Wang Guangmei

Wang Guangmei
Spouse of the President of China
In office
27 April 1959 – 21 October 1968
President Liu Shaoqi
Preceded by Jiang Qing
Succeeded by Lin Jiamei
Personal details
Born (1921-09-26)26 September 1921
Tianjin, China
Died 13 October 2006(2006-10-13) (aged 85)
Beijing, China
Spouse(s) Liu Shaoqi
(m. 21 August 1948 – 12 November 1969, his death)
Relations Wang Zhichang (father)
Dong Jieru (mother)
Liu Pingping (daughter)
Liu Yuan (son)
Alma mater Catholic University of Peking
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Wang.

Wang Guangmei (Chinese: 王光美; pinyin: Wáng Guāngmĕi; 26 September 1921 – 13 October 2006) was a respected Chinese politician, philanthropist, and First Lady, the wife of Liu Shaoqi, who served as the President of the People's Republic of China from 1959 to 1968.


Earlier Years

Wang Guangmei was born in 1921 and grew up in a distinguished and prominent Chinese family. Her father was a government minister and a diplomat; her mother was an educator. Wang Guangmei studied French, Russian and English, and earned a degree in physics from the Catholic University of Peking in Beijing. She also studied at an American missionary university. Described as a sophisticated woman, Wang Guangmei spoke French, English and Russian. In the mid-1940s, Wang Guangmei traveled to the Communist Party headquarters in Yan'an and served as an interpreter during efforts by the American statesman George Marshall to negotiate a truce between the Nationalist government and the Communist rebels. At this occasion, she gained the admiration of many Americans, which would later play a role in charges that she was an American spy.

There, at the age of 24, she met Liu Shaoqi, who was nearly twice her age and had married five times before. For years she served as his secretary, and he was named a key deputy to Chairman Mao Zedong after the Communists took power in 1949. In 1959, Liu was named Chinese President, making him the second most powerful man in the country.

Public Role

Liu Shaoqi was President of China from 1959 to 1968, when he became one of the first high-level officials to be denounced as a "capitalist roader" and purged by Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Also, Wang Guangmei was once widely known in China as its beautiful, articulate, sophisticated first lady. In the early 1960s, the couple traveled abroad on state visits to Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan and Indonesia. But in 1966, Wang Guangmei was part of a group that purged the party leadership of Tsinghua University, and the effort backfired when she came under attack by a militant opponent who accused her of being a counterrevolutionary. This came at a time when her husband was also under fire by Mao and his deputies for being the leading "capitalist roader".

After Liu became president in 1959, Wang became a very visible diplomatic companion to him. This antagonized Mao's wife Jiang Qing, who was growing politically ambitious. Wang would subsequently be punished for her allegedly inappropriate behavior on the international stage. In 1963, Wang donned a tight-fitting qipao dress at a banquet in Indonesia hosted by President Sukarno. In April 1967, the Red Guards forced her to put on the same dress, with silk stockings, high heels and a mocking necklace made out of ping-pong balls.

More damagingly, Liu had encouraged his wife to become involved in politics during the confused run-up to the Cultural Revolution. In 1963 she joined a work team investigating corruption in the countryside, a mounting problem after the failure of the 1958–61 Great Leap Forward. And in mid-1966, when the Red Guards erupted on the scene – and Liu and other leaders floundered trying to fathom what Mao had in mind – she headed a work team to restore order among the students at Beijing's Tsinghua University: they would become her chief persecutors.

The disgraced President Liu died in prison. Wang was put under house arrest, then imprisoned. Her four children were also punished. Imprisoned in Qincheng jail during the cultural revolution, Wang was kept in ignorance of her family's fate. After four years her children plucked up the courage to ask Mao for permission to see their parents. It was through his terse consent – "Their father is dead but they may see the mother" – that Wang learned of her husband's death. Wang spent about 12 years in prison, and was released in 1979, just before Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, a leader of the Gang of Four, was put on trial and accused of leading the effort to destroy President Liu and his wife.

Soon, Liu's reputation was rehabilitated and Wang received compensation for her suffering during the Cultural Revolution. In 1980, Wang appeared in court during the trial of the Gang of Four as a victim of Jiang Qing's prosecution. Later, Wang was elected a permanent member of the National People's Political Consultative Conference. She founded the "Hope Project", a program aimed at aiding the poor throughout China. She even donated some of her family's valuable antiques, a few dating back to the Qing and Song dynasties, to charity.

Wang died on October 13, 2006, at the No. 305 Military Hospital in Beijing. Her funeral was held at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery in Beijing on Oct. 21, 2006.


Wang is survived by four children, some of whom have risen to prominent positions.

Her eldest son, Lt. Gen. Liu Yuan, was appointed a political commissar of the Academy of Military Sciences, a rank equivalent to a cabinet minister, according to Reuters.

Her daughter, Liu Ting, graduated from Boston University and Harvard Business School and is chairman and president of the Asia Link Group, consultants in corporate finance.


Honorary titles
Preceded by
Jiang Qing
Spouse of the President of the People's Republic of China
Succeeded by
He Lianying
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