, how differently these struggles can be evaluated from an ex posto perspective, depending on whether the subsequent life of the person is seen as a success or failure.  

1.  Biographical Writing on Jiang Qing

The best-known account of Jiang Qing is certainly Roxane Witkes semi-autobiographical record of her life (Witke 1977), which was quickly repudiated by academic scholarship and gives a unfiltered depiction of Jiang Qing as she wanted to present herself in the late years of the Cultural Revolution. As far as I know, it was never translated as a whole into Chinese, but is often quoted in Chinese literature on Jiang Qing.[3] Chinese biographies or biographical sketches of Jiang Qing appear from the start of the CR, many of them first published in Hongkong. Among the first biographers are Zhong Huamin (Zhong Huamin 1967a), whose Jiang Qing zhengzhuan was translated into English as Madame Mao - A Profile of Jiang Qing (Miller & Zhong: 1968) and Japanese (Zhong Huamin 1967b) and Ding Wang, who has compiled a short biography in the same year (Ding Wang 1967).[4] Publications from the PRC during the Cultural Revolution, as e.g the „Brief introduction of Comrade Chiang Ch’ing“ (1967), emphasize her devotion to Mao Zedong as political leader, whereas they silence her marriage with him in Yanan. Her contributions to the creation of the model operas are emphasized and legitimized by her experiences as an actress in the Lu Xun Academy in Yanan,  - whereas her professional experience in Shanghai is silenced out.

It is obvious that these CR-sources attempt to construct a politically correct biography by focussing on her patriotism and subsequent turn to the revolutionary cause, her promotion of the „spirit of Yanan“, her immediate identification and support of the correct party-line in the two-line struggle, her participation in the liberation war (since she could not be merited for having taken part in the Long March) and her absolute obedience to Mao and the Mao Zedong ideas. Publications mentioning Jiang Qing’s activities in Shanghai were banned in this period, as e.g. the prominent film history by Cheng Jihua, Zhongguo dianying fazhan shi (Cheng Jihua: 1981)[5] and the rumour circulated for years that Mao had ordered to destroy all her films after their marriage in Yanan (Witke 1977: 131). In her self-depiction, Jiang Qing is eager to either play down her experiences as insignificant endeavours or integrate them into a narrative of her life-long dedication to the revolution (Witke 1977, chapter 1, passim) which was obstructed by the bourgeois cultural leaders of Shanghai.

The latter sources after her arrest in 1976 work just to the opposite: they discuss her dubious proletarian class background (The Criticism Group 1979) and her activities in Shanghai are singled out as examples of her vicious character (Renmin wenxue chubanshe pipanzu 1976). Instead of having been hindered by the „black line“ in Shanghai - which was her interpretation – it is claimed that she herself was promoting the black line (Wen Ping 1979: 56-57). Main purpose of these reproaches was of course to undermine her authority in the cultural realm, which she allegedly had entirely controlled and homogenizised through the model operas. Moreover her ambitions as an actress were interpreted as her fundamental desire to appear in public and her ambitions to become a powerful public persona, just like those heroic roles, she had played on stage. In this line of arguments, her marriage with Mao was just a consequent step in her constant search for a significant role, which she - because of her lack of talent - could only gain through the support and promotion of a powerful man. Evidence to this is given by the sudden publication of quotes from letters and articles she had published in Shanghai (Wang Jiang Zhang Yao zhuan’an zu 1976: 87).[6]

As post-Mao CCP historiographers on the CR solved the dilemma how to explain the catastrophy of the CR by maintaining the picture of a great leader Mao Zedong and putting all the blame on the Gang of Four and especially Jiang Qing, it was necessary to disintegrate the relationship between Mao and Jiang Qing both on a political as well as private level.[7] Now it was important to give a correct depiction of Mao Zedong’s attitude towards Jiang Qing, which would testify that he was aware of Jiang Qing’s evil character, yet was not able to prevent her ambitious activities. Therefore, together with the „Resolution on Party History“ (Resolution 1981) a handful of quotations by Mao were widely published, in which he had criticised the conspiracies of the „Gang of Four“ or has made remarks on Jiang Qing’s „yexin“ (mad ambitions).[8]

After this official verdict, official statements about Jiang Qing are rarely to be found. Most strikingly, the official handling of her suicide reveals the attempt of the Party to erase this person from the cultural memories of the people. The Renmin Ribao published only a few lines more than two weeks after her death (Renmin Ribao, 5.6.1991:4), the party-organ Xinhua yuebao, which has a special section for „deaths of important inland personages“ does not list her. In the Renmin Ribao article as well as in the PRC Dictionary of famous Chinese women, her marriage with Mao is not mentioned.[9]

Nevertheless, Jiang Qing remained a source of inspiration for fictional texts in China as in the West, as e.g. Lucien Bodard’s novel which describes in detail Jiang Qings early romances before Yanan (Bodard 1992). Also Anchee Min just recently came out with a novel on Madame Mao, which is allegedly based on historical archival material as well as diaries, letters and newspaper clippings (Min 2000).[10] The constant popular interest in the person Jiang Qing in China is reflected in numerous unofficial biographies and popular semi-fictional accounts of her life which appeared to a large part in Hongkong but were available in China already during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Many of these accounts attempt to substantiate the reproaches made against her in official post-CR documents by embedding them in fantasies about scandalous intrigues. One such example is Zhu Shan, a doctor responsible for high cadres before 1949, who sojourned - like Jiang Qing - in Moscow during the 1950’s. Her first account Jiang Qing yeshi appeared already in 1980, followed by another book written in 1988 and published under two different pseudonyms in Hongkong and the PRC (Zhu Shan 1988a and 1988b). Written as a novel that gives no sources it is of course a dubious historical source. To the contrary, popular historians like Ye Yonglie and Cui Wanqiu present some more material-based studies of Jiang Qing, which also focus on the early years of her life.[11] Apart from the mostly accurate sources also here we find interpretations of her life which reflect the general verdict and present her as the active and evil (selfish) part in a historical tragedy, in which Mao as a rather passive male counterpart is overwhelmed, seduced and then deceived by her sexual attraction. Again, the combination of sex and power is a central theme in these accounts and they could be read as direct counter-texts to Jiang Qing’s own politically motivated self-presentation in Roxane Witke’s account. Most striking is that all these depictions elaborate a parallel argumentation of Jiang Qing’s strategies as an actress in Shanghai and part of the political elite in Yanan: in both cases, it was because of her lack of talents in Shanghai or a true revolutionary spirit in Yanan that she had to functionalise men in power in order to achieve her goals.

In the following section I will confront these narratives on Jiang Qing with reports and articles written on her or by herself, which seem to allow quite a different picture of her as an actress in Shanghai. By briefly discussing the various tasks and roles required to be fulfilled by a „modern actress“ and positioning Jiang Qing’s statements and activities within these various, often contradictory claims, I would tend to argue, that the strategies she chose in order to maintain a position on the new cultural market were just as ordinary and most importantly rationally chosen as those of many other of her colleagues of the time. Jiang Qing seems an especially rewarding example to display the multifarious difficulties a modern actress had to face on the new public stages, to show the ambivalent social and political status of actresses as women as well as to reveal the range of possible evaluations of their activities by contemporaries as well as latter historians.  

2. Jiang Qings long-winded way to Shanghai’s Nora 

When Jiang Qing performed Nora in the Shanghai Jincheng da xiyuan (Golden City Great Stage) on June 27, 1935, she was already closely integrated into a social network of dramatic and literary circles. She was asked to perform this role by the newly found Shanghai Amateur Drama Association (Shanghai yeyu juren xiehui), into which she had entered on recommendation of Tian Han (Guo Hua 1998: vol.1, 171).  The association was one of the first professional drama troupes found in the early 1930s whose success marked a watershed in the development of a modern Chinese drama (Eberstein 1983: 112-114) which was partly due to its very successful performances of Ibsen’s Nora, Ostrowskis Storm and Gogol’s Revisor.[12] It hosted important dramatists, directors and actors as e.g. Tian Han, Yang Hansheng, Zhang Min, Jin Shan, Zhao Dan, Wei Heling, Gu Erji, Wang Ying, with many of whom Jiang Qing had established contact before.

