Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing, and Vietnam in 1965

On 2 June 1965, Mao Zedong arrived in Hangzhou, where he read a journal article which interested him greatly. Entitled “Looking at US Expansion of the Vietnam War from the Perspective of the US Ruling Clique,” the essay was published by the International Relations Research Office of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article concluded that the US expansion of the Vietnam War was concurrently intended “to advance towards a battle with China (打算同中国进行一场较量).”

A week later, Mao would tell a visitor from the Indonesian Communist Party that China had every intention of striking back in the event the US transgressed the Sino-Vietnamese border. The article was hardly the only stimulant toward this thinking, but it clearly had an effect.

Mao forwarded the article to Jiang Qing, his wife, for to her read, including an annotation:

This analysis is from a research office; it is fine [for you] to read it. They believe there is the possibility of imminent attack. I see things similarly, that there may not be much time to consider it. An attack is possible in one, two, or three years; we need to have prepared accordingly. We need to immediately do foundational work in all areas [and] the Central Committee has already put this in motion.

And indeed, the prior 14 April, the Central Commmittee had sent out an order generically entitled “regarding the strengthening of war preparation work.”

This short extract from volume 5 of the Mao Zedong Nianpu, published in 2013, demonstrates that Mao would at least occasionally consult Jiang Qing with his thoughts on national security issues, although his note that ‘it is OK [for you] to read” indicates that he was aware of the limitations on the information he might share with her.

Mao and Jiang Qing went on to further concurrences in that month of June 1965. On 20 June, they met in Shanghai for a parlay with Fudan University professors Zhou Gucheng (周谷城, seen below) and literary scholar Liu Dajie (刘大杰). They discussed Chinese literary history and recent scholarship by Liu thereon, and some Peking Opera and modern drama in the PRC.

Mao starts things off with a friendly comment that rapidly become probably more serious than his guests were hoping for: “We don’t fear criticism, we use criticism to progress…It isn’t that we have told people to criticize you [pointing at Zhou Gucheng], it’s that the masses have themselves spontaneously criticized you.” Mao then proceeded a very long explanation, drilling down into Liu’s book entitled History of the Development of Chinese Literature (中国文学发展史), saying the book was “lacking in ideological essence.”

Mao used Liu’s treatment of specific literary and cultural figures from antiquity, including Wang Anshi, to illustrate his point. Perhaps ironically, Mao pointed out that in the dynastic period scholars had to fear death for publishing unorthodox views, but that today in 1965 scholars in China essentially have freedom of speech.

Jiang Qing apparently played little role in the discussion, and even the areas of her expertise – Peking opera and modern theatre – were handled cursorily. Mao absolutely dominated according to the transcript, adding that the revolutionary opera, “Shajiabang,”was “pretty good”.

As Mao departed Shanghai on 20 June 1965, he listening to Jiang Qing’s work report on his train as they were passing through Nanjing.

Jiang Qing is already anchored at the apex of PRC cultural discussions in the mid-1960s, but her other political work with Mao, including in the sphere of foreign relations, remains an area where additional primary sources might shed further light.

Source: Mao Zedong Nianpu [Chronology of Mao Zedong], Vol. 5: 1961.07 – 1966.09 (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2013), pp. 497-504. Translations by Adam Cathcart.

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