Yang Kaihui

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Yang Kaihui
Yang Kaihui.jpg
Born (1901-11-06)6 November 1901
Banchang, Changsha County, Hunan, Qing Empire
Died 14 November 1930(1930-11-14) (aged 29)
Changsha, Hunan, China
Spouse(s) Mao Zedong (m. 1920–1930)
Children Mao Anying (1922–1950)
Mao Anqing (1923–2007)
Mao Anlong (1927–1931)
Yang Kaihui with her children.

Yáng Kāihuì (simplified Chinese: 杨开慧; traditional Chinese: 楊開慧; courtesy name: Yúnjǐn (simplified Chinese: 云锦; traditional Chinese: 雲錦); November 6, 1901 – November 14, 1930) was the second wife of Mao Zedong, whom he married in 1920. She had three children with Mao Zedong: Mao Anying, Mao Anqing, and Mao Anlong. Her father was Yang Changji, the head of the Hunan First Normal School and one of Mao’s favorite teachers.

Early life

Yang Kaihui was born in the small village of Bancang in Changsha, Hunan Province, on November 6, 1901.[1] Her name meant "Opening Wisdom", although she came to be nicknamed Xia, meaning "Little Dawn."[1] Her father was Yang Changji, a school teacher and leftist intellectual, while her mother was Yang Zhenxi, while she had a brother three years older than her, Yang Kaizhi.[1] Through his teaching of ethics at the First Normal School of Changsha, Changji had become a father figure to a pupil named Mao Zedong,[2] later writing in his journal that "it is truly difficult to imagine someone so intelligent and handsome" as him.[3][4] A friendship developing, in summer 1916, Mao was invited to spend several days at Yang's Bancang home, walking twenty miles in straw sandals in order to get there. On this occasion, he did not talk to either Zhenxi or Kaizhi, instead bowing his head to them as a mark of respect.[1]

Yang Changji gained a job in Peking, moving his family to the city.[citation needed] Mao arrived in Peking on August 19, 1918 with several like-minded friends from Hunan; upon arrival, they stayed in the Yang's small house in the north of the city.[1] Here, Mao met Kaihui again, with the two discovering a mutual attraction.[5][6] A friend who knew Kaihui at the time described her as "small in stature and round-faced, with deep-set eyes and pale white skin", and her appearance impressed both Mao and his friends.[7][1] Kaihui later related that she had "fallen madly in love with him already when I heard about his numerous accomplishments" but did not make her feelings immediately known. She kept "hoping and dreaming" that he shared her feelings and decided that she would never marry anyone but him.[6]

Their relationship did not develop swiftly, as Mao was shy and lacked sufficient funds to court her, living in cramped rented accommodation with other Hunanese migrants in Peking's Three-Eyed Well district.[8] Changji secured Mao a job at the university library as assistant to the librarian Li Dazhao, an early Chinese communist.[5]

In January 1920, Yang Changji died due to illness and Yang Kaihui and her mother sent his coffin to Changsha.[citation needed] Mao returned to Peking, something biographer Stuart Schram suspected was partly due to his desire to comfort Kaihui.[9] Yang Kaihui entered into Xiangfu Girls’ School with the help of the father of Li Shuyi. In August of that year, Mao established the Cultural Book Institute in Changsha. Yang met Mao there and participated in the institute.[citation needed]

Following the overthrow of Hunanese warlord Zhang Jingyao by generals favourable to Mao, in September 1920 he was appointed director of the primary school attached to the First Normal School of Changsha. Now possessing social status and material wealth, he was able to marry Kaihui.[10][7]

Revolution experience

Yang joined the Chinese Socialism Youth League in the second half of 1920 as one of the first members in Hunan. She married Mao Zedong that winter, without any wedding ceremony or other celebrations. Yang joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the beginning of 1922. In April 1923, Mao went to the CPC's Central Committee in Shanghai to work as the Organization Department Minister. In the following year, Yang Kaihui, together with her two children, Mao Anying and Mao Anqing, joined her husband in Shanghai and organized an evening school at a cotton mill. In 1925, accompanied by Mao, Yang Kaihui went to Shaoshan to organize peasant movements, while caring for her husband and educating their children. At the same time, she continued to teach peasant evening schools and contracted with other comrades. In the beginning of 1927, Mao inspected the peasant movement in Hunan. Yang Kaihui sorted through the large amount of investigation materials and neatly copied them down. Mao’s report on the peasant movement in Hunan, including Yang's contributions, was published in March of that year. During this period Yang organized many movements among peasants, labor, women, and students.

After the National Revolution failed, Yang returned alone to Bancang to organize underground revolutions and lead fights against the Kuomintang (KMT) in Changsha, Pingjiang, and the borders of Xiangyin. Amid the great difficulties and dangers, Yang wrote many letters to her cousin Yang Kaiming, asking him to take good care of her children and mother if she met a sudden death. Because of the great distance and spare communication with Mao over the next three years, Yang often only saw news about her husband in the KMT’s newspapers and worried greatly about his safety.