Nora was directed by the prominent director Zhang Min and the star actor Zhao Dan, who had seen a previous performance of Jiang Qing through the introduction of Wei Heling and played the main protagonist Helmer.[13] Wei Heling, Wan Laitian and Wang Bosheng, who were also involved in the productions as actors or second directors, were acquaintances of Jiang Qing from earlier years Shandong time (Ye Yonglie 1993: 57).

The Nora performance was an instant success and was staged an unheard of period of two months. Naturally, Jiang Qing’s performance of Nora received especially great attention by the Shanghai press. The Shishi xinbao even published a special edition „Xin Shanghai Nala (Nora of New Shanghai)“ with a picture of Jiang Qing on the cover page, and Jiang Qing’s performative style was enthusiastically commented. As, at that time, the Nora theme had become an important topic on China’s stages, it was a distinguished honour to be invited to perform this role (that this has not always been the case will be discussed in the latter part of this paper). It thus seems puzzling, how Jiang Qing as an allegedly untalented actress managed to enter and even dominate the stage for a while as a Shanghai Nora.  

All biographical sources agree on the point, that Jiang Qing was an offspring of a poor family, (regardless whether her background was proletarian or not). Born in Zhucheng, she left this place with her mother after her father’s death in 1926 to seek shelter with relatives in Jinan. Due to Jiang Qing’s poor education, she was in constant lack of job opportunities and money. During her early training as an actress in Jinan and Qingdao she had to support not only herself but at times also her mother.

Her first professional acquaintance with modern Chinese drama took place in Jinan, where she entered the Shandong shengli shiyan juyuan (Experimental Academy of Shandong Province) directed by Zhao Taimou.[14] Zhao Taimou had studied with Wen Yiduo in the U.S. and was the husband of Yu Shan, a prominent actress who was closely associated with Tian Han and his progressive Nanguoshe (Ibid. 89).  Here in Shandong Jiang Qing cooperated already with the above mentioned Wei Heling, a graduate of this academy and later famous film actor in Shanghai (Guo Hua 1998,1: 44-49), and Wang Baosheng, who lead the theater department of the Academy and succeeded Zhao Taimou as its director in 1934 (Eberstein 1983: 214). When the drama academy in Jinan was temporarily dissolved for political reasons in 1931, Jiang followed Wang Bosheng to Beijing to enter the Huiming jushe (Dark and Light Drama Troupe) and perform in the Opera Yu Tangchun, albeit with little success.[15] Returning to Jinan she allegedly married the student Pei Minglun and lived together with him for two months.[16] More sources agree upon that she followed Zhao Taimou to Qingdao where he provided a job for her in the Qingdao University library, which he headed at the time. There she listened to lectures of Wen Yiduo and Shen Congwen and started to write some pieces by her own, a fact that she elaborates comparatively extensively upon in her autobiography and ironically comments upon as her participation in the „upper strata of culture“ (Witke 1977: 61-62).

During this period, she befriended with Yu Qiwei, brother of Yu Shan and propaganda chief of the Communist underground apparatus in Qingdao. It is generally accepted wisdom, that through Yu Qiwei Jiang Qing made first contacts to the CCP, although sources differ on the point, whether she was a regular party member at that time already; moreover, she established contact to the Left-wing Drama League (Zuoyi xijujia lianmeng)[17]. A large part of biographical sources mention Yu Qiwei as Jiang Qing’s first husband.[18]

During her sojourn in Qingdao she joined the university drama troupe Haiou jushe (Seagull Drama Troupe), a troupe closely connected to the Left-wing drama league in Shanghai, and performed together with Yu Qiwei (Ye Yonglie 1993: 37-38).[19]  Very likely because of the arrest of Yu Qiwei in spring 1933 Jiang had to leave Qingdao and went to Shanghai through the connection of Yu Shan, who introduced her to the house of Tian Han, where she lived for a while and met also with Liao Mosha (Ye Yonglie 1993: 41-3).[20]

Tian Han’s brother arranged a job for her in Tao Xingzhi’s School Chengeng gongxuetuan (Chengeng Work Study Group), lead by the communist Xu Mingqing.[21] According to Ye Yonglie and Jiang herself, Jiang lived for about a year in the outskirts of Shanghai and spent her time teaching singing and acting in different drama groups.[22]

When the Chengeng school was disclosed as a communist base after demonstrations in Shanghai in January 1934, Jiang fled with Yu Qiwei, who had been released from prison, to Beijing. Soon after she yet returned to Shanghai again and assumed a job as a teacher in the nightschool of a tobacco factory, which was arranged by Xu Mingqing.[23] When Jiang Qing was put into prison by the Guomindang in September 1934 it was also Xu Mingqing and her connection to the foreign community in Shanghai in the YWCA that helped her release in January 1935.[24] After a short sojourn in Yu Qiwei’s family in Shanghai, she followed him to Beijing again, where he had assumed a job as a teacher at Beijing Daxue. Shortly after their arrival she received the invitation to play Nora, which made her turn back to Shanghai again in April. Simultaneously she entered the Diantong Film Co. (Diantong yingpian gongsi), one of the large film corporations in Shanghai, which had engaged famous actors and actresses like Yuan Muzhi, Zhou Boxun, Wang Ying.

Her Nora performance attracted large public attention: numerous articles, stage photographs and interviews with Jiang Qing in the Shanghai papers, mainly the Minbao, Shishi xinbao, Shenbao supplements and film magazines comment her performance in a very positive tone.[25] At the same time, combined with her role as a new star, rumours about her private life arose and it is said that she was already then the object of quite a few prominent men’s fantasies[26], which was not at all exceptional in view of the fact, that many actresses had relationships with prominent producers, directors etc. who functioned as their patrons and promoters and that Jiang was new and still unattached in the film scene.

Thus, when Jiang Qing performed Nora, she had already been actively engaged in different activities of leftist „progressive“ drama troupes, educational institutions of leftist reformers and underground institutions of the CCP under a very repressive political climate of the GMD regime. Yet Nora was also only a starting point for a more constant career in the Shanghai film and theater realm, not the least also because she now settled more firmly in Shanghai.

Her film activities brought her in relationship with the literary critic Tang Na, a prominent journalist in Shanghai with a tendency to write „progressive“ or leftist articles and critiques[27], a fact that attracted quite some public attention.[28]

Jiang Qing continued to appear in the pieces of the Left Wing Drama League, in November 1935 in Gogol’s Revisor and, more prominently, in Ostrowski’s The Tempest in the main role of Katharina in February 1937, and in many other films and plays.[29] In May 1936 she entered the Lianhua Co. (Lianhua yingpian gongsi), after the Diantong Co. was closed down and allegedly competed with Wang Ying a few months later for the role of Sai Jinhua in a production by the Amateur Drama troupe but failed.[30] Zhang Min is said to have asked her to play the main protagonist Katharina in The Tempest, only in order to make up for her failure to receive the role of Sai Jinhua.[31] From April to May she rehearsed Wang Laowu, also written by Cai Chusheng, who had invited her to play the main protagonist.[32]  One month later, in June 1937, her contract with the Lianhua Company was cancelled. The last play in

which she appeared in Shanghai was „Qier“ (Abandoning the Child) by Zhang Min, staged by the Minming jushe (People’s Life Troupe).[33]

Given Jiang’s strong official abjection of foreign cultural products during the CR, it is not surprising that she hardly mentioned the many roles she played on Shanghai’s stages or played them down as bourgeois theatre, as almost all plays in which she appeared were translations from European or Japanese authors. As for the film parts she played, she did not, according to Witke, mention a single film title in her account, „even in response to several direct question“ (Witke 1977: 131).[34]

3. An Actress in Distress 

Jiang Qing had entered the Shanghai film scene at a time, when certain shifts in the cultural policy of the „progressive“ actors in the cultural realm had taken place. Whereas the film industry had been largely dominated by imported Hollywood productions, the release of „guochan“ films (films produced in China) had become increasingly popular after the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese in 1932 and the increasing political pressure of the GMD, (Lee 2001: 85). A new official CCP cultural policy fostered the orientation of dramatist and literati like Tian Han, Xia Yan or Hong Shen from theater to film (especially in the Lianhua and Mingxing Companies), in order to gain a broader and lower educated audience, and because film tickets were much easier available to the lower strata of the Shanghai society, which was the intended audiences of their propaganda message. Also in terms of contents, there was a new orientation towards social problems and labourers as main protagonists.

