| Mum’s the word: A Chinese policeman under a portrait of Mao Tse-tung during the SARS scare in April.
Beijing, Nov. 2: In the remote, fog-covered hills of south-western China, 1,000 miles from the privileged leadership compounds of Beijing, lives a woman who could be the long-lost daughter of Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
Xiong Huashi, 68, was brought up in abject poverty as the second child of a family belonging to an ethnic minority tribe called the Miao.
She has spent her life in the poor province of Yunnan, squeezed between Tibet and Burma, where peasant farmers scrape a living growing tea and cabbages on the terraced hillsides, living in mud and brick cottages with leaky thatched roofs. But last year it emerged that she was adopted, at the same time as Mao’s Long March, a 6,000-mile flight from advancing Nationalist forces during the civil war, passed near her village of Shuitian.
The march is celebrated in China as the spiritual birth of the new nation, a moment when certain defeat was turned into seeds of victory 14 years later.
It was always known that He Zizhen, Mao’s third wife, gave birth twice during the retreat, and was compelled to leave her two daughters with local families encountered on the way. Neither daughter was ever rediscovered. In total He bore Mao six children, five of whom were lost or died, and she herself went mad some years later.
Mao then divorced her, and married Chiang Ching, the fourth and most notorious of his wives, who went on to lead the “Gang of Four”, accused of trying to seize power after Mao’s death. After treatment for her mental illness in the Soviet Union, He returned to China and lived in obscurity, dying in the 1980s.
While the evidence is purely circumstantial, a local Communist Party official says he is 70 to 80 per cent sure that Xiong is Mao’s missing daughter.
Along with Xiong’s family, Tao Yunxian formally requested a DNA test with the late chairman’s surviving children, but the issue is apparently too sensitive for the party to consider. There has been no response a year after the application.
Tao, an official with the party discipline and inspection committee in Weixin county, has worked on the history of the Long March in the area since the 1980s. He discovered that a party investigation team looking for Mao’s daughters in the 1950s had pinpointed the villages around Shuitian as a place where He might have given birth.
The baby, the only one born at this point in the Long March, had been given to a Miao family.
One villager told him that the family of a girl called Xiong Huashi sometimes nicknamed her Maomei — possibly a variant of Meimei, which means little sister and is a common, affectionate term for a little girl.
But it was not a variant used even in the local dialect, and in isolation could easily be read as “Little Mao Girl”. The villagers never connected this with the chairman — Tao said a local link to the “Great Helmsman” would seem too far-fetched for such lowly peasants to contemplate.
For her part, Xiong’s description of the view from the hillside where she grew up matched perfectly the view given by He to the 1950s inspection team.
When Xiong was nine her adoptive father died, and his wife moved away and remarried. She herself returned to the district, but not the same village, and became a local farmer’s second wife at the age of 12. It was only after Tao went to the family with his findings that her elderly uncle, now dead, confirmed that she had been adopted.
The decision not to tell her had been made for her own protection, he added.
“Anyone would want to know the truth about where they come from,” said Xiong this week. She would like to take a DNA test to compare with that of Li Min, Mao and He’s one surviving child, who was born in 1937.
“One little piece of skin is what stands between me and knowing the truth.” She is excited, although confused at the possibility of being Mao’s daughter, say her children.
Li Min’s sister-in-law, Kong Shujing, told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that Li had no interest in Mao’s lost children, and would not want to discuss the matter. “Other people have claimed to be the children before,” she said.