Chinese Legend- Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek and National Disasters

The informant is an eighteen-year old student from Los Angeles. He was born in Taipei and received schooling in America. He had been studying in Taipei before moving back to the United States for university. He speaks Chinese and English and will be referred to in this transcript as “GS.”

GS: Okay, so, uh, this is something that my grandmother said during a family gathering ‘cause, like, I guess in Chinese culture everybody look after our their elders, it’s a dominant belief, so, like, uh we have family gatherings every week at our house, there’s always someone over at our house. So this is during a family gathering and we’re sitting around the living room. And she, uh, tells us about how- I don’t exactly remember the context, but she mentions how back in um, when Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong’s time, when Mao Zedong passed away, there was a great earthquake in China. She mentions the great earthquake, but what I think she’s referring to is the Tangshang Earthquake in 1976, and when Mao Zedong passed away that big earthquake happened and because, uh, he was actually a turtle spirit, the reincarnate of a turtle spirit from heaven. So when he passed away he made a big ruckus. That was Mao Zedong, but Chiang Kai-shek is a sky spirit, he’s like a dragon or an eagle, like a sky spirit, so when Chiang Kai-shek passed away, there was a great storm. There was a great storm in Taiwan and my grandmother describes it as all of a sudden, she said she was, at the time, she was in the living room, and then all of a sudden everyone heard and all of a sudden this great storm, there was peace and then a great storm, and the next day the news reports that Chiang Kai-shek died in the night yesterday. And she like, really said okay, Chiang Kai-shek died, that storm, he caused it ‘cause he passed away to heaven, making a ruckus as he left, as he went into the sky. And uh, interestingly, my mother and my father both remember this, they both remember, of course, cause the Tangshang Earthquake is, you know, infamous in how many lives it took, they remember the Tangshang Earthquake and said yes, this is about the time that Mao Zedong died, and they also remember the great storm that came all of a sudden in the dead of the night when Chiang Kai-shek passed away, uh, it’s interesting cause I wanted to tell you this so I just searched it up, but the Tangshang Earthquake, was in a, uh, it was in June, it, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, (he laughs, as he’s trying to fix a problem on his phone), in June, 1976, or July, 1976, but Mao Zedong passed away in September of 1976…  (indistinguishable) ever most known strangely associate this happen together. I’m not sure when Chiang Kai-shek passed away because that storm isn’t that as notorious as the earthquake. But this is this belief that these two people were so historically, like they changed the, uh, East Asia so much historically because one is an earth spirit and one is a sky spirit, and they fought each other.

Interviewer: And so what’s the significance of that story?

GS: I, I think, it’s just uh, for Asians they or, not just Asians, Chinese, but like my background Chinese and Alamanese, they think that great historical figures are often like, like, uh, reincarnates or descendents of some kind of celestial being so they would say, you know Mao Zedong is an earth spirit, and then they would say, uh, Chiang Kai-shek is a sky spirit because of how much change they did to the world.

Interviewer: Cool.

GS: Just like, another belief in like the supernatural for the Chinese.

As a person born into Chinese culture and educated in the United States, GS offered some interesting insight into this and other of the stories he shared. As he explained, for older Chinese generations, this story happened literally: His grandmother immediately attributed both the earthquake and the storm to the death of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek respectively. GS explains that grand political figures were associated with celestial bodies that affected life on earth. For the modern generation, he felt the story was more symbolic than a literal story as told by his grandmother. Nonetheless, while not always associated with the powers of the heavens, the deaths of political figures are usually seen as major social upheavals even in our own society. Consider the international mourning of Princess Diana or It seems that when a figure has life as powerful and influential as that of Mao Zedong or Chiang Kai-shek, their people felt that their deaths could only be matched by just as devastating a force. Because of the belief in the eternity of the spirit in China, it is no surprise that the work of an influential figure is far from done after death.


Cheater, A. P. “Death Ritual as Political Trickster in the People’s Republic of China.” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 26th ser. (1991): 67-97. JSTOR. Web.

The relation between people’s reaction to Mao Zedong’s death and the Tangshan Earthquake is discussed in this article, albeit it in a reversed context from the one GS related. While GS only heard the story in positive terms (always that Mao was “influential” and “powerful,” never “ruthless”), it is clear that some people did not hold him in high regard. As stated by Cheater in the article, “When the Tangshan earthquake preceded Mao’s death by less than three months, some invoked the ‘feudal’ notion that the Mandate of Heaven was slipping” (80-81). Here, while his death and the earthquake are connected, it is more in the context of criticizing him.