In contemporary Chinese history, Jiang Qing (江青), or better known as Madame Mao, was no doubt one of the most notorious figure, being the chief of “Gang of Four”, she initiated Cultural Revolution, which brutally traumatized the entire mainland.
However, before she becomes Jiang Qing in Yan'an, she was Lan Ping (蓝苹 - literally means blue apple) in Shanghai cinema, the scandalously controversial starlet that appeared in several of features with Denton and Lian Hua Studio as supporting cast, from 1935-1937.
Miraculously, despite massive number of cultural treasures being destroyed during WWII and Cultural Revolution, most of her films survive, and have been available as DVD/VCD.
Sometime I did wonder, while cruelly deliberate in demolishing traces of her past, did Madame Mao somehow purposely preserve her own films?
This entry is definitely not a tribute to her, but just to share some of Madame Mao stories and photos of her bittersweet yet mischievous “Blue Apple” era.
From jealousy to Vengeance – Rivalry with Wang Ying
Wang Ying in the 30s
Wang Ying was one of the most prominent and talented actress, both stage and screen, in mid 30s of Shanghai.
In 1942, after being appointed by Zhou Enlai, Wang Ying began to tour the US with husband Xie Hegeng. They befriended Pearl S Buck, performed the famous play Put Down Your whip in English version, while promoting Chinese cause for WII around the US. One of her highlight during this period was her successful and well received performance in the White House, whom audiences included Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.
After WII, Wang Ying remained in the US, and the couple only returned to China in 1955.
As soon as Cultural Revolution started, Jiang Qing has personally demanded special punishment towards Wang Ying. Tragically expected, Wang Ying did not survive and eventually passed away in 1974 during her custody.
Why is it special here?
It all started with the envious hatred back in 1936.
Wang Ying and Lan Ping in comic, from Denton Pictorial
In 1936, ambitious but relatively little known Lan Ping desperately strived for the title role of movie Sai Jinhua, whom she lost the competition at last to Wang Ying, one of her friend and colleague in Denton Studio.
Jealously disappointed and ashamed, she never forgives her rival, and that was why the special punishment was demanded after 30 years, as an ultimate revenge towards Wang Ying.
Myth or Fact – Secret behind Liu Haisu Forbidden Portraits
I love this article's first paragraph in describing Liu Haisu:
He was a painter, an art teacher and an artistic rebel. Liu Haisu (1896-1994) was a brilliant artist who used his unique blend of European and Chinese techniques to revolutionize art education in China.
Concise and precise, Liu Haisu was no doubt one of the greatest masters of Chinese contemporary painting, especially his pioneer in organizing painting course to use live models in nude in China at the Shanghai Art School.
In his biography Cang Hai published by People's Literature Publishing House, the author claimed that in his interview with Liu in 1983, Liu recalled that Lan Ping become his model in the 30s, which he produced two acrylic portrait for her, resembled the posture of The Grand Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.
Though seeing a number of anonymous users in Chinese online forum displaying the images, which claimed to be nude portraits and sketch of Lan Ping by Liu, but it was said that the original portraits burnt to ashes during Cultural Revolution as mentioned in the biography.
Myth or fact, or simply just a rumor created in line with marketing strategy, no one could really prove this, but from my opinion, from the traces and stories surronding her early life, there could be possibility for Lan Ping to become Liu's model, as she was no doubt an impudent modern girl of Shanghai City with progressive mindset, that could go beyond the social norms.
From Lan to Qing – Metaphor of her Sky-High Ambition
Why the stage name Lan Ping become revolutionary pseudonym Jiang Qing?
It was said that the idea comes from the proverb QingChuYuLan (青出于蓝)， which literals means - The blue dye(青) extracted from indigo(蓝) is bluer than indigo itself.
With this she was wishing determinedly that the new phase of her life would finally succeed her unhappy and unfulfilled Blue Apple era.
The journey of becoming Madame Mao then began…
A photo of Lan Ping, peforming Beijing Opera:The Fisherman's Revenge in Yan'an. It was said that Mao Zedong first noticed her from here, and since then her life changed.
Sharing below is video excerpt of Lan Ping in Lianhua Symphony 1937:
(photos featured here primarily comes from Ling Long, Kongfz archive)