Madame Mao: The White Boned Demon

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Stanford University Press, 1999 - Biography & Autobiography - 422 pages
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This is the most complete and authoritative account of the childhood and tumultuous life of Jiang Qing, from her early years as an aspiring actress to her marriage and partnership with Mao Zedong, the controversial years of power after Mao's death, her final years of disgrace and imprisonment, and her suicide in 1991.


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I had little good to say of this work during my reading of the first 25% or so of the book. Terrill wrote as if he'd managed a time warp and was privy to what the young Jiang Qing ate, wore, thought, felt, ... He rarely descended to indirect speech but continually quoted Jiang Qing verbatim - all of which strained my credibility more than a little.
Later, the work became rather better founded in fact and it was at this point that I found this, the first picture of Jiang Qing that I have read, fascinating.
However, such is Terrill's concentration on the psychology of the woman and its consequences for Chinese politics that he ignores any firm sense of historical continuity. The Great Leap Forward is barely mentioned. The Hundred Flowers is, I think, not mentioned. As for such detail as exactly when the C.R. began and ended, the reader is left in the dark. We simply are told it was on and the impression is given that China drifted into and out of it imperceptibly. There is no treatment of the Red Guards as a phenomenon, of their gun battles, of their ravages upon the cultural wealth of China and of their final sending to the country. There is little attention to struggle sessions, numbers of executions and suicides, etc. etc.
And so, finally, I decided that, fascinating as I found the work, it needed to be no more than an introduction to an interesting subject and an interesting period of history. I look forward to a more historically structured biography in order to give me a more complete picture of the period and the personality.
Terrill's comparisons of Jiang Qing with the Empresses Wu and Lu were interesting. It is a pity that the scholarship shown in those comparisons was not also applied to those aspects of the events of the period that are but lightly and confusingly touched upon.


I Was Maos Dog
Growing Up Reaching Out 191433
Onstage in Shanghai 193337
Maos Housewife in Yanan 193849
Letdown 1950s
Politics as Theater 1960s
Bid to Be Empress 1970s
Shut Up Jiang Qing
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About the author (1999)

Ross Terrill is a Research Associate at Harvard University's East Asian Research Center. He is the author of several books on China, including Mao: A Biography.

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