作者： 金 钟
The recently published memoirs of Szeto Wah [The Great River Runs Ever Eastward: Szeto Wah’s Memoirs] mention that following the 1989 June 4th Incident, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China at one point assisted a “former mistress of Mao Zedong” to emigrate to the United States. Within Mao’s harem, Chen Huimin, also known as Chen Luwen, was second only to Zhang Yufeng and Meng Jinyun. I came to know her in Hong Kong in 1997, intending to help her publisher her memoirs. I took notes on our several meetings, and this article is drawn from those notes.
This is the story of an encounter that took place 14 years ago, in 1997, the year Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty.
I have carried out countless interviews with newsmakers in Hong Kong, and typically publish them right away. So why did I hold back on telling the story of this interesting person for more than ten years? In explaining this, I should start with the last time I met Ms. Chen.
May 23, 1997, was my wife’s birthday, and Ms. Chen had arranged to treat us to dinner that evening at a restaurant in Causeway Bay. Ms. Chen was a lively conversationalist, and we had already met several times, mostly to discuss publication of her book. She had verbally appointed me her agent to find a publisher who would pay for the rights to her story, firmly believing that “what Li Zhisui [Mao’s personal physician] wrote about was outside matters, but it is up to me to write what happened behind closed doors,” and that her book would sell even better than Li’s. She said that both of Taiwan’s major newspapers wanted to serialize her story, and that a female author, Chiang X, also wanted to act as her ghostwriter, but that she had refused. She asked me how much Li Zhisui’s book had earned, and I said I’d heard US$400,000. She disdainfully remarked, “Only $400,000? I can make that in one real estate deal! I wasn’t some slut, I was an imperial concubine!”
She told me a great deal about her life with Mao, and I actually believed she had a chance of getting her “secret history of the Red Dynasty” published. I had diligently followed Li Zhishui’s story, and had interviewed Dr. Li, while also publishing portions of his memoirs in my magazine. After he died, I had commemorated him by compiling articles into a book entitled The Rebellious Doctor of Mao. Dr. Li had been the first person to come out publicly with Mao’s licentious and immoral behavior, and his authoritative testimony had attracted widespread concern and interest. His memoir, published in 1994, continues to sell today. However, no second person had come forward to back up Li Zhisui’s account. Now there was this eye-witness, a former female member of the Air Force political department’s song-and-dance ensemble, who had spent several years in an intimate relationship with Mao, and who wanted to reveal everything. I naturally felt duty-bound to help her achieve her goal.
On that evening in May she asked me about my progress in finding a publisher. I frankly admitted, “It’s not going well, because people feel you’re asking for too much money. The China Times general manager, Mr. Huang Zhaosong, told me that only someone like Colin Powell [the former US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] was worth paying US$5 million for his memoirs.” The Chinese-language royalties on Powell’s book were only US$20,000, but Ms. Chen was unwilling to lower her price. I repeatedly explained how much work Western publishers put into a book… After hearing of these difficulties, she complained that I didn’t know how to “report only the good news and not the bad,” and that I hadn’t arranged for her to personally meet with publishers. She said her story was so interesting that whoever heard about it would pay whatever she asked.
She then suddenly asked me, “I’ve told you so much, why haven’t you written about it? Xu Simin brought a photographer to see me, and I refused, but he went ahead and wrote an article referring to me as Mao’s ‘intimate friend.'” Xu [known as Tsui Sze-Man in Hong Kong]was the publisher of the left-wing Mirror Monthly at that time.
I explained that I hadn’t written what she’d told me because my understanding was that we were talking about publishing her book, not about reporting on her story. She said, “What’s the difference between writing an interview and writing a book?” I said I could write an article, but it would have to wait until after the July 1 handover, because I was preparing a special issue for that occasion. This was not what she wanted to hear. For the rest of the meal until we left the restaurant, she continued loudly squabbling with me. I hadn’t expected things to end so badly. She said it was unlikely that we would meet again, because she would certainly have left Hong Kong before the handover, and she would not be returning; she was planning an investment immigration to Australia.
My wife was very disappointed to have spent her birthday dinner listening to another woman haranguing her husband. When Ms. Chen finally left us, she sighed wordlessly — how tedious it was to be married to a husband who talked about nothing but politics!
