When a ‘Chinese God’ Died – Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution (Part 1b)

“What has happened to my dear husband?!” Jiang Qing demanded from the nurses, as she sped off as fast as she could to Building 202. The afternoon sunlight of September 7 was shining brightly upon the corridors. Upon reaching the room where her husband laid, she was shocked to find out that her husband was in a more critical condition that he had been the previous day.

“My dear husband!” she shouted, but the medical team motioned her to keep quiet. The great Chairman had just fallen asleep and badly needed rest after a long session of intense treatment to stabilize his condition and keep him alive.

“NO! How can I keep quiet, knowing that my poor husband is in pain?” she protested loudly. “He needs a good rub on his back and some massage,” she continued.

“My good lady, the Chairman is really tired and needs his rest. I implore you to allow him some sleep and not to trouble him further,” started one of the doctors beside the Chairman’s bed.

“NO! I insist that he gets some massage and a good rub on his back to relieve his pain!” the First Lady said in an even firmer voice.

Without waiting for any reply from the medical team, she rushed to the Chairman’s bedside and tried to raise him up from his bed. He was fast asleep, but upon being shaken a few times by her, he slowly opened his eyes and looked at her with a look of partial annoyance, as if he was just awoken from a pleasant dream. Nevertheless, he was simply too weak to utter any words of protest and just allowed himself to be manipulated as and how she liked.

 Jiang Qing and the "Great Chairman" in younger and healthier days

“He needs a good rub on his back, and we need to exercise his limbs a bit. He’s not been moving for days, and we really need to get those limbs moving at least a little. He can’t just stay immobile on the bed for the rest of his life and suffer all the pain!” she exclaimed. “And yes,” she proceeded to a cupboard in the corner of the room and took out a small container, “he needs some powder to ease his pain.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you wish to sprinkle powder on his body?!” the doctor-in-charge came closer. “My good lady, this is getting too much. As you are well aware, the Chairman has just suffered a serious bout of lung infection, and is currently experiencing some difficulty breathing as a result. The powder is just going to worsen his condition! All he needs now is clean air, NOT DUSTY POWDERED AIR!!!”

There was a tone of finality in the doctor’s last words that compelled Jiang Qing to put down the small container on the bedside table, albeit with a sulky face like that of a child being scolded by her teacher. She then turned to the great Chairman and raised her hand to caress his balding head softly, while the doctors slowly filed out of the room one after another.

Being aware that the doctors had left the room, Jiang Qing then picked up the container, opened it and applied some of it onto the Chairman’s body. “Don’t just stand there, help me sprinkle powder all over his body!” she instructed the nurses who remained in the room, standing beside the bed.

“But, my lady…”

“No buts! We need to help him ease his pain, and I’m very sure the powder would help. My mother has been using it since I was young, and I find that it really helps.”

Knowing better than to pick a quarrel with the tiger-like lady, the nurses silently followed her example and sprinkled powder all over the Chairman’s body. The Chairman, being well-aware of what was happening, opened his mouth to protest, but could find no voice to express himself.

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 Jiang Qing, being an actress in her younger days, featured in a film poster in 1934

“WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME?!” The shrill, furious voice that was recognizably Jiang Qing’s rang through the corridors of Building 202, breaking the silence of the morning of September 8.

“My lady, your demand is simply outrageous! In my professional capacity, I cannot allow you to do such a thing and cause harm to the Chairman,” replied the doctor-in-charge.

“Look at him. For these past few days he has been lying only on his left side for too long. We need to shift him to another sleeping position, or else his bedsores are going to worsen.”

“My good lady, how many times must I tell you that such an action will only be harmful for the Chairman? His lungs have worsened to such a state that he can only breathe on his left side. Shifting him to any other position would undoubtedly cause him difficulty to breathe, do you understand?” the doctor tried to make a point.

“Please listen to the doctor. He knows better in matters such as these,” Hua Guofeng, who was also in the room at that time, urged the First Lady.

“And what do you know? Who are you to tell me what I should and should not do?” she snapped at Hua.

Without waiting for any reply from either of them, Jiang Qing stretched out her arms and moved the great Chairman to his right side with all her might. Both the doctor and Hua started forward to stop her reckless action, but it was too late. In an instant, the great Chairman stopped breathing, as he began gasping for air desperately. His face turned blue and his expressions became twisted with absolute discomfort. The damage was done, and by the time Jiang Qing realized it, she was shoved out of the room forcefully by Hua while the doctors quickly attended to the damage with a respirator and emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

 Entrance to Zhongnanhai (中南海) as seen in Beijing today


Receiving no reply whatsoever, he continued, “At this rate, I’m not surprised if what you are doing will only hasten the death of our beloved Chairman instead of delaying it. As such, I’m going to give instructions NOT to allow you anywhere near him anymore after this, so that you will not interfere with the medical team’s efforts in treating him.” He turned to his back and left before she could utter a word of defense for her actions.

Jiang Qing stood there, muttering curses of the vilest nature under her breath while staring at Hua’s back with venomous eyes. After regaining her composure, she started off for the Chairman’s room, wanting to know his fate after the careless incident. Just as she held out her hand and was about to grab hold of the door handle did the door open and one of the doctors appear before her.

 The "Great Chairman" (left), experiencing poorer health in his later years, meeting with Hua Guofeng (right)

“Doctor, how is he?” she started.

“It’s really fortunate that he’s still alive, but barely. My lady, I beg of you not to interfere in our work anymore, and I have strict orders not to permit you in anymore in light of your reckless actions to our honourable Chairman. I hope you understand the gravity of the current situation and cooperate with us in this matter.”

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With all his remaining strength mustered and concentrated upon his almost paralyzed voice box, the great Chairman mumbled a few words which were hardly audible to his personal nurse, Zhang Yufeng. “I feel very ill. Call the doctors.”

Without further ado, the nurse rushed out of the room into the darkening evening of September 8 and returned a few minutes later with the complete medical armada, armed with medical tools, drugs and knowledge to combat and defeat the clutches of death that was slowly but surely gripping the great Chairman. The entire medical team paced rapidly into the room and started their work without delay. Getting the life support systems up and running, the doctors and nurses worked their expert ways gracefully, although the change in their facial expressions indicated that the inevitable was undeniably creeping closer with every passing minute. Not wanting to give up that easily, they continued their work, pacing around the room, gathering the necessary tools and medications, monitoring the condition of the great Chairman closely and making sure that any possible errors were kept to the most minimal levels.

Nonetheless, as the night progressed, the great Chairman gradually succumbed to the natural laws of mankind. One by one, his organs began to fail, as he rapidly deteriorated beyond the point of saving. He was barely alive, and all that kept him going was the life support system that was still connected to him. When all hope was finally lost, the doctors convened and came to a unanimous decision to remove the life support system a few minutes after midnight. “I suggest that we do it after midnight, since the great Chairman’s passing would be more easily remembered if it was on September 9 (9/9),” one of the doctors suggested.

And so, it was done. The great Chairman, who was perhaps most sweetly remembered for his establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 but most bitterly remembered for his implementation of the ruthless Cultural Revolution in 1966, breathed his last just a few minutes after the midnight bell of September 9 struck. And the nation thus mourned the passing of a “Chinese God,” and not few also who rejoiced over the end of a “tyrant Emperor’s” reign.

The body of the "Great Chairman" lying in state, as people came to pay their last respects to him after his death on September 9, 1976

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