Jiang Qing, 77, the widow of China's Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung who fell from power after her husband's death and was jailed as a counterrevolutionary for her role in the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, committed suicide May 14 at her villa in Beijing.
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency announced the death yesterday, but did not say how Jiang had taken her life. On Monday, the government refused to confirm a report in Time magazine that she had hanged herself.
Once one of the most powerful figures in China, Jiang had been a member of the ruling Politburo, and she was one of the primary architects of the Cultural Revolution, a period of strife and turmoil in which millions of Chinese suspected of revolutionary infidelity were killed, beaten, tortured and jailed.
After Mao's death in 1976, Jiang and the other leaders of the Cultural Revolution were arrested. Later, they came to be known as "the Gang of Four," and they subsequently were put on trial for excesses of that era.
Jiang was accused of complicity in 34,000 deaths and 700,000 persecutions at a three-month show trial that began in November 1980. In 1981, she was sentenced to death, with the sentence suspended for two years to give her time to repent. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1983 after a review panel found that she had "not resisted reform in a flagrant way."
At her trial, Jiang had openly mocked the proceedings, and she insisted she had acted only on behalf of her husband. "I was Chairman Mao's dog," she said. "Whomever he told me to bite, I bit."
She was born in Shangtung Province to the concubine of a hard-drinking, small-town landowner who beat mother and daughter until they fled the household. When Jiang was in her early teens, she joined an underground theatrical troupe and later settled in Shanghai, a center of leftist political activity. Her circle of friends and acquaintances included several writers and directors who were close to the Communist Party in the 1920s and 1930s.
She appeared in stage productions and some Grade B movies under the name of Lan Ping (Blue Apple). Her stage and screen performances and her love affairs were written up in Shanghai's entertainment magazines.
She was married to a writer and film critic named Tang Na, but the marriage did not last. By 1937, Jiang had fled Shanghai for Yenan, the remote stronghold of the Communist rebels in Western China. There she entered a center for training propaganda teams.
It was there also that she met Mao, who was 21 years her senior. She became his fourth wife and gave birth to two daughters. For more than 25 years, Jiang had no visible political role.
Then in 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, ostensibly to purge China of its Confucian past and of anything suggesting a "bourgeois" lifestyle. But it also was aimed at crushing party moderates who opposed Mao, and Jiang became one of the movement's most zealous leaders.
She encouraged armed factional fighting and helped orchestrate the actions of the militant Red Guard terrorists. The Red Guard searched homes, destroying or confiscating antiques and religious artifacts and dragging party officials off to mass criticism sessions on charges of having been corrupted by capitalist ideas. She was said to have supervised with delight the persecution and imprisonment of Mao's rivals and others whom she disliked.
Among her enemies in this period was Deng Xiaoping, China's current paramount leader, who was purged from power during the Cultural Revolution. In 1977, a year after her arrest, a party document said the Gang of Four's "frenzied attacks and framing up of Comrade Deng Xiaoping were an important, integral part of their plot to usurp the party and seize power." Their trial in 1980-81 was widely interpreted as a sign of China's sharp break with the past in politics and economics.
Jiang is the first of them to die. The others, none of whom has been seen in public since the trial, are:
Wang Hongwen, a Shanghai textile worker whose enthusiasm in attacking mill bosses at the start of the Cultural Revolution gained him fame and, eventually, a position as vice chairman of the Communist Party. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Zang Chunqiao, vice premier and director of the Army political department. He was boss of Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution and controlled a private militia of thousands. His death sentence, like Jiang's, was commuted to life in prison.
Yao Wenyuan, a Shanghai journalist who, on the orders of Jiang, launched one of the first salvos of the Cultural Revolution with a review condemning a popular Beijing play as an attack on Mao. He was rewarded with a seat on the Politburo. He confessed to falsifying evidence against Deng. Yao was sentenced to 20 years in jail.
In announcing Jiang's death yesterday, the Xinhua News Agency did not identify her as Mao's widow, only as a leading member of a criminal conspiracy.
BLINN VAN MATER
Navy Admiral, Administrator
Blinn Van Mater, 86, a retired Navy rear admiral who was administrator of the Washington School of Psychiatry, died June 1 in the nursing facility of the Ginger Cove retirement community in Annapolis. He had Alzheimer's disease.
A resident of Washington for more than 40 years, Adm. Van Mater had lived at Ginger Cove for two years.
He retired from active Navy duty in 1957 as director of new developments and operational evaluation in the office of the chief of naval operations. His 30-year career in the Navy included destroyer and cruiser commands and intelligence and diplomatic assignments.
He was executive officer and administrator of the Washington School from 1961 until he retired in 1971.
Adm. Van Mater was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was a 1927 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. During World War II, he commanded destroyers in the Pacific, and participated in operations in the Solomons, Saipan, Guam and the Philippine Sea. He was in command of the destroyer Zellars in 1945 when it was severely damaged by a kamikazi attack.
After the war, Adm. Van Mater served as naval and air attache' in Turkey and as assistant chief of staff for intelligence at the NATO command in Malta. His last assignment was as commander of the heavy cruiser Columbus.
He retired from active duty and became an administrator with the National Academy of Sciences, where he worked on the U.S. committee for the International Geophysical Year. He was an administrator at the research firm of Human Sciences Inc. before joining the Washington School.
After his second retirement, Adm. Van Mater worked for more than a decade as a volunteer with the Smithsonian Institution in the division of naval history, helping to set up exhibits and document the history of World War II.
His decorations included four Bronze Star medals with combat V.
He belonged to the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association, the Army & Navy Club, the International Club of Washington, the National Press Club, the Holland Society of New York and the Netherland-American Foundation.
His first wife, Marguerita Van Mater, died in 1979. Survivors include his wife, Ileana F. Henderson Van Mater of Annapolis; and a sister, Bishop Williamson of South Bethany, Del.
SOLLIE 'BLACKIE' WHITAKER
Sollie B. "Blackie" Whitaker, 64, a Washington area house painter for 35 years, died June 1 at Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base after a heart attack.
Mr. Whitaker, who lived in Morningside, Md., was born in Johnson City, Tenn. He moved to this area from Tennessee 35 years ago.
His wife, Madeline Leake Whitaker, died in 1979. Survivors include two sisters, Juanita Whitehead of Johnson City and Fannie Powell of Los Angeles; three stepchildren, Allen Tice of Lothian, Md., Gary Tice of Lanham and Barbara Sauber of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; 12 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.