In August 1927, Mao ended his marriage with Yang; and, in early 1928, he began a relationship with He Zizhen.[citation needed]


In October 1930, the local KMT warlord He Jian captured Yang Kaihui and her son Mao Anying. Her captors wanted her to publicly renounce Mao Zedong and the CPC, but she refused to do so. Even under torture, she is reputed to have told her captors that "You could kill me as you like, you would never get anything from my mouth", "Chopping off the head is like the passing of wind, death could frighten cowards, rather than our Communists", "Even if the seas run dry and the rocks crumble, I would never break off relations with Mao Zedong", and "I prefer to die for the success of Mao's revolution career".

Yang was executed in Changsha on November 14, 1930 at the age of 29 and is one of the earliest Maoist martyrs.[11] Her son, Mao Anying, who died twenty years later in the Korean War, was forced to watch his mother being shot.[citation needed]

Influence of Yang Kaihui's death on Mao

Although he would have relationships with other women, Mao mourned Kaihui for the rest of his life.[12] In summer 1937, he conversed with the American reporter Agnes Smedley, reciting to her a poem that he had written in memory of Kaihui.[13]

In spring 1957, Li Shuyi, a friend and comrade of Mao and Yang's, wrote a poem in memory of her own husband, Liu Chih-hsün, a member of the Red Army who had been killed in 1933. Sending her poem to Mao, he responded by composing his own poem commemorating both Liu and Kaihui, titled "The Immortals", which he would subsequently publish:[14]

Original Chinese Pinyin Schram's English Translation Barnstone's English Translation



Wǒ shī jiāo yáng jūn shī liǔ
Yáng liǔ qīng yáng zhí shàng chóng xiāo jiǔ
Wèn xùn wú gāng hé suǒ yǒu
Wú gāng pěng chū guì huā jiǔ

Jì mò cháng'é shū guǎng xiù
Wàn lǐ cháng kōng qiě wèi zhōng hún wǔ
Hū bào rén jiān céng fú hǔ
Lèi fēi dùn zuò qīng pén yǔ

I lost my proud poplar, and you your willow,
Poplar and willow soar lightly to the heaven of heavens.
Wu Kang, asked what he has to offer,
Presents them respectfully with cassia wine.

The lonely goddess in the moon spreads her ample sleeves
To dance for these faithful souls in the endless sky.
Of a sudden comes word of the tiger's defeat on earth,
And they break into tears of torrential rain.[15]

I lost my proud poplar and you your willow.
As poplar and willow they soar straight up
into the ninth heaven
and ask the prisoner of the moon, Wu Gang, what is there.
He offers them wine from the cassia tree.

The lonely lady on the moon, Chang E,
spreads her vast sleeves
and dances for these good souls in the unending sky.
Down on earth a sudden report of the tiger's defeat.
Tears fly down from a great upturned bowl of rain.

The allusion to poplar trees is a reference to Yang, whose surname meant "poplar", while that to willows alludes to Liu's surname, which meant "willow".[15]


Yang wrote poems to express her loneliness and her longing for Mao. One of them, "偶感 [Ǒu Gǎn]" ("Occasional Feeling"), was written in October 1928, two years before her death, and discovered when her former residence was being repaired about 50 years later:

Original Chinese Pinyin English Translation


Tiān yīn qǐ sù fēng, nóng hán rù jī gǔ.
Niàn zī yuǎn xíng rén, píng bō tú qǐfú.
Zú jí kě fǒu quán? Hán yī shì fǒu bèi?
Gū mián shuí ài hù, shì fǒu yì qī kǔ?
Shū xìn bù kě tōng, yù wèn wú rén yǔ.
Hèn wú shuāng fēi hé, fēi qù jiàn zī rén.
Zī rén bùdé jiàn, wǎng chàng wú yǐ shí.

It is cloudy and very windy; the severe coldness invades my body.
Miss you in the long distance; my feeling goes up and down suddenly.
Is the illness on your feet cured? Are clothes defending against coldness enough?
Sleep alone without any cares and loves; maybe I am also arduous and have tasted too many hardships.
No letters could reach to you and nobody could be asked.
Regret that I have no wings, or I could fly to you.
Couldn’t see you, the time that I take companion with sadness and depression would never come to an end.



  1. ^ a b c d e f Pantsov & Levine 2012, p. 56.
  2. ^ Feigon 2002, p. 21.
  3. ^ Feigon 2002, p. 18.
  4. ^ Pantsov & Levine 2012, p. 39.
  5. ^ a b Schram 1966, p. 48.
  6. ^ a b Pantsov & Levine 2012, pp. 56–57.
  7. ^ a b Feigon 2002, p. 27.
  8. ^ Pantsov & Levine 2012, p. 57.
  9. ^ Schram 1966, p. 56.
  10. ^ Schram 1966, p. 57.
  11. ^ Good, Meaghan (14 November 2012). "1930: Yang Kaihui, Mao Zedong's wife". ExecutedToday. 
  12. ^ Feigon 2002, p. 51.
  13. ^ Schram 1966, p. 208.
  14. ^ Schram 1966, pp. 208, 352.
  15. ^ a b Schram 1966, p. 352.


  • Verity Wilson, "Dressing for Leadership in China: Wives and Husbands in an Age of Revolutions (1911-1976)", Gender & History, vol. 14, no. 3 (November 2002), pp. 608-628
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