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Mao's widow killed herself, China says

Jiang Qing, widow of Mao Tse-tung and leader of radical leftists during China's chaotic Cultural Revolution, committed suicide at home last month, the government announced Tuesday. Jiang, 77, nearly achieved supreme power in 1976, while Mao lay on his deathbed. But she was arrested by political rivals just one month after his death and never regained real freedom.

In recent years, according to Western press reports, Jiang lived under house arrest at the suburban Beijing villa of Li Na, 51, her daughter by Mao. Until her death, Chinese officials always denied that she had been released from prison.

The Chinese news agency gave no motive or details on her suicide. But Jiang was widely believed to have suffered from throat cancer for several years. Time magazine, in a Monday report based on unidentified sources, said that Jiang hanged herself and that a desire to avoid further suffering from her cancer may have been the motive.

Jiang died on May 14, the New China News Agency said.

Jiang was last seen in public Jan. 25, 1981, when a show trial ended and she was removed screaming from a Beijing courtroom, shouting revolutionary slogans and cursing her judges and China's current leaders as "fascists, renegades, traitors."

At her trial, Jiang and nine others were charged with framing and persecuting 729,511 people during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, including 34,800 who died. She was accused of involvement in an attempted military coup in 1971 and of plotting an armed rebellion in 1976.

Together, Jiang and her three co-defendants comprised the "Gang of Four." China's present leaders have blamed them for most of the violence of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang blamed Mao. "I was Chairman Mao's dog," she said during her trial. "Whomever he told me to bite, I bit."