Mental Floss

The Brutal Ladies Behind Some of History's Biggest Bullies

Maggie Koerth-Baker
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THE WHITE-BONED DEMON: MAO'S MAIN SQUEEZE Jiang Qing, better known as Madame Mao, was Communist China's answer to Lady Macbeth. A beautiful and ambitious actress, she seduced Mao Zedong when his first wife fell ill. Then, as the leader of the notorious Gang of Four (the political group, not the band), Madame Mao helped spearhead the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, during which all Chinese schools were shut down, intellectuals were beaten or murdered, and anyone expressing "bourgeois" attitudes was eliminated. More moderate elements of the government plotted against her, and she became known as the "White-Boned Demon." After Mao died, her enemies arrested her and the other three Gang members. Her death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, but she took her own life when she was on release for medical reasons in 1991.

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POL POT-STICKER: KHIEU PONNARY You don't get to be the wife of a mass-murdering Cambodian dictator by acting like a timid homemaker. Khieu Ponnary was a revolutionary Communist firebrand for decades in Cambodia before her husband's Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. As Party Secretary of Khampong Thom province, she oversaw the brutal enforcement of party policies that led to countless executions. But like any great tyrant, she began showing signs of insanity. Pol Pot left her for a much younger woman (don't they always?) in 1979, and she spent the remaining years of her life in the care of family members and various mental institutions. She passed away in 2003.

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LADY MACBETH: BEHIND THE STORY (CA. 1007-1060 C.E.) Don't believe the hype. The real Lady Macbeth (the wife of Macbeth, an 11th-century Scottish king) was nothing like the power-hungry she-devil that Shakespeare made her out to be. But it's not all Will's fault. You can blame that on James I, the king of England and Scotland and a friend of the Bard's. In the play, Macbeth is the villain who kills rival king Duncan, but it was really Duncan who should have played the bad guy. By all historical accounts, Duncan was not only an awful king, but also a real jerk. Being a descendent of Duncan, however, James I wanted to preserve the image of his lineage, so he "encouraged" Shakespeare to make Macbeth the villain. If that weren't enough, he also suggested that Will make Lady Macbeth equally evil by depicting her as the scheming mastermind behind Duncan's death. Why? It was just James' way of saying "screw thee" to his wife, Anne of Denmark, with whom he had long been unhappy.

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FAMILY TIES (That Really Bind) Spending time with family can feel like torture, especially if you've got a tyrant for a dad.

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More bully-licious factoids flow from the pen of Christopher A. Smith in mental_floss volume 3, issue 4.

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