Women held a particular position in this public cultural environment: the admission of woman as actresses on stages was officially permitted only since 1911 and until the late 1920’s the government still issued regulations that mixed seating in the theaters was prohibited - it was universally permitted in the major big cities only since the 1930’s -  which shows that the appearance of individual women in public was still regarded as a controversial topic.[35] On the other hand, women quickly dominated the commercial realm by advertising a whole new consumer culture, fashion, clothes, household consumer goods in films as well as women magazines and the new print culture that was oriented towards women consumers. The new film magazines, advertisements and film critiques in the newspapers also arose curiosity and gossip about the private lives of the stars – as an inevitable part of the emergence of a star system of glamorous movie stars. Yet again, Leo Ou-fan Lee has observed how the new role of the Chinese public women in film yet differed from the mainly sexualized „fashionable feminity“ exhibited by the Hollywood stars, as it also stressed certain new qualities a new woman should possess apart from good looks that please the male gaze (Lee 2001: 93-94)[36]. Because of this merge of the political and commercial realm, even in the political propaganda films female actors had to meet expectations different from a pure conveying of a revolutionary message.  

Jiang Qing’s participation in political films was most likely as much an expression of her individual political devotion as it reflected the general trend of a growing popularity of and interest in such films. It was also the reaction towards an official Communist cultural policy articulated by those in the cultural scene with whom she was closely associated.[37] Her example illustrates how the new woman on stage or screen has to tackle with these different expectations that a woman in public had to meet: to be strong willed, intellectual, politically engaged and yet appear in public in a way that did not offend or directly confront traditional moral virtues. These public negotiations of new roles and expectations are reflected in the historical judgements of some peculiar instances in Jiang Qing’s life as an actress which will be dealt with here.   

One such instance is her sudden break with the Lianhua Co., which seems surprising, given her multifarious activities in the Shanghai cultural sphere. By this she lost a stable link to a cultural institution, which made her to leave Shanghai soon after in August 1937.[38] One reason why she was excluded from the Lianhua Company is said to have been her impertinent insistence to play Sai Jinhua.[39] According to these accounts, Jiang Qing allegedly stirred up so much trouble among the members of the drama amateur group that it split up and finally dissolved.[40] Only Wei Shaochang questions this narrative rather convincingly. According to him, Jiang Qing was never an option for the role of Sai Jinhua and instead the split in the theater group was caused by inner struggles, because some members opposed the election of Wang Ying as Sai.[41]

These later historical accounts have of course to be read with care, as this play later was labelled a „traitorous“. Jiang Qing’s involvement therefore serves as another evidence for her incorrect political behaviour. Jiang Qing herself of course denies any involvement in this struggle. Even Wei Shaochang, when explaining these historical circumstances feels compelled to explicitly emphasize that he does not want to defend Jiang Qing as a person yet wants to observe to historical fact as a historian, which shows, that it is still very difficult for a historians to write against the mainstream historiography of Jiang Qing. 

Another reason for her disengagement with the Lianhua Company is said to have been her affair with the actor and journalist Tang Na, who was a close friend of her colleagues Zheng Junli and Zhao Dan. As mentioned, this very complicated love affair was broadly covered by the Shanghai press. Their relation had started in September 1935, yet, according to Guo Hua, they separated already in spring 1936. When Tang Na received a position as playwright in the Mingxing gongsi, they reunited, Jiang Qing had an abortion and went to his family in Suzhou for recovery (Guo Hua 1998: 173). The first separation (though not the abortion) is confirmed by the account of Jiang Qing (Lan Ping) in her „Yige gongkai xin“ (A public letter), in which she explains, that Tang Na had threatened to commit suicide if they would separate.[42] Their reunion was publicly affirmed by their participation in a social event in April 1936, which aroused large public interest of the newspapers and came to be known as the joint „Wedding at the Liuhe Pagoda“.[43] Yet, at the end of the same month, Jiang went to Jinan to escape from Tang Na and seek for her former husband Yu Qiwei. Receiving her farewell letter from the hands of Zheng Junli, Tang Na immediately followed her to her family in Jinan, but was refused to see her. Later he received news, that she had already left Jinan. At this point he conducted his first actual attempt of suicide by swallowing matches and drinking pure alcohol. Tang Na was rescued and news about his attempt of suicide was quickly reported to Shanghai; they were even spread in Beijing and Nanjing in the Zhongyang Ribao.[44] Subsequently, Jiang Qing and Tang Na returned to Shanghai and lived (and quarrelled) together again for almost a year.

During this time she was rather busy playing in films and theater pieces, among them Katharina in The Tempest and a role in Zuisheng mengsi by the Irish dramatist O’Casey. These two pieces were both directed or translated by Zhang Min, the former director of Nora. Jiang Qing now started a love affair with this most prominent director in Shanghai, after having separated from Tang Na for the second time. When learning about this affair, Tang Na undertook a second suicidal „attempt“- by drowning himself in the waters of the Huangpu in the middle of the day, from which he was hindered by a close friend.[45] Because Zhang Min’s wife and mother of their child, the teacher and actress Xiao Kun, immediately divorced from him after news about his new relation spread in Shanghai, the press blamed Jiang Qing for having destroyed the life of two men at the same time. 

For Ye Yonglie and others, these events clearly reveal her tactics to use men for her career:, she had seduced Tang Na, in order to catch a prominent role in a movie, when she had no stage engagements. Having noticed, that Tang Na’s connections weren’t very helpful, , she abandoned him and turned back to the theater stage, supported by her new „victim“ Zhang Min.[46]  Apart from the fact, that these narratives depict entirely passive males which had but to surrender to the sexual attractiveness of an evil woman - not a very charming picture for the male counterparts, yet a stereotype of male anxieties of powerful woman in Chinese literature[47] - the articles of Tang Na and Lan Ping published in the press at the time reveal a somewhat different and more complex picture and shows how the different values of a new social behaviour, of revolutionary or progressive ideas and „traditional“ residuies were negotiated in a seemingly „modern relationship“ in the public press.  

When Lan Ping left Tang Na and went to Jinan she sent him a good-bye letter, in which she laid down her motives for departing from him: one reason was, that she had discovered his relationship with another actress, with whom he had exchanged love letters that were occasionally found by Jiang Qing. The other reason, which was also according to her letter the main reason for their constant quarrels, was her wish to leave the movie and theatre world in Shanghai and pursue a somewhat more meaningful life - while Tang Na was addicted to the seductions of the movie world and constantly tried to convince her to stay with him. A seeming compromise had been found for a while, that she would leave the movie after making one good movie. But Jiang had realised that she would continue to cling to this life, which seemed hopeless, frustrating and self-destructive to her. Jiang had decided to leave that tempting life of prominence and position for a job in a school, to which she was invited by a (CCP) person which could not be named in the letter.[48]  Leaving Tang Na, Jiang did actually go to Jinan to take up her old connections to Wang Bosheng and subsequently went to Peking to re-establish contacts with the CCP activist Yu Qiwei.

Before his suicidal attempt in Jinan, Tang Na responded in a letter to Jiang Qing and her descriptions of the situation: there is not a sign of reproach or rage against her, nor is he styling himself as a victim of her evil doings. Instead he admires her strong-willed devotion to the national cause and declares his intention to follow her on this path of a truthful and sincere fight against imperialism. Among many a romantic memories and words of desperation and self-critique he depicts her as an upright, outspoken and sharp person and ends the letter with his encouragement in her strenuous efforts to gain independence and freedom for the whole nation. Interestingly, this aspect of their personal differences - their different attitudes towards the world of movies and political engagement - is not discussed in the accounts on Jiang Qing’s life, most likely because it does not fit into the intended picture of an ambitious actress seeking for fame on the movie screens. Tang Na explains his suicide with his weakness to follow up to Jiang Qings ideals, a failure which he is not able bear. [49] 

Suicide is a topic frequently taken up in these discussions of their love affair, which is part of a self-styling and self-dramatization of the actors in public as well as part of a traditional way of „solving“ love problems. Jiang Qing admits that she had thought of suicide but had rejected this idea because she would not follow the tragic roles of a Lin Daiyu[50] or even the more real model of Ruan Lingyu, the famous actress who committed suicide in March 1935.[51] Suicide in China was a traditional model solution to problems for a woman in distress, especially when female virtues were in question. And it had become part of the May Fourth emancipation rhetoric to rebel against this solution of female surrender. Had Jiang Qing committed suicide like Ruan Lingyu, her fate would most likely have been commented as „tragic“ and „unjust“, just like in the case of Ruan Lingyu, and public opinion would have been made responsible for the „murder“. Yet, this did of course not hinder the - male dominated - press from accusing other actresses in the same way and for the same reasons as Ruan Lingyu. Jiang Qing’s open rebuttal of this option instead seems to have irritated parts of the public opinion at that time, respectively contemporary historians today as her outspoken appearance is now interpreted as part of her shameless, egoistic, self-centred character.