I was also disheartened. That birthday before the handover — I remember it as the day my dealings with “Mao’s woman” ended. All I had left was a notebook full of jottings from our conversations, and some photographs I’d taken with her. After this encounter came that momentous day in Hong Kong’s history marking the handover of sovereignty from Great Britain to China. Thousands of journalists from all over the world converged on Hong Kong. I carried out interviews and was interviewed day and night, and Ms. Chen’s story simply wasn’t on the agenda. In addition, the unhappy memories of our last meeting led me to unconsciously suppress my normal reporting impulse. It was the recent publication of Szeto Wah’s memoirs mentioning “Mao Zedong’s mistress” that recalled this literary omission to mind.
The first time I met Chen Luwen was during the Lunar New Year holiday in February 1997, when we were introduced at a restaurant in Kowloon by Zhang Ning, a woman who was once the fiancéof Lin Biao’s son. My colleague Tsoi Wing-mui had interviewed Zhang Ning in August 1996, and Zhang had been a member, along with Chen, of the song-and-dance troupe, both women coming from military families in Nanjing. Zhang had maintained contact with Chen over the years, and knew she had come to Hong Kong. That was how it happened that Tsoi and I went to see her.
My curiosity can easily be imagined: would one of Mao’s favored women be a beauty still, or would her charms have faded over time? The woman we met was a middle-aged matron who greeted us with a smile. She wore her hair cut short and carried a brown handbag. She was vivacious, and at a glance it was clear that she was an outgoing and passionate woman. She was about 1.7 meters tall, and according to her own subsequent telling, she was 49 years old. Inevitably it was hard to imagine what she had looked like when she was with Mao, 21 years before.
We talked non-stop, and she spoke about her past with no obvious inhibition or discomfort. I wasted no time in cutting to the subject of how she had become Mao’s companion. She said the first time she saw Chairman Mao was in 1962, when she was only 14 years old. She “worked” in the song-and-dance troupe until the early stage of the Cultural Revolution in 1967.
“Why did you stop in 1967?”
“At that time the Cultural Revolution was all about rebellion,” Chen said. “We didn’t know anything about politics and started grumbling. Meng Jinyun and I discussed Chairman Mao and said he was like an emperor with a harem, and what, then, were we? If concubines, we were entitled to status, if whores we were entitled to pay, and if dancing girls we were entitled to fun, but in fact we had none of those things. Our conversation got back to the head of the song-and-dance troupe, Liu Suyuan, and Liu reported it that same night to Mao. When Mao heard of it, he said two words: rumor-mongering! He had Meng Jinyun and me arrested and labeled counter-revolutionaries. We were thrashed, and I was sent to the northeast. They accused us of opposing Chairman Mao.”
It is well known that Mao had two favored female companions in his later years: Zhang Yufeng and Meng Jinyun. Zhang’s status and deep involvement in politics were no secret. Meng retained a low profile following Mao’s death; there was only Guo Jinrong’s Mao Zedong’s Golden Years (published in 1990, and rehashed in 2009 in Entering Mao Zedong’s Twilight Years), which was an oral account by Meng, and even though a Party product, it still revealed some details. What made people suspicious was how a girl like Meng who had danced with Mao could suddenly become an “active counter-revolutionary” opposing Mao. According to Guo’s book, Meng’s case was the “top issue” of that year; no one was allowed to ask or talk about it, because it involved Mao’s top secret affairs. In summer 1975, Mao suddenly took Meng back to work with him. By then Meng was married and wanted to start a family, but Mao wouldn’t allow it. Although labeled a counter-revolutionary, Meng remained at Mao’s side and was even allowed to sign off on secret documents on Mao’s behalf… It was a truly absurd situation at a time when the whole country was embroiled in struggles to the death.
For that reason, many overseas commentaries held that Meng’s relationship with Mao was not merely one of a dancing partner, but that she had also slept with him. Now Chen Luwen’s disclosures provided collateral evidence of this. She was the same age as Meng Jinyun, but had met a harsher fate. After the Lin Biao incident, she was able to return to Beijing from the northeast, but the pain of her beatings never left her. She subsequently returned to Zhongnanhai until just before Mao’s death, spending a total of 14 years with him.
Chen Luwen said her original name was Chen Huimin, but she had changed her name to hide her identity. The name Chen Huimin is included with those of Zhang Yufeng and Meng Jinyun in the list of people interviewed for Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story.
Chen said she was the only one of Mao’s female companions who came from a cadre family. Zhang Yufeng had been a rail service worker from the northeast, and Meng Jinyun was from an ordinary Hubei family with undesirable class origins. Chen Luwen’s father, on the other hand, was Chen Yusheng, commander of the third division of the New Fourth Army. The former head of the Hong Kong branch of the Xinhua New Agency, Xu Jiatun, had at one time served as Party secretary of Taixing County in the anti-Japanese resistance area under Chen Yusheng, and had later served as vice-director of the political department of Chen’s division. In a column in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily in September 1997, Xu mentioned that Chen Yusheng was a secret member of the Communist Party during the early years of the anti-Japanese resistance.
Because her father had once been Xu Jiatun’s superior, after Chen Luwen arrived in Hong Kong in 1983, she was able to circulate freely within the Xinhua News Agency, and sometimes walked right into Xu Jiatun’s office. Chen said Xu was always warning her not to “shoot off her mouth,” especially on the subject of Mao, and even threatened that if she wasn’t careful, she might be assassinated or kidnapped and taken back to China. (Xu also said he had personally signed off on the execution of a member of the Jiangsu song-and-dance troupe who had talked about a one-night stand with Mao). Eventually, worrying about the consequences, Xu ordered the Xinhua security guards to prevent Chen Luwen from entering without permission.
Something did finally happen to Chen Luwen during a visit to Beijing in August 1986. State security police abducted her at the Xiyuan Hotel on the pretext that she had talked about Mao’s personal matters outside of the mainland, and therefore had leaked Party secrets. She was kept under close watch in Shuangqing Villa in the Fragrant Hills for a year and eight months before being allowed to return to her family home in Nanjing.
Afterwards, the central government sent Xiang Shouzhi (commander of the Nanjing military district) along with the Party secretary of Jiangsu Province and others to announce to her father that Chen had been cleared. “My father couldn’t handle me and only hoped that I would go far away.” Her father died in 1994 at the age of 96. Before his death he lived in Nanjing and served as vice-chairman of the Jiangsu Provincial People’s Consultative Conference. Chen Yusheng was respected because in his early years he had assembled his own guerrilla troops to fight Japan, and after being absorbed into the Kuomintang army, he had helped the Communist New Fourth Army establish its Northern JiangsuBase Area. He had rendered extraordinary service as commander of the New Fourth Army’s third column, with Ye Fei and Zhang Aiping as his deputy commanders. Chen Luwen had studied only through elementary school at the Nanjing Military Region Army Dependants’ Elementary School (Weigang Elementary School), where she was classmates with Zhang Ning and with the daughters of Liu Bocheng and Xu Shiyou.
After the failure of the 1989 student movement, Chen Luwen saw many people fleeing to Hong Kong, and she seized the opportunity to return to Hong Kong illegally. She wouldn’t disclose what route she took. In his memoirs, Szeto Wah mentioned that Operation Yellow Bird had helped “Mao Zedong’s mistress” go to the United States, and I immediately thought of Chen Luwen.
Szeto mentioned several descriptive details regarding this woman: 1) she brought an eight-year-old son with her; 2) she had once been a member of a PLA song-and-dance troupe; 3) after Mao’s death she had married the son of a deputy commander of the Nanjing military region; 4) she was involved in arms dealing; 5) she had at one point been imprisoned in the Western Hills outside of Beijing; 6) she had spent $200,000 to enter Hong Kong illegally.
Comparing this description with what Chen Luwen had told me, I had no doubt that she was this woman. She had brought her son with her, and I had met him in 1997, a tall, thin boy of 19 — that would have made him around ten years old in 1989. Chen Luwen had likewise been married to the son of a deputy commander of the Nanjing military region, a man named Duan Huanjing (this is what Chen told me, and I found that the deputy commander at that time had a name that was pronounced the same, but with a different third character, which seemed rather odd for a father and son). She said that four months before Mao died, he had told her to leave Beijing quickly, to return to the south and get married. She told this to [revolutionary veterans] Jiang Hua and Ye Fei, who felt this was Mao making his final arrangements. She accordingly married into the Duan family and had a son a year later. Her husband was a native of Chaling, Hunan Province. She described this marriage as follows:
“Several days after the wedding, I became fed up with it. We were bored with each other, and our life was empty. He couldn’t forgive my relationship with Mao, and he referred to our son as Mao’s bastard. Things reached such a pass that we could only divorce.”
