His last and final marriage was to the Shanghai actress Jiang Qing. When that marriage, in turn, soured, he preferred to avoid a divorce and simply took mistresses, sometimes several at once. It was easy enough for Mao to get them from among his nurses and assistants or from a special army company of dancers and singers.
“Selecting imperial concubines” was how a senior general described it. Mao preferred young, simple girls who felt deeply honored to be chosen by the great man, even to the point of taking pride in catching a venereal disease from him. When his doctor suggested that the chairman might want to stop his sexual activities while the disease was being treated, Mao refused. “If it’s not hurting me,” he said airily, “then it doesn’t matter.” As far as hygiene was concerned, Mao’s solution was more sex: “I wash myself inside the bodies of my women.”
By the 1960s Mao was totally cut off from the country that he ruled, so isolated by his eminence that bodyguards and advance parties choreographed his every move. Sex was his one freedom, the one moment in his day when he could treat other human beings as equals and be treated as such in return. A century earlier the boy Emperor, Tongzhi, used to slip out of the palace incognito, accompanied by one of his courtiers, to visit the brothels of Beijing. For Mao that was impossible. Women came to him. They revelled in his power. He revelled in their bodies. ‘I wash my prick in their cunts,’ he told his personal physician, a strait-laced man whom he took a perverse delight in shocking. ‘I was nauseated,’ the good doctor wrote afterwards.