The conventional gender relations are turned upside down in this affair, as it is Tang Na, who commits suicide and apparently takes over the traditional female part. Yet, Jiang Qing repeatedly comes back to Tang Na, because of this threat and her compassion and pity for him. The male suicide - quite to the opposite to the traditional female one - thus again becomes a means of oppression and forceful implementation of a man’s individual interests.

Yet, this was also negatively commented and Tang Na was accused for his „selfish“, romantic and un-progressive behaviour represented by his suicide. Tao Xingzhi, for instance, the founder of the Chengeng school, in which Jiang Qing had taught in 1934, published a poem to Tang Na „To Mr. Tang Na“, in which he told him that „Lan Ping is Lan Ping, she does not belong to you. ... How can you take possession of her?“ and  admonished him to sacrifice is life for more meaningful purposes required by the new times.[52]

One of the main motives for the public exposition of these private affairs was certainly the aim to gain attention. Getting attention is one of the fundamental principles to survive in the world of media until today, and this was also realised by the Shanghai critiques of the time. One article about Jiang Qing starts with the comment that the most important condition to survive in the metropolis (dadushi) is to gain attention. Therefore everybody would look for means to get attention and also the affairs between Tang Na and Lan Ping had this special function. Although according to this article both had de facto a legitimate motive to seek attention, Jiang had to do so because she lacked professional qualifications (which is here „defined“ as the necessary good looks), whereas Tang Na’s need for seeking attention through his dramatic public suicide is not further explained.[53]

The obviously different evaluations of public statements made by men or women were also perceived and reacted to by the social actors, which is in this case reflected in the public letters exchanged between the two partners. When Jiang Qing published her last explanation of the whole affair with Tang Na in her „Public Letter“ in May 1937, she is on one hand strongly defending her case from the perspective of a individual and independent woman: „I’m certainly not going to be like Ruan Lingyu and kill myself because I am afraid what people say. Nor will I retreat. No. Lan Ping is a human being and will never retreat. Since in his eyes I had turned into such a shameful female, he certainly did not need to worry about me anymore.“ On the other hand, she argues from the perspective of a deceived, hurt woman, who was done injustice, when lamenting about Tang Na’s secret love affair with this other person (the actress Zhang Xingzhu), thus legitimizing her conduct with public morals. At the same time she presents herself as a self-confident woman mocking her male colleagues who are attempting to „destroy“ her:

„At the same time I heard that Tang Na’s friends were going to use some force in dealing with me. Ha, ha! Good Heavens! If they would be so brave in fighting against XX, then, really, China would definitely not be defeated. Unfortunately, to use it against one young woman, ha,ha....“. 

3. Lan Ping and Jiang Qing as “Nora”  

Emphasizing that „Lan Ping is a human being“ in this last “Public Letter”, Jiang Qing takes up the Nora theme, which certainly did not escape the eyes of the readers. Yet also this role was more than ambivalent and her performance of the role of Nora adds another, more sensitive dimension to these negotiations, as Nora  had (and still has) a very special status on Chinese stages.

When Hu Shi, one of the first to introduce Ibsen and Nora in his famous article „Ibsenism“ (Xin Qingnian, 1918), attempted to perform his own an adaptation of the Nora-theme Zhongshen dashi (A Great Event in Life) in Peking in 1919, no female actor was willing to play this apparently indecent role on a public stage (Eberstein 1983: 49-50).[54] Even more than a decade later, the „Nora incident“ that took place in Nanjing is an indication, that the content of the play was reason for discriminating women who played this role.[55] Thus, the representation of a figure like Nora on stage was directly linked to the social position of the actress in society. Such a reaction mirrors the contradictory confrontation with demands of new qualities for women formulated in - mainly male dominated - theoretical debates and the simultaneous accusation for the actual realisation of such demands by the society. Jiang Qing herself argues against such an identification in her article about the art of acting, when emphasizing, that acting is “art, not life”.[56]

This inner contradiction is visible also in social comments on the Nora performance by Jiang Qing. The ambivalence inherent in the perception of an attractive actress playing a strong-willed woman which wants to leave home might perhaps best be reflected in the different usage of the metaphor of a „little bird“ (xiao niao) in the following interview with Jiang Qing. That Ibsen’s Nora on stage rebels against being a “bird in a cage” and emphasizes to be treated as a human being, is well-known. While Jiang Qing  picks up this topic, stating that „one should not be like a ‘little bird’, act like a slave or playing of men, one should not offer one’s own life for men -  as woman we have to be independent (zili) and not be a parasite!“, the interviewer from the Minbao, Ji Cheng, uses the same metaphor when emphasizing Jiang Qing’s attractive and refined way of behaviour and expression by comparing her to a small bird with a clear positive connotation: „When Miss Lan heard the noise of my leather shoes, she immediately turned around like a „little bird“ and run over to me to welcome me“ or „while she was speaking increasingly engaged (about Nora) she could not abandon her natural and girlish attitude like a „small bird“.[57] 

To present oneself as a Nora, was therefore still not unproblematic although the theme combined the most important features of the debates on China’s woman emancipation. As such, the play gained an important and positive status among the progressive and politically engaged actors, authors and critics, and the year 1935 was called the „Nora Year“ by Tian Han, and later also A Ying and Mao Dun, because of its numerous performances on the stages of China’s larger cities (Eide 1987: 88). This above mentioned confusion of the representational space on stage and the social space in the actresses’ actual life was not entirely arbitrary, but also fostered by a specific and  increasingly limited perception of the function of drama (and literature) as realist literature of these intellectuals.

Their emphasis on interpreting Nora as a realist play had a political, connotation, which is most clearly revealed in the discussions following up the Nora hype.[58]  Reposing Lu Xun’s famous question of 1923 „What happens after Nora leaves home?” in 1934 a lively theoretical debate started in journals like the Guowen zhoubao and others about the role of Nora in the emancipation of Chinese women, which emphasised the importance of female economic liberty, gained through their participation in the production process. In the official ideological view, realism, the most important lesson to be learned from Ibsen’s play was seen in his propagation of individualism which meant a rebellion against feudal family structures and individual liberation and fulfillment. Nora’s rebellion was represented in the sound of her shutting the door, a radical and thorough break with her past. Yet, as was observed by Wang Zheng, for the male intellectual part, Nora functioned more as figure to express one’s own frustrations with the Chinese hierarchical and patriarchal family, to reaffirm one’s own superiority by „identifying an „‘oppressed’ and ‘inferior’ social group – woman” (Wang Zheng 1999: 59). 

The actress Jiang Qing, however, formulates the “problem of Nora” in a much more poignant and radical way and addresses questions of the female liberation which are not welcome in the political scene of the underground CCP.  

“I have played Nora in 1935, and more recently The Tempest, both plays that have the woman question as their central themes. Moreover, the performances had quite a great significance. […] But, since not long ago a young girl was violently kissed by a foreign seaman on the trolley bus, and reports that a woman worker of such and such company was raped by such and such foreman circulate widely in the newspapers, … - all this violence we have to endure unresistingly. In fact, we are living under such conditions of pressure. A single Nora leaving – can that be enough? No, it’s absolutely not enough! We need more practically oriented, more awakened woman! […] From the position of a woman and an actress, I demand from the authors […] to represent us, to produce scripts for the suffocating women!”[59] 

As Xu Huiqi has recently argued, the male discourse on the Nora theme contained the attempt to desexualize Nora in order to present her “door-shut” as a human act of individual liberation (Xu Huiqi, 2002), Jiang Qing is herewith re-sexualizing it against this dominant Nora-discourse: the salient issue of woman’s liberation is in Jiang Qing’s view not the question of political liberation through active participation in the production process but in the first place a question of liberation from physical male oppression. By this Jiang addressed the question of female sexual liberation in a direct and public way that transgressed even the “liberal” social norms and values of her political comrades. Jiang repeatedly explained that she objected marriage and that it was an open and accepted truth between her and Tang Na that they would in some future time separate and find other partners.[60] As the values of individualism propagated by Hu Shi via Ibsen, were not equally valid for men or woman, in public interpretation there was only a thin line between a radical strong-will and an alleged fake selfishness.  