In order to verify Szeto Wah’s recollection, I made a point of inquiring with Cheung Man-kwong, a Legislative Councilor and member of the Hong Kong Alliance’s standing committee. It turns out that he had personally handled the case of “Mao’s former mistress.” Cheung said, “One day in 1989, someone brought a woman and a boy to see me, saying the woman had been associated with Mao and wanted us to help her immigrate to the United States. I immediately reported this to the Hong Kong government’s Special Branch, hoping to arrange contact with this woman to verify her identity. An expatriate official, I think he must have been a high-level British intelligence agent, immediately met with that woman and her son, and quickly notified me that it was true, she was Mao’s former mistress.”
Cheung Man-kwong said he reported this matter to Szeto Wah, and that they were amazed at the ability of British intelligence to gather information on China. But there were some details that Szeto could not recall accurately in his old age, such as whether Chen had gone to the US. On this point, it appears that Szeto’s account was mistaken, because after arriving in Hong Kong in 1989, Chen stayed there right until 1997, and she told me she had arranged to go to Australia. Several years later someone told me that she had in fact gone to the UK. I lost contact with her after 1997.
Around the time of my meeting with Chen Luwen, Deng Xiaoping died on February 19, and that was a major event. Soon after that, Chen invited me to look at her photos, and I hurried to her Sai Kung home on the evening of February 22. I considered this a matter of great importance, as publishers of historical materials are very keen on old photos. If Li Zhisui hadn’t possessed photos of himself with Mao, he would have had much less credibility. Even the “doggy teams” of Hong Kong tabloids make on-site photos a major goal in order to establish their credibility with readers.
But Chen Luwen admitted that she had no photos of herself with Mao, explaining that Mao was very circumspect in this regard. Even though he was rumored to have had countless women, the only photos ever made public were of him with Zheng Yufeng and Meng Jinyun. Both of them had formal working relationships with Mao as his personal secretary and nurse, so they could be photographed. But Chen was “nothing.” I asked her, “What did Mao consider you?”
“What Mao said was that I was his daughter and lover. I asked him, wasn’t that incest? When Mao heard this, he laughed out loud. He had different moral principles from most people. He also said I was a ‘youwu’ [femme fatale]. At first I didn’t understand what that was. Later I learned that this was what people in Hong Kong call sexy.”
I explained to her that in the past, the term “sexy” wasn’t used in mainland China, just as the term “make love” did not become popular until after the Cultural Revolution. Ostensibly, a “youwu” is something you’re especially fond of, but when applied to a female, it takes on the connotation of a coquette or seductress. A popular but somewhat offensive equivalent is “floozy.” On hearing this, she laughed and said, “I guess I was a bit looser than Zhang Yufeng and Meng Jinyun.” (The children of officials tend to be more licentious.)
Although she had no photos with Mao, she had others in a large box, which she dumped on the sofa for me to look at. Most were old, small, black-and-white photos. I randomly picked out a few, and she allowed me to take them away to make copies. In a photo with Zhang Yufeng and others at Zhongnanhai, she is positioned in the middle of the front row, and Meng Jinyun is not present. There were also some photos of her with elderly cadres.
With Deng Xiaoping’s corpse not yet cold, I took the opportunity to ask her about the love-hate relationship between Mao and Deng and what she’d heard about it. Chen Luwen told me quite a lot.
Once again, she started with herself. She said that in 1986, when she was detained by the state security police, it was related to Deng’s purge of Yang Dezhi. Deng’s daughter Maomao’s [Deng Rong] husband, He Ping (deputy director of the Armaments Department at the PLA General Staff Headquarters), was accused of monopolizing the arms trade, but the report was not made to Chief of Staff Yang Dezhi, but rather directly to Deng. Yang was unhappy about this, and at a meeting of the Military Affairs Commission he criticized the negative effects of He Ping’s behavior before Deng’s face, causing Deng considerable embarrassment. Deng found a way to avenge himself on Yang: he had Chen Luwen arrested and forced her to confess to “selling intelligence.” She said that because Yang was her father’s subordinate, she was familiar with him, and Deng wanted to use her to get back at Yang.
