Mao’s Urbane English Tutor Dies

Zhang Hanzhi, the diplomat who, as a young teacher, tutored a 70-year-old Chairman Mao in English for a few months in 1964, has died at age 73. According to Reuters, her death ends “an eventful life that began as an abandoned child and brought her next to Mao and U.S. President Richard Nixon as they shared toasts and jokes.”

She was born in Shanghai in 1935, the illegitimate daughter of a shop assistant and a powerful businessman. She was adopted by a lawyer, Zhang Shizhao, an official in the Nationalist government who shifted his loyalties to the Communists who took power in 1949. [Full text]

In 1999, Zhang wrote a short bio of Mao for Time Asia which simultaneously provides a short autobiography of her own life through the Cultural Revolution. Of their English lessons, she wrote:

zhanghanzhi.jpg Soon I found that Mao had his own special way of learning a foreign language. He was not interested in my correcting his Hunan-accented pronunciation, and he was not too keen on learning grammar. His interest was in the vocabulary and word-formation of English. He made comparisons between the Chinese and English languages and tried to figure out the rules of English usage. I also had the feeling that, apart from learning the language, he wanted a change from his monotonous life in Zhongnanhai, the top leadership’s compound. Wherever he went, he saw almost the same people every day. I felt he needed to meet and chat with someone younger who could bring him news from the outside world. I was right…

For another perspective, also read a memo from Zhang’s first husband here (in Chinese.)

[Image via WomenofChina.cn]

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