This can be seen most clearly in judgements about the specific historical person Jiang Qing alias Lan Ping playing the Nora. Also her performance was directly linked to her “real-life” personality and not seen as an act of acting. Critiques of Lan Ping’s performance always highlighted her fluent, natural and highly convincing acting of Nora.[61] As Zhou Huiling has recently shown in a study on the role of actresses as “social actors” this identification was strongly promoted by the left wing social campaigns on actresses in the middle 1930s (Zhou Huiling, 2002). Although frequently insisting on the artistic and professional component of the work of an actress, Jiang Qing herself is following this strategy of identifying her representational role with her actual social role when she is repeatedly drawing comparisons between her and Nora, for instance by emphasizing how close Nora was to her own character, which made it so easy for her to play this role.[62] This shows how Jiang Qing is oscillating between her desire to have her private and public identity separated and  the necessity to follow the opposite demands of a film industry that did not distinguish between “acting well” and “acting good(Chang 1999:159). [63]

Jiang Qing presented herself as threatening, on one hand, and herself created the image of a birdlike “good girl”- Nora, on the other hand.[64] This Nora metaphor was subsequently applied to her life in many following accounts and she never got rid of the name of Nora in her later life. Ross Terrill refers to this theme in his Prologue by stating that „Mao treated Jiang Qing as Nora, his playmate and supporter. Jiang accepted the role, bidding her time“- and he continues: „The theater, politics - for Jiang the two realms were not very different“ (Terrill 1984: 17). According to Ye Yonglie and others, Jiang Qing played a „fake“ Nora by functionalising the role for her own selfish purposes - as she did with any other ideology. Only the Shanghai author Sha Yexin came up with a different perspective in his „Jiang Qing and her husbands“, written in 1990 (Sha Yexin 1991), by staging Mao Zedong in the role of Helmer and let him explicitly act as this person. By this Sha is for the first time presenting the inner conflicts of Jiang Qing as a suppressed woman in relation to her lovers and husbands  and insofar he is much closer to the original version of Ibsen’s Nora, who leaves the oppositional forces in a dramatic conflict without solving it.[65] Jiang Qing’s radical rebellion against society’s demands for conformity and subjugation were interpreted as ruthless and selfish mainly from a historical perspective by latter historians. The comparison between Jiang Qing and Nora was perhaps too tempting not to be taken up time and again in the subsequent narratives of Jiang Qing, it was at any rate functionalised just in the same way as Nora was functionalised on China’s stages.


The discussion of Jiang Qings activities on and behind Shanghai’ stages is a complex one, because it involves different layers of perceptions. The theatre realm itself represents a complex merger of social and representational spaces, which is extremely revealing in terms of gender aspects. On one hand, on stages and film-screens new roles of woman can be imagined, performed and tested, whereas on the other hand, these actresses are evaluated according to social standards apart from their fictional roles, which can differ quite evidently. Discussions of Jiang Qing’s involvement in the Shanghai cultural scene reveal this complex intertwinement of a social and fictional person. The discussion of her self-presentation in the Shanghai artistic world reveals constant negotiations between these different expectations, claims and demands for a new woman in public as articulated through a highly commercialised cultural, a politically radicalised literature and a widening social space allowing for individual searches of personal fulfilment.

At the same time, these negotiations were not accepted or understood as such by a large part of the audience or readership of the time and - especially in the case of Jiang Qing - by latter historians. This is most evident in historical accounts, which evaluate her activities from the ex posto perspective of her life as Mao Zedong’s wife and prominent leader of the CR. All aspects attributed to her in order to undermine her political authority in the CCP leadership can traced back to her professional beginnings in Shanghai: unrestrained desire for public attention, sexual seduction of useful men, functionalising of political slogans for private interests and using „feminism“ in order to pursue selfish goals. In order to substantiate this point, stories, quotations or historical facts are arbitrarily chosen and mixed together.  

What I attempted to show is the on one hand the unreliability of all these depictions in terms of historical evidence, on the other, the ideological narrative which lies behind all these depictions. Jiang Qing seems to be a person which cannot be dealt with without a historical judgement, and this might be true (or political correct) from a post-CR perspective. Perhaps, because of the political sensitivity of the case, Jiang Qing is not the most suitable person to study the complex struggles of actresses to defend a social and political position. Yet it is also exactly her outstanding historical position that brought forth such extreme evaluations, which again makes her a rewarding object for studying on one hand, how complex the process of maintaining a public social position was, and on the other hand, it shows the variety of (until today) possible different interpretations of her appearance  

Most striking in respect to the historiography on Jiang Qing is the narrational parallelism between her career as an actress and the career as a political leader. For all authors it seems just as a natural given that there is no separation between social and representational spaces. To Jiang Qing, every act was performance, every space was a stage. This is also the reason, why her starting point in her professional career on Shanghai’s stages is taken as the starting point of her development into the evil demon on the political stage. Such an underlying assumption seems to reveal more about the authors than Jiang Qing, as it shows their own confusion between a historical and a fictional person. An „authentic“, reasonably thinking and acting Jiang Qing might be very difficult to imagine, as her „performances“ and activities during the CR are difficult to explain in rational terms. Yet this problem is not a singular one of Jiang Qing but applies to a large part of the society involved in CR activities, - it is only discussed there in quite a different manner. 


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Goldstein, Joshua, Theatrical Imagi-Nations: Peking Opera and China’s Cultural Crisis, 1890-1937, Phd. University of California, San Diego 2000.  

Guo Hua, Lao dianxing, lao dianpian  (Old stars, old films), 2 vols. Beijing 1988.  

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Ji Cheng, Lan Ping fangwen ji (An interview with Lan Ping), in: Minbao 28.8. - 1.9. 1935, in:  Ye Yonglie 1993: 68-74.

Jiang Qing xie gei Tang Na de jueqingshu (Jiang Qing’s farewell letter to Tang Na), in: Mingbao yuekan 166 (October 1979), pp. 42-43.  

Kano, Ayako, Acting Like a Woman in Modern Japan. Theater, Gender and Nationalism,  New York 2001.  

Lan Ping, Sanba funüjie (Eight of March, Women’s day), in: Shishi xinbao, 8.3.1937, in: Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing sanshi niandai heiwen. Gongpi shiyong 1977, 310-11. 

Lan Ping, Cong „Nala“ dao „Da leiyu“ (From ‘Nora’ to ‘The Tempest’), in: Xin xueshi 1.5 (5.4.1937), in: Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing sanshi niandai heiwen. Gongpi shiyong 1977: 312-315. 

Lan Ping, Women de shenghuo, in: Guangming, 2.12. (25.5.1937), in: Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing sanshi niandai heiwen. Gongpi shiyong 1977: 319-324. 

Lan Ping, Wo weishenmo yu Tang Na fenshou (Why I have parted from Tang Na [also: Yifeng gongkai xin ( A Public Letter)], in: Mingbao yuekan 166 (October 1979), pp. 44-46  

Lan Ping, Why I have parted from Tang Na, in: Chinese Studies in History 14.2 (Winter 1980-81), pp. 83-91. 

Lee, Leo Ou-fan, Shanghai Modern. The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China 1930-1945, Cambridge 1999.  

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Min, Anchee, Becoming Madame Mao, New York 2000.  

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Wang Suping, Ta hai mei jiao Jiang Qing de shihou (When she was not yet named Jiang Qing), Beijing 1993.  

Wang Zheng, Women in the Chinese Enlightenment. Oral and Textual Histories, Berkeley 1999.  

Wei Shaochang, Jiang Qing waishi (Inofficial history of Jiang Qing), Hongkong 1987.  

Witke, Roxane, Comrade Chiang Ch’ing, Boston/Toronto 1977.  

