Special Section: Comrade Chiang Ch'ing Tells Her Story

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"Comrade Chiang Ch'ing is prepared!" These words were the summons to leave the guesthouse, where we had been waiting, and begin the drive to Chiang Ch'ing's villa. Leading to [the] villa was a narrow winding road flanked by deep bamboo groves. In them, young PLA [People's Liberation Army] guards, bayonets glinting, were partially hidden.

The interior was spacious but its decor was neutral. Chiang Ch'ing was wearing a superbly tailored shirtwaist dress of heavy crepe de chine, with a full pleated skirt falling to midcalf, a style evocative of our early 1950s.

With a later break for dinner and a shift to another room for fresher air, she talked continually until 3:30 in the morning. As the hours passed, her own energy level mounted, and she seemed not to mind that her listeners became enervated, even drowsy, from physical inertia in relentless heat.

Tall by Chinese standards (5 ft. 5 in.), Chiang Ch'ing was slim and small-boned, with delicate, tapered hands. She gestured with liquid motions as she spoke, occasionally running a green-and-white plastic comb through her dark short-cropped hair. In what Witke described as her "imperial proletarian style," Chiang Ch'ing was surrounded by aides, bodyguards, her own doctors; the retinue hovers around her, silent and watchful; a scribe duly notes everything that she says; nobody else talks while Chiang Ch'ing is giving her monologue. She even made it clear to Witke that she did not like to be interrupted by questions.


Since you are eager to know about my past, I can tell you briefly," she began. "I grew up in the old society and had a miserable childhood. Li Chin was the first of several names she would use before taking Chiang Ch'ing [meaning Azure River, because of her fondness for rivers and because azure "excels blue," a color she loved] her name in the community of Communism. She had numerous brothers and sisters—how many she would not say—the youngest of them at least a dozen years older than she was. Her father [a wheelwright] was an "old man" of about 60 when she was born. Though her mother was over 40, Chiang Ch'ing remembered her as being much younger than her father and showing far greater tenderness. "Because we were poor and had little to eat, my father was always beating or cursing my mother." He beat the children whenever he felt the urge, but when he savagely attacked the mother all the children rallied around her, trying their best to protect her. As she was returning home from school one day, her attention was drawn to the sound of an odd gait. She looked up. Approaching her was an old man bearing a shoulder pole with two men's heads, one dangling from each end, still dripping blood. [Evidently they had been executed by decapitation, a common practice in warlord-dominated China.] Stunned, she turned away blindly, ran home, threw her books on the floor and collapsed in bed, where she sank into a high fever. "I think this is enough to show you something of my childhood," Chiang Ch'ing said calmly.


While Chiang Ch'ing was still a young girl, her mother left her father and went to work as a servant. Of the many nights her mother left her alone at home, Chiang

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