As hundreds of spectators applauded, the widow of Communist Party chairman Mao Tse-Tung was dragged out of a courtroom here today after a bitter outburst in which she denounced state witnesses at her trial as "traitors and bastards" and shouted epithets at judges trying to silence her.
For several stunning moments, the normally controlled trial of China's foremost radical turned into a free-for-all, with the chief defendent blurting out political slogans, angry judges brading her a criminal and an exsasperated witness repeatedly slamming his fist on the lectern and screaming.
Broadcast tonight over nationwide television, the extrodinary courtroom scene brought a dramatic peak to the 19-day trial, unleashing for a few telling minutes the powerful emotions stirred by the Cultural Revolution and its zealous radical leaders, represented in the dock today by Mao's widow, Jiang Qing.
The final, heated words of the judge -- "take her out" -- were an emphatic reminder that the persecutions and political hysteria of China's decade from 1966 to 1976 have ended, and Jiang and her Gang of Four must now account for their past actions to the nation's current leaders.
This shift of political fortunes was summed up by the trembling, weeping witness, a writer persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, whose testimony was interuppted by Jiang's flareup. After she was taken from the courtroom by three bailiffs, the writer Liao Masha concluded his testimony against the woman who was once the most powerful in China.
"Jiang Qing, look, you and your clique are guilty of all kinds of evils," said Liao, who earlier had testified that he spent eight years in prison during the Cultural Revoltion. "The people in Peking hate you to the very marrow of their bones."
Jiang Qing and four other ex-members of China's ruling Politburo, including Mao's political secretary, who led the Cultural Revolution during its most bloody phases, were arrested in 1976. Now they face charges of persecuting more than 700,000 Chinese officials and ordinary citizens and plotting an armed coup d'etat.
Liao, a frail man in his late sixties, touched off the courtroom squabble when he recounted how he was imprisoned for co-authoring in the late 1950's and early 1960's a popular Peking newspaper column, called "Three-Family Village," which used historical anecdotes to criticize Mao.
As he charged that prison guards beat him badly and broke all of his teeth and kept one of his friends in handcuffs for more than five years, Liao broke down crying. The television camera, panning the audience, showed numerous saddened spectators patting their eyes with handkerchiefs.
Suddenly, Jiang who had cast meanacing glances at Liao during his testimony, burst in and seemed to try to turn the prosecution against the witness.
"No need to say any more," she shouted. "Weren't you a member of the "Three-Family Village?'"
Stunned Liao screamed back: "you're not allowed to speak."
"Why not?" replied the defendent.
Now, banging the lectern with his fist, Liao repeated "You're not allowed to speak."
"I have the right to defend myself," she replied.
As Liao again repeated his injunction, a buzzer that sounded like a penalty bell went off, apparently signaling the judge's disfavor.
"I have the right to expose you," insisted Jiang.
When the presiding judge warned her to remain silent, she shot back: "So I spoke. What are you going to do about it?"
"You continue to commit crimes," said the judge his voice ringing with anger.
Now giggling and apparently mocking the judge, she said "So you oppose me. How outrageous. Asking those traitors and bastards to come and speak [against me]. It reminds me of something funny."
At that, a second judge shouted at the defendent: "You are continuing to make false accusations against people and committing crimes."
"What is committing crimes?" asked Jiang Qing, sparking nearly a minute of heated argumen with the two judges.
With the chief judge's order, Jiang was quickly taken out of the courtroom, propped up under each arm by bailiffs.
As she passed through the aisles of the large courtroom, spectators sat straight up in their chairs and applauded.