Xu Huiqi, Quxinghua de “Nala”, Wusi xin nüxing xingxiang de lunsuh celüe (Desexualized Nora: Strategies on discoursing Chinese New Woman in May Fourth Period), in: Jindai Zhongguo funüshi yanjiu 10 (December 2002), pp. 59-102.  

Ye Yonglie, Jiang Qing zai Shanghai tan (Jiang Qing on the banks of Shanghai), Hongkong, no year (preface 1988).  

Ye Yonglie, Jiang Qing: Cong Shanghai dao Yan’an (Jiang Qing: From Shanghai to Yan’an), in: Haishang wentan  11 (September/October 1992), pp. 4-23.  

Ye Yonglie, Jiang Qing zhuan (Biography of Jiang Qing), Beijing 1993.  

Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing sanshi niandai heiwen. Gongpi shiyong (Black Materials of the 30’s by Zhang Chunqiao and Jiang Qing,  Use for Criticism), no publisher 1977. 

Zhong Huamin, Jiang Qing zhengzhuan  (Authentic account of Jiang Qing), Hongkong 1967a.  

Zhong Huamin, Kosei seiden (Authentic account of Jiang Qing), in: Chuo koron 82 (1967), pp. 302-324.  

Zhongguo funü mingrenlu (Collection of famous Chinese women), no place (Shanxi) 1988.  

Zhou Huiling, “Xinggan yemao” zhi geming zaoxing: chuangzuo, hangxiao, dianying nüyanyuan yu Zhongguo xiandai xing de xiangxiang (1933-1935) (Masquerading the Revolutionary Cats: Marketing, Actresses, and Chinese Film Industry (1933-1935), in: Jindai Zhongguo funüshi yanjiu 9 (August 2001), pp. 57-120.  

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Natascha Gentz (Vittinghoff), currently junior professor at the Sinological Department at Frankfurt University. 2002 DFG research project on the invention of the “tragedy” in Chinese drama theory and practice. 1999-2001 lecturer in Göttingen and Heidelberg and researcher in a VW research project on the transfer of scientific knowledge in 19th century China in Göttingen. 1998 Ph.D. on the beginnings of modern Chinese journalism in Late Qing , 1994 m.a. on contemporary Chinese historical Drama, (both at Heidelberg University). Publications on modern Chinese literature and drama, the history of Chinese journalism, knowledge production and transfer and cultural history in Late Qing China, e.g. Die Anfänge des Journalismus in China 1860-1911, Harrassowitz, 2002; Geschichte der Partei entwunden – Eine semiotische Analyse des Dramas Jiang Qing und ihre Ehemänner (1991) von Sha Yexin, Projekt Verlag, 1995; Mapping Meanings. The Field of New Learning in Late Imperial China, (ed. with Michael Lackner), Brill, 2004. Cultural Identities and Media Representations, (ed. with Stefan Kramer), SUNY, 2006. 

[1] This method of course functions the same way vice versa, if a positive figure has to be constructed, as can also be seen in the case of Jiang Qing.  

[2] which is due to two reasons. One is, that Jiang Qing herself attempted to leave this period in her life obscure. Moreover, for one part of the CCP leadership it seemed appropriate to silence down this part of Jiang Qing’s past in order to save the face of Mao, who - still being evaluated as a predominantly correct communist leader - should not have fallen into the trap of a charming but desastrous actress. On the other hand, latter accounts of Jiang Qing in Shanghai greatly exaggerate and fantasize about certain aspect in her life as an actress and present this as evidence for her evil and ambitious character.

[3] Accounts that followed in Western languages move between fictional and half-fictional texts, one of the most prominent examples being Ross Terrill’s biography The White-boned Demon. A Biography of Madame Mao Zedong (Terrill 1984), which contains footnotes but indulges in psychological interpretations which are naturally not substantiated by references. A neibu (internal) translation of this book appeared in Chinese in 1988 as Jiang Qing zhengzhuan. The editorial preface emphasizes the accuracy of sources Terrill made use of but gives a different political evaluation of the events (Luosi Telier 1988).

[4] These sources by China-watchers are most often based on her own official speeches and reports from papers like the Renmin Ribao or Hongqi.

[5] The book was printed in 1963. Different sources give different dates for its banishment, either in 1966 (Li Fengmin 1969:132) or 1968 (Miller & Zhong 1968: 21).

[6] In 1979, also the Hongkong Mingbao yuekan published two letters in full length, which were soon after translated into English. See footnotes 33 and 38 below.

[7] To argue this case was one of the most difficult task in the official explanation of the CR, and Jiang Qing, as the only one of the „Gang of Four“, who did not repent anything she had done, was quite aware of this political dilemma, when she repeated time and again during the process in November 1980, that she was nothing more than Mao Zedong’s dog, who bite whomever he would order to bite.

[8] 7 of 24 Mao quotes contain this phrase in: Renmin wenxue chubanshe pipanzu 1976: 1-57.

[9] Only the entry for Yang Kaihui contains the year of her marriage with Mao. Also He Zizhen is not mentioned as one of Mao’s wifes. Zhongguo funü mingren lu 1988, s.v.

[10] The book was a best-seller when it first appeared in the U.S. In regard to Jiang’s life in Shanghai, Min seems to rely heavily on Ye Yonglie, as she is mainly presenting his version of Jiang Qing’s life. Although both Terrill and Min emphasize their usage of historical first-hand sources in an attempt to gain a „authentic“ picture of „Madame Mao“, they both have no qualms about developing phantasies about Jiang Qing’s sexual desires and activities, for which there are obviously no historical sources available. This reflects the strong connection between power and sex that is obviously seen in the popular reception of Jiang Qing.

[11] Ye Yonglie is well-known as an author of popular biographies of prominent party members (and his biography on Jiang Qing appears as part of a series on the members of the Gang of Four) and a presenter of inside news behind well-known historical events like the Lushan Plenum. He came out with two biographies of Jiang Qing in 1988 and 1993. Cui Wanqiu was editor of a literary supplement to the Dawanbao in Shanghai and personally acquainted with Jiang Qing (Ye Yonglie 1993: 60-2). According to Ye, Cui was a spy of the GMD (Ye Yonglie 1988: 76), but this is rejected by Terrill (Terrill 1984: 75).

[12] The term „amateur“ used by many theater troupes of the time did not necessarily indicate a non-professional, non-commercial nature of the group, but was often chosen for political reasons.

[13] Wei Heling is said to have invited a group of well-known actors and dramatist, including Zhao Dan, Gu Erji, Tang Na and Zheng Junli to Jiang’s performance in O’ Neills Tianwai (Wei Shaochang 1987: 59).

[14] Zhao Taimou was one of the active promoters of modern drama since the early 1920’s, who, together with Wen Yiduo and Yu Shangyuan of the Xinyuepai promoted a „national theater“ which combined Western drama forms with traditional Chinese forms and which was not entirely subjected to political goals (Eberstein 1983: 81).

[15] The play is advertised as a Kunju play in the Beiping Chenbao, 22.1.1931. 

[16] Most sources do not mention Pei Minglun, yet as there is the assumption (mainly produced by the account of Xu Zhucheng) that she had had two husbands before Tang Na, the latest husband before Mao Zedong, some identify the first one as Pei Minglun (Ye Yonglie 1992: 7; Wang Suping 1993: 280). The marriage must in any case have been a very short one (Guo Hua 1998: 169; Ye Yonglie 1993). Wei Shaochang identifies the first husband as Wei Heling, Jiang’s colleague in Jinan (Wei Shaochang 1987: 48). One major problem in clarifying the correct number of „husbands“ (or „wifes“ respectively) in this period is the fact, that sources sometimes do not differentiate between „living together“ (tongju) or being officially married.

[17] The League was founded in 1930 as a merger of smaller groups (among them Tian Han’s Nanguo-branch) and as a reaction towards an increased pressure on progressive arts and literature of the Guomindang government

[18] Jiang Qing makes no mention of Yu Qiwei at all and Witke rejects a sexual relationship between them as „rumours“. See Witke 1977: 495fn1)

[19] Yu Qiwei was later named Huang Jing and became mayor of Tianjian after the liberation. An uncle of Yu Shan and Yu Dawei was high official in the GMD government, which for Witke could have been the reason why she does not want to mention this connection. Edgar Snow interviewed Huang Jing in 1935. Ibid., also: 502fn2.

