She was born as Li Yunhe (李云鹤) in Zhucheng (诸城), Shandong Province, also known as Li Jin, Li Shumeng (李淑蒙), and was an actress under the stage name of Lan Ping (蓝苹). Jiang joined the Communist Party of China in 1933 and worked as an actress in Shanghai from 1933 to 1937. In 1939 she married Mao Zedong in Yan'an. She became a member of the Politburo in 1969. She was appointed as the deputy director of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and formed the famous Gang of Four with Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. From that point on, she was the most powerful figure in China during Mao's last years.
Jiang incited radical youths against other senior political leaders and government officials, including Liu Shaoqