Zhang Changhui 张常辉: Mao’s ballerina

Zhang Changhui 张常辉 – Zhang the Constant Splendor
(July 1935 Beijing – 1985 Beijing)
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Beijing Dance Academy 北京舞蹈学院, 1958
Dancer at Zongzheng wengongtuan 总正文工团, 1958 – 1985
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The name is long: Song and Dance Ensemble of General Political Department. The full name is: People’s Liberation Army General Political Department Backstage [as on Hudon; Ensemble?] 中国人民解放军总政治部文工团, established in May 1953. (Peng Liyuan 彭丽媛 also worked at 总政治部歌舞团, which has the identical 历任团长)
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I called her 小姑姑, Xiao Gugu because she’s my Dad’s youngest sister, half sis, to be exact. Her Mom, the modern actress Zhang Yunxin 张运新 was my grandfather’s youngest concubine. Xiao Gugu and her husband Wang Fei 王飞 were both principal ballet dancers at Zongzhen. They have one son, Wang Xiaoxing 王小星 (1965 Beijing -).

This picture, from L to R: back row: Changhui Xiao Gugu, Auntie Jennie and Mom; the middle row: Wang Fei, Zhang Renfu and Dad; front row: Stephen, Jennifer, Xiaoxing and I.
This picture was taken (prior 1968) at 总正文工团 compound, during the high of the Cultural Revolution. The 标语 biaoyu – slogan and 大字报 dazibao – big-character poster were all over the walls around us, a very common sight during that crazy years.
Toward end of the Cultural Revolution, she was sent to work at a assembly line at a factory that produced construction nails in Beijing, not far from where she lived. Xiaoyi visited her once and told me that Xiao Gugu was like a lifeless robot: her eyes vacantly stare into nowhere; sitting there motionless mechanically doing the piece work she assign to do. No joy, no sadness, no emotion.

Uncle Wang Fei, Xiao Gugu and Dad; undated

When we were applying visas for Hong Kong in the late 1978, Aunt Jennie specifically instructed us not to get in contact with Xiao Gugu, and even forbade me to visit her. Jennie worried that she might want to come as well or ruin the planning. I wanted to visit her just one more time before leaving for HK but caved in to Jennie.

Nowadays, Aunt Jennie often wishing out loud that it would be nice had Changhui were with her: they could have opened an art or music school, one teaches music and one dance. I thought Jennie was selfish .. vantage Jennie anyway.

Their home was a two-room row house on the compound of the dance company. Xiao Gugu and Uncle Wang had divorced around 1977 or 78 but they continuously lived together due to lack of living space, (a common headache everywhere in China then) they each occupied a room.

I had dinner with Uncle Wang in Beijing in 2003, with Jiujiu and Xiaoyi. He never remarried. Reportedly, he keeps Xiao Gugu’s ashes at home.

Xiao Xing has turned out to be a problem child, in and out of prison a couple of times, is now married with a son.

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