[20] Ye gives a very negative description of this visit at Tian Han’s house.  Jiang Qing’s allegedly impertinent and outrageous behaviour he collects from memories of Liao Mosha. Given the undeniable hostility between Liao Mosha, Tian Han and Jiang Qing in the latter years of the PRC, the question whether the hostilities produced these memories or whether her behaviour produced these hostitilies, cannot be answered here. 

[21] On this part, Jiang Qing had very negative comments on Tian Han’s and his brother’s attitude towards her. Moreover, she stresses that Tian Han and others paid a visit to her and provided different options in the film and theater realm from which she modestly chose the „lowest“ one, to do grass-root work among the masses in this school (Witke 1977: 71-73). There are many different stories about Jiang Qing’s relation to Xu Mingqing and it should suffice to note on Xu Mingqing here, that she was also investigated after Jiang Qing’s arrest in 1976.

[22] Other sources mention her as member of the drama troupe Hushe in 1933, to which she was introduced by Wei Heling (Guo Hua 1998: 171) and of the Tuosheng yeyu jutuan, where she played in O’Neills The Firmament (Tianwai) (Guo Hua 1998: 171; Wei Shaochang 1987: 59) on January first 1934. According to Guo Hua, Wei Heling brought Zhao Dan, Gu Erji, Zheng Junli and Tang Na to see the play (Guo Hua 1998: 171), but Guo Hua gives no sources. She is also mentioned as protagonist in Suozhe de xiangzi (Locked Box) of the Wuming jushe (Anonymous Drama Group) in January 1934 (Wei Shaochang 1987: 60), a federation of dissolved drama troupes which mainly played in front of worker audiences. According to Wang Suping this was in October 1933 and a performance by the Left Wing Drama League, where she met Zhao Dan, Gu Erji, Zheng Junli et.al through Wei Helings contact. Wang Suping 1993: 281)

[23] Xu was at that time affiliated with the Shanghai YWCA, which organized these night-schools for woman. It is also in these night-schools that the Blueshirt Drama Groups of the Left League performed their revolutionary pieces to educate (especially female) workers.

[24] Other versions declare that she was released after having betrayed the CCP, but there is, as far as I know, no evidence for this.

[25] See below.

[26] Guo Hua gives some concrete examples in which way some men chased after her, but he gives of course no source for this (Guo Hua 1998: 172).

[27] Her first film in the Diantong Co., which was rehearsed in July and August 1935, was Ziyoushen (Spirit of Freedom), a piece by the famous author Xia Yan and Jiang Qing played only a minor role together with the much more prominent actresses Wang Ying and Zhou Boxun. In October she had a role in Dushi fenguang (Sceneries from the Capital) written and directed by Yuan Muzhi. Tang Na also acted in this film, (as well as a.o. Zhou Boxun and Zhang Xinzhu). Born in Suzhou, Tang Na was a graduate of St. John’s University in Shanghai and  had become a regular writer of the Chenbao, but also contributed to papers like the Shishi xinbao, Shibao or Xinwenbao

[28] E.g. Lan Ping yu Tang Na tongju, zai Beiping de zhangfu zenyang biaoshi (Lan Ping and Tang Na live together - how is the reaction of her husband in Beiping?), in: Yule zhoubao 1.23 (7.12.1935); Qiu hun (Marriage proposal), in: Guowen zhoubao 12.48 (9.12.1935). Title quoted from Ye Yonglie, who gives a list of about 200 articles on Lan Ping: Guanyu Lan Ping de baodao mulu (List of reports on Lan Ping). Ye Yonglie 1993: 619-635. 

[29] She played in Cechovs Jinianri (Commemoration day) in the drama group of the Diantong film Co., in January 1936. Two months later she played in Ying’er shalu (Babies murder) by Yamamoto Yûzô, translated by Tian Han on the occasion of a March 8 celebration of the woman’s association; she appeared in Fugui (Father’s return) by Kikuchi Kan in her old school, the Shandong Experimental Drama Academy in Jinan, during a short sojourn there in May 1936. In the summer the rehearsals for Langshan die xueji (Blood on Wolf Mountain) started, a film directed and revised as screen-play by Shen Fu, Fei Mu and Zhou Daming and released in November 1936. A month later she took a small role in the part Liangmaoqian (Twenty Cents) of Cai Chusheng’s Lianhua jiaoxiangqu in December 1936.

[30] Together with the Yi Hua and Mingxing Co. the Lianhua Co. was one of the three film companies that were largely dominated by left-wing playwrights and actors. Because of their Communist propaganda the Yi Hua studio was even violently attacked by the fascist Blue Shirt Group in 1933.

[31] The play was also staged in Nanjing in February and taken up again in Shanghai in March 1937.

[32] E.g. Cai Chusheng xuanyong Lan Ping wei Wang Laowu zhujiao de yuanyin (The reason why Cai Chusheng chose Lan Ping as the main protagonist in Wang Laowu), in: Ying yu xi 2 (17.12.1936). Titel quoted from Ye Yonglie 1993: 628. The film was censored by the GMD and released only a year later in 1938.

[33] The sources for this puzzle of her various activities were mainly: Wei Shaochang, 1987; Ye Yonglie, 1993; Wang Suping 1993; Guo Hua 1998.

[34] The following discussions in the Shanghai papers are therefore also entirely excluded from Witke’s narrative. At those points, where she alludes to these issues she rejects them as unfounded rumours invented in order to harm Jiang Qing (Witke 1977: 139). Whereas Witke may be partly right (even if it seems a bit exaggerated) to identify such  gossip as part of a general „misogyny and sadism“, I think it would not do justice to Jiang Qing as a individual person to reduce the whole affair to an intrigue to which Jiang Qing was only passively exposed. Quite to the contrary, Jiang Qing played an active role not only in creating this gossip but also in defending her case, as a modern women in public.

[35] For the position of woman/actresses in the Peking Opera see Joshua L. Goldstein 2000, ch. 8.

[36] Similar observations can be made for the transformation of the Japanese cultural scene through the engagement of female actors on the stage and their functionalisation for a national discourse (Ayako Kano 2001).

[37] This fact is emphasized here, because in many accounts the reason for her turn to the film world is seen as evidence for her ambitions to find a broader audience and become a famous film star, just as those engaged in the Hollywood productions.

[38] Although the attack by Japan and subsequent collapse of the cultural world in Shanghai would be a rather rational reason for her escape from this city, such a simple explanation is not given.

[39] When the script was finished by Xia Yan, the amateur drama troupe advertised a search for suitable actors for this play. Both the most prominent actors of Shanghai, Jin Shan and Zhao Dan competed for the role of the male protagonist, and so did Wang Ying with Jiang Qing for the role of Sai Jinhua. Guo Hua explains that the directors tried to find a compromise by giving the A roles to Jin Shan and Wang Ying, whereas Zhao Dan and Jiang Qing should play the B roles.

[40] Jin Shan, Wang Ying and other members subsequently reorganized themselves as the The Fourties Troupe (Sishi niandai jushe) and performed Sai Jinhua with enormous success (Guo Hua 1998: 175-176; Ye Yonglie 1993: 113-116). As for Guo Hua and Ye Yonglie, also for many other historians this fight for the Sai Jinhua role was the reason for Wang Ying being persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, which then again serves as one evidence, that Jiang Qing persecuted only her personal enemies during the CR. I might have to add here, that I am of course not attempting to make a case for Jiang Qing’s actions during the CR or to defend anything as right what she had done. The sole reason for these comments is to show in how far the evaluation of her „political actions“ deviates from the one of her male counterparts in the CR.

[41] This version is supported by the fact, that the Amateur Troupe itself produced a Sai Jinhua piece and searched for an external actress, whereas Jiang Qing was only given the role of a minor prostitute (Wei Shaochang 1987: 14-18). Without attempting to find out the „true“ story of the background of the Sai Jinhua quarrels, it should be mentioned, that there is an article under the pseudonym Moge (A brother) in the Shishi xinbao which mentions that it was planned to ask Lan Ping to perform  the role of Sai Jinhua. Ye Yonglie claims that Jiang Qing has fabricated this news in order to create facts before the decision was made (Ye Yonglie 1993: 114-115).

