Zhang Hanzhi, legendary diplomat and Mao's English tutor

2008-02-01 21:42:13 Xinhua English

Zhang Hanzhi(file photo)

Zhang Hanzhi(file photo)

BEIJING, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- It must have been beyond her imagination that this baby girl would grow into a legendary diplomat decades later when the beautiful Shanghai shop assistant and her businessman husband decided to give up the illegitimate child for adoption in 1935.

Zhang Hanzhi, the baby adopted by famed lawyer and scholar Zhang Shizhao, became a debonair Chinese diplomat and top interpreter in the 1970s, as well as late Chairman Mao Zedong's English tutor and the wife of Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua.

Zhang Hanzhi died on Jan. 26 in Beijing from a lung-related illness, aged 73. Her funeral was held Friday in Beijing's Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, an honor given to the Chinese Communist Party's elite.

Zhang's adopted family lived a luxurious life and she was one of the last Chinese generation to live such a life before invasion, war and revolution changed China utterly.

Zhang Shizhao was invited to Beijing by Mao Zedong in 1949. Zhang Hanzhi went with him. Zhang Shizhao knew Mao of old: he had financed a student group Mao led in 1920.

The Zhang family remained good friends with Mao and in 1963, Zhang Hanzhi, 28, lecturer at Beijing Foreign Studies University, was invited at Mao's 70th birthday to be his English tutor.

"The Chairman wanted the lessons to start the following day! I was dumbfounded. I was to teach the Great Leader whom over a billion people worshipped as their god," Zhang recalled in Time magazine in 1999.

The weekly one-hour language lessons lasted for half a year, during which a friendship with her great student was formed. Mao prompted her to eat his favorite dish of braised pork over dinners and Zhang described to him the latest happenings outside Zhongnanhai, where China's leaders live and work.

She even dared to argue with Mao about the contents of the English learning materials, which, however, was trifling compared with her decline of the offer to become China's first female ambassador in 1973. She turned down the opportunity because she was in love with Qiao Guanhua, the then Foreign Minister, from whom she did not wish to be parted.

Earlier, in 1971, Zhang was transferred to the Foreign Ministry where she met and eventually married Qiao Guanhua, 22 years her senior, in 1973.

As one of the best first-generation diplomats in new China she translated for U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when he paid a secret visit to meet Chinese leaders in Beijing in 1971.

She was part of the team behind the Shanghai communique in 1972which laid the path for diplomatic relations between China and the United States. Earlier that year she translated for Premier Zhou Enlai in meetings with U.S. President Richard Nixon during his groundbreaking visit to Beijing.

She rose to become deputy director-general of the Department of Asian Affairs before being forced to quit politics in the wake of the fall of the Gang of Four. Both she and her husband Qiao Guanhua were believed to have been close to Mao's wife Jiang Qing, head of the Gang of Four and as a result were separated for two years.

Zhang Hanzhi and Qiao loved each other deeply. When Qiao was bedridden, Zhang sat by his side day and night, even feeding him mooncake during the Mid-autumn festival to create a festival mood for him.

Zhang remained unmarried for the rest of her life since Qiao died of cancer in 1983.

Since the 1990s, Zhang wrote several books, including her best-selling autobiography "Stride Through the Thick Red Gate", telling the stories of herself and that of her father and husband.

In 2006, she even played a role in the movie, "Perpetual Motion", starring her well-known magazine publisher daughter in China, Hong Huang, who was sent to study in the United States in the 1970s.