Had there been a conflict of business interests involved? On February 16, Chen told me that Yang had pursued her and had given her some arms deals to handle. Szeto Wah’s memoirs also mentioned that Chen and her ex-husband had been in the “arms trade.” She said that after Mao died, Su Yu (a senior general and a superior to Chen’s father) and Yang were both in love with her and had expressed a willingness to divorce their wives and marry her.
Of all the high-ranking officers in her father’s generation, Chen had the warmest feelings toward Yang Dezhi (1911-1994). She described him as an upright man and an outstanding soldier. She told me that in 1979, when Deng launched the war to punish Vietnam, Xu Shiyou commanded the eastern front and suffered a crushing defeat, while Yang Dezhi commanded the western front and gained a decisive victory, as a result of which he was promoted to Chief of Staff in 1980. Su Yu had once praised Chen’s father for his early rescue of the New Fourth Army, and said that “without your father, we could not have survived.” Su had at one time served as commander of the first and sixth divisions of the New Fourth Army. (Mao once praised Su’s outstanding military service, saying he should be promoted to Marshal, but Su modestly declined, and therefore was ranked first among the senior generals.) Chen Luwen did not accept the advances of either of these generals, but respected them as her elders. She told me, “They were your fellow Hunanese.”
Chen described Deng Xiaoping as despicable. Comparing Deng to Mao, she said Mao had never deployed troops to attack students, and that he never would have publicly criticized Geng Biao and Huang Hua for “talking rubbish.”[In May 1984, Deng told Hong Kong reporters in Beijing that Geng Biao and Huang Hua had been “talking rubbish” when saying that PLA troops would not be stationed in Hong Kong after the handover of sovereignty.] In the military, Deng sidelined his old comrades from the third guerilla force and promoted his cronies; Marshal Liu Bocheng was a reticent man, and Deng stolehis thunder. Chen said that putting princelings in important positions had in fact been Deng’s idea, and favoritism toward his own protégés was behind the rise of Zou Jiahua, Li Peng and Jiang Zemin. She said Mao was a statesman, but Deng was merely a competent politician. Deng loathed Mao and wanted to pull him off his pedestal, and he purposely set Li Zhisui loose to ruin Mao’s reputation…
I asked her, “Did Mao ever give you any presents?”
She said Mao had given her poems and manuscripts, but she had given them away to others, including more than twenty poems given to Song Renqiong, Jiang Hua, Chen Haosu, Chen Xiaolu, Chen Pixian, Tao Siliang, Yang Dezhi, Su Yu and others. I asked what was in them, and she said she only remembered one sentence: “We’ll meet someday in our dreams.”
She said many senior cadres knew of her relationship with Mao. Some, when they saw her, would kneel and bow and address her as “empress,” asking her to put in a word with Mao on their behalf and let them “rectify bad calls.” She was good friends with Tao Siliang; they were sworn sisters, and she spoke to Mao many times regarding Tao’s father (Tao Zhu), but to no avail. She said Li You (Tao Siliang’s husband, and a writer for Reportage magazine) planned to write her story.
Was the sexual relationship between Chen and Mao casual, or was she a kept woman? I wanted to explore this issue, and every time we met, she would tell me a little more. For example, on March 7, I arranged for veteran journalist Jonathan Mirsky to meet Chen Luwen. We spent more than two hours at the Marriott Hotel buffet. On that day Chen looked radiant in a red suit with a form-fitting skirt. Dr. Mirsky could speak Chinese, so there was no need for an interpreter, and he was well-informed on China issues. I just asked Ms. Chen to speak a little more slowly so he wouldn’t miss anything.
After talking about the three years following her detention in Beijing in 1986, she explained what it was like to work as a dancing partner in Zhongnanhai. She said it was a “political assignment” that began in 1962: the top officials of the central government wanted to dance regularly for their health. That was during a tough period [the end of the famine years]; she was 14 years old and had reached a height of 1.68 meters. Going to Zhongnanhai to dance had the practical benefit of guaranteeing plenty to eat, with fortified flour noodles and delicious sautéed dishes unavailable anywhere else. Their dancehall was under the management of the Air Force political department and the Public Security song-and-dance troupe, and exclusively served the three top leaders, Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi and Zhu De. The dance hall held more than 100 people, with orchestral accompaniment, and the girls sat in a row off to one side waiting to be invited to dance.
She said there was a lounge where female performers went in withMao carrying cups of tea, and did not come out for more than an hour. She didn’t know if they went to bed together. There were dance parties twice a week, and each time the dancing went on until three or four a.m., with the troupe members having to get up the next morning for rehearsals and promotional performances. “It was exhausting.” Zhou Enlai’s dance hall was one grade lower, and the dancers were from the Navy political department’s song-and-dance troupe.
Referring to Too Hard to Call You Father [a book published several years earlier by a woman name Ai Bei, suggesting that Zhou Enlai had a daughter out of wedlock], I asked Chen if Zhou had engaged in extramarital affairs. Chen replied without hesitation that Zhou had a lover who was the wife of a general and ten years younger. She was a dancer with the Navy political department’s song-and-dance troupe. Zhou was always telephoning her, and everyone in their circles knew about the relationship. Chen said, “Ai Bei was definitely Zhou Enlai’s daughter!” Ai’s adoptive father was a vice-minister, and her mother was in Beijing; naturally it was all kept secret.
Chen explained that the top officials, apart from the physically frail Chen Yun and the opium-addicted Lin Biao, all fooled around, including Marshals Zhu and Ye and Old Deng. They considered this part of the perks of high office. Some senior officials even had affairs with their daughters-in-law, and complaints were made to Mao.When subordinates wanted to play up to their superiors, introducing them to girls was the most effective method. Someone sent a woman to Mao by chartered plane from Hangzhou, but she wasn’t to Mao’s liking, and he sent her right back. Mao once asked Chen to bring her elder sister to Beijing (Chen came from a family of ten sisters, of which she was the seventh), but she refused. Zhang Yufeng, however, did not refuse to bring her younger sister to Zhongnanhai to wait upon Mao.
Speaking of Mao’s reproductive capacity, Chen said bluntly, “Mao was virile; Dr. Li had to carry out abortions on Mao’s women. It was only in old age that he was no longer able; in the end he couldn’t ejaculate, and only played around to let off steam.” Chen also said that after the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Qing became active in politics and no longer attended to Mao’s sexual needs. She was happy for him to fool around so she could focus her energies on gaining political power.
I noticed that Dr. Mirsky was not reacting to all that Chen said, possibly because she was speaking too fast and he could not understand her clearly. He later asked me why no Hong Kong journalists had followed up on Chen’s story. I replied that it was probably too sensitive; the Hong Kong media had not shown much interest when Dr. Li Zhishui’s book was published, compared with the considerable interest on the mainland. At Chen Luwen’s repeated requests, Dr. Mirsky helped arrange interviews for her at the US and British consulates in Hong Kong. He said the consulate officials had known about her for some time, but their feeling was, why should going to bed with Mao a few times qualify her for political asylum?
Our discussion of Mao’s personal life was most detailed during a conversation at Causeway Bay’s CATIC Plaza. I arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon, ten minutes late, and Chen was already on the corner waiting for me in a white skirt suit and white high heels. She took me to a unit on the sixth floor, which she said she had bought on speculation for HK$9,000 per square foot. Now she was waiting to sell at the best offer. We sat across from each other at a desk, and once she started talking she kept going for half an hour. She said she’d made HK$200 million in arms dealing and property speculation and still had HK$30 million in hand.
I asked her, “After so many years in Hong Kong, why haven’t you remarried?”
She said, “A lot of men pursued me on the mainland; after the Cultural Revolution two members of the Central Committee chased me — it was crazy. After I got to Hong Kong, there was some chairman of the board who was after me, and someone introduced me to the tycoon XXX. I just wasn’t interested. Why should I get a divorce? My relationship with Chairman Mao was too intense, and being with anyone else was just too boring.” As I wrote all this down, I asked her to elaborate.
“As his power grew, his sexual appetite also became more vigorous, even a bit abnormal, and no one could meet all his needs. Mao was a not a normal person, so his sexual appetite wasn’t normal, either. Mao was great in bed; it wasn’t your run-of-the mill sexual intercourse. He was disgusted with Zhou Enlai for pretending to be a saint when he had lots of lovers but was too timid to enjoy it. He was also disgusted with Liu Shaoqi’s pride in being “properly married,” even though it was multiple times – ‘I’m the only one who fools around?’ The best thing about Mao was his honesty; he dared to compare himself to Qin Shihuang.”
“Weren’t Zhang Yufeng and Meng Jinyun enough for him?” I asked.
She said: “The two of them were more ladylike and obedient, but they were prudish and didn’t know how to act. They regarded themselves as objects and didn’t take any initiative, so it was impossible for Mao to be ‘like a fish in water’ with them. I was different, and Mao could call to me in front of them, ‘Chen Huimin, come seduce me away from these books!’”
She didn’t say how she seduced Mao. But she said she always sat reading in the nude in front of him, and when asking Mao a question, she would draw very close to him, and Mao enjoyed the expression in her eyes… It can only be imagined how irresistible the 70-year-old Mao must have found this unclothed dancer, only 18 in 1966. Chen said Mao had a particularly strong sexuality. The first time he forced himself on her, he tore her clothes off and caused her to “collapse in an instant.” After several more of these forced encounters, they became true lovers for whom age was irrelevant. She said Mao’s skin was delightfully smooth and rosy.
She revealed some of Mao’s idiosyncrasies. For example, he liked to take off his trousers and break wind, and he had the women keep track of how many times he did so in the course of a day. He believed that farting was a sign of good health. Mao liked to engage in mutual teasing with Chen, and was not the kind to look only to his own satisfaction. On more than one occasion he had her watch him with other women. She said Mao was thoroughly familiar with the classic Plum in a Gold Vase and said that “imagined eroticism was the best.” He didn’t watch pornographic films — “It was enough to have me at his side. But Jiang Qing watched X-rated films.” She said Mao had a very high sex drive. “Sometimes when I would talk to him about the Cultural Revolution, he’d get angry and say, ‘Don’t pay attention to that bullshit, your business is here.'”
Chen Luwen and Mao discussed Engels’s theory of marriage, which was that monogamy arose from the system of private ownership, and would die out with it. She and Mao both endorsed “communal property and communal marriage.”
According to my notes, I talked with Chen Luwen six times, each times for two or three hours or more. Her chief interest was always publishing her book. She said a lot of people wanted to cash in on her. Someone in Beijing had contacted her and asked her to provide material for the Party history, but she refused. I believe she really did hope to publish a book that would be even more authentic than Li Zhisui’s memoirs, recording her ten-plus years with Mao. She repeatedly explained that the reason she wanted several million US dollars was as compensation for “the ravishment of her youth.” On one occasion she said to me very emotionally, “Mao ruined me — after being with him, I can never be satisfied with another man, and married life is hopeless!” Yet, she did not lack money. What she wanted was fame, and for people to think of her when Mao’s name arose, as the famous concubine Yang Guifei is associated with the emperor Minghuang of Tang.
She was very self-confident, and claimed to have absorbed Mao’s spirit. In fact, it was also Mao’s insufferable arrogance and ignorance that inspired her ambition. She had received “hush money” from the mainland and used it to speculate on the real estate market. She once lost HK$36 million without blinking an eyelash. She angrily berated Britain and the US for treating her like garbage and not letting her immigrate, regarding her as less important than a fugitive student activist. That’s why she wanted to publish a book that would surpass Li Zhisui’s.
She didn’t hesitate to say how much she adored and missed Mao. She said she often dreamed that Mao came to her and said, “As long as you don’t go against me as others have, and only tell the truth about me, I don’t care if it comes out.” She said Mao was a genius, extraordinary and unconventional. Mao was fond of her because she was clever, honest and went against the tide, not only because she was pretty and sexy. Jiang Qing and Mao also had a mutual attraction, and Jiang was absolutely loyal to Mao. Among those close to Mao, “Wang Dongxing was really evil. He did things too horrible for you to imagine.”
She said she didn’t worry about State Security police hunting her down; they had gone to talk with her five times, asking her to return to China and offering her a house, but she refused. But Hong Kong wasn’t safe, and she had to leave. She would go overseas, and she and her son would rely on each other. She predicted that the Maoists would regain power in China someday.
Fourteen years have passed like water in a stream since she talked to me in Hong Kong, hoping I would help her get her memoirs published. Where is she now? How is she doing? In the mighty torrent of a great era, so many prominent people have vanished in a twinkling. Her dream of an epic saga has been reduced to a footnote in the history of tyranny.
What value is there in the story she had to tell? Readers — and those behind the Red Wall — will have to pass their own judgment. At the Tang poem goes, “The white-haired concubine,sitting idly, gossips about the emperor.” It is a new version of an old story.
Hong Kong, September 20, 2011
Published in the October 2011 edition of Open (Kaifang) Magazine
Translated by Stacy Mosher