[42] Jiang Qing alludes to this abortion just before she assumed the role of Nora in June 1936 in her article Cong „Nala“ dao „Da leiyu“ (From ‘Nora’ to ‘The Tempest’), in: Xin xueshi 1.5 (5.4.1937), in: Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing sanshi niandai heiwen. Gongpi shiyong (Black Materials of the 30’s by Zhang Chunqiao and Jiang Qing,  Use for Criticism), no publisher 1977: 312-315, 312.  Lan Ping, Yi feng gongkai xin, in: Lianhua huabao 31.5.1937 was republished 1979 as Wo weishenmo yu Tang Na fenshou (Why I have parted from Tang Na), in: Mingbao yuekan 166 (October 1979), pp. 44-46 and translated as Why I have parted from Tang Na, in: Chinese Studies in History  14.2 (Winter 1980-81), pp. 83-91. Under this title it is also reprinted in the collection by Li Yu-ning 1992.

[43] At this event six Shanghai actresses and actors organized a joint wedding in Suzhou, as a typical case of self-styling in the Shanghai film world. The ceremony of Zhao Dan and Ye Luxi, Gu Erji and Du Xiaojuan as well as Tang Na and Lan Ping was conducted by the prominent lawyer Shen Junru and covered broadly with pictures and comments by the Shanghai media. After returning to Shanghai the event was celebrated with 300 personages from the cultural realm, with Jin Shan, Hu Die, Wang Ying, Chen Boer, and many other best-known actors invited (Wei Shaochang 1987: 24-34; Ye Yonglie 1993: 83-89; Wang Suping 1993: 193-202).

[44] For specific references to these articles see Ye Yonglie 1993: 106.

[45] According to Ye Yonglie, Tang Na learned about this relationship through the newspaper Ying yu xi, in which it was reported how a friend visited Lan Ping and discovered Zhang Min in her bed. Ye Yonglie 1993: 129.

[46] Such a depiction is also to be found in one newspaper article, extensively quoted by Ye Yonglie, although he admits that this journalist was not too well informed about Jiang Qing’s actual doings. “Lan Ping xiang chu fengtou, yong de shi meiren ji” (In order to become prominent, Jiang Qing makes use of the tricks of beauties), in: Shidaibao (14.6.1937) resp. Ye Yonglie 1993: 131-133.

[47] Classical sources like the Lienüzhuan see the negative influence of woman in politics mainly in their sexual voraciousness, which cannot be resisted by the Emperors, testifying a male anxiety of an apparently insoluble tension between power and sexual desire. Another example in popular literature of the threat exerted by female sexuality would be the motive of the seductive fox-ghost.

[48] Jiang Qing xie gei Tang Na de jueqingshu (Jiang Qing’s farewell letter to Tang Na), in: Mingbao yuekan 166 (October 1979), pp. 42-43, translated as Chiang Ch’ing’s Farewell Letter to T’ang Na, in: Chinese Studies in History 14.2 Winter 1980-81), pp. 77-82. Unfortunately the original source of this letter is not given there. The letter, written on 23.6 1936m is quoted in Ye Yonglie 1993: 97-99 and cited in passages in Anchee Min 2002: 93ff. Interestingly, Ye leaves out important the passages, where she writes about her decision to leave the movie world.

[49] The letter is quoted in Ye Yonglie 1993: 92-94 and Wang Suping 1993: 213-126. There are indications that it had been published in Shanghai at the time, which I could not locate yet.

[50] In her Farewell Letter to Tang Na.

[51] In her „Public Letter“, see below.  Ruan Lingyu, who according to Jiang Qing was the best actress in China of the time (and therefore a model for her in professional terms), had been scorned for her divorce from Zhou Daming and her subsequent open affairs with other men, and was driven to suicide by this public criticism of her immoral behaviour. Her suicide was covered widely by the media in China and commented as a tragic event.

[52] Tao Xingzhi, Xingzhi shige ji (Collection of Poems by Xingzhi) Shanghai 1947, quoted in Ye Yonglie 1993: 108-110.

[53] Lan Ping xiang chu fengtou, yong de shi meiren ji (When Lan Ping seeks attention she uses the tricks of beautiful women), in:  Shidaibao (14.6.1937), quoted in Ye Yonglie 1993: 131-333.

[54] There are nine different Nora translations in Chinese, and the Nora theme was adapted in numerous plays by other dramatists (for examples see Hsueh 1981).  Still in 1925, a public performance of Nora was prohibited in Beijing.

[55] This refers to a widely discussed incident of a schoolteacher Wang Ping, who was dismissed from office for her performance of Nora in a Nanjing amateur group in January 1935 as it was regarded as unseemly behaviour (Eide 1987: 95-6).

[56] Lan Ping, Women de shenghuo, in: Guangming, 2.12. (25.5.1937), quoted from Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing sanshi niandai heiwen. Gongpi shiyong (Black Materials of the 30’s by Zhang Chunqiao and Jiang Qing,  Use for Criticism), no publisher, 1977: 319-324, 322.

[57] Ji Cheng, Lan Ping fangwen ji (An interview with Lan Ping), in: Minbao 28.8. - 1.9. 1935. Quoted in Ye Yonglie 1993: 68-74.

[58] For Chinese critiques, the most salient problem inherent in the Nora-reception in China was the unresolved ambivalence in the conflict between Nora and Helmer, an ambivalence that was intended by Ibsen but not welcome by those writers who attempted to create a new, modern literary canon and who increasingly oriented toward a socialist realism - which does not allow for ambivalences. Thus the main emphasis in the reception of Ibsen was laid on his „realism“, a realism which meant a true reflection of real life problems and not a dramatic technique (Tam 1986: 388).

[59] Lan Ping, Sanba funüjie (Eight of March, Women’s day), in: Shishi xinbao, 8.3.1937, Quoted from: Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing sanshi niandai heiwen. Gongpi shiyong (Black Materials of the 30’s by Zhang Chunqiao and Jiang Qing,  Use for Criticism), no publisher, 1977, 310-11.

[60] It was probably mainly because of her liberal sexual life (and her open affirmations about it) that she was so eager to destroy any evidences of her activities in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution, a time in which sexuality was restricted and erased from people’s lives to the most extreme extent, a policy which Jiang Qing herself actively promoted. 

[61] Kanguo ‘Nala’ yihou“ (After having seen ‘Nora’), in: Minbao (28.6.1935); Guan ‘Nala’ yanchu (Seing the performance ‘Nora’), in: Chenbao (2.7.1935). Quoted in: Ye Yonglie, 1993: 63-64. 

[62] „Lan Ping fangwen ji (An interview with Lan Ping)“, Minbao 28.8. - 1.9. 1935. loc.cit.

[63] Michael G. Chang identifies three generations of actresses from the 1920s to the 1930s and the different demands posed on them by society’s expectations, concluding that “the artifice and posturing inherent in acting well (as opposed to acting good) in movies should have allowed for the separation of cinematic art and the daily lives of those women who worked as actresses; but such a separation into private and public personae tore at the ideal of a unified and unifying subject position (called the “good girl”) that is easily knowable and non-threatening to urbanites living in the vibrant but votile milieu of 1930s Shanghai”

[64] E.g. Lan Ping, Wo yu ‘Nala’ (I and Nora), in: Zhongguo yitan huabao 13.9.1935, quoted in Ye Yonglie 1993: 64-65; Lan Ping, Cong „Nala“ dao „Da leiyu“ (From ‘Nora’ to ‘The Tempest’), loc. cit. There are more than twenty articles of Lan Ping written in the 1930s on topic like domestic life, professional experience and political issues, which are never quoted, among them the above quoted article on the Woman’s day or on the art of acting (Women de shenghuo).  

[65] Sha Yexin was only able to present this interpretation by emphasizing that his play did not deal with Jiang Qing as a historical person, but she only served as a arbitrary example for a woman in China (Interview with Sha Yexin in Summer 1990). His play, which for the first time gives a slightly more negative interpretation of Mao Zedong’s role in the CR, was published in Hongkong and until today not put on stage in mainland China. For a detailed analysis of this play see Natascha Vittinghoff, Geschichte der Partei entwunden – Eine semiotische Analyse des Dramas Jiang Qing und ihre Ehemänner (1991) von Sha Yexin, Bochum 1995, on this aspect pp. 127-150. For an annotated German translation see ibid., pp. 195-341.





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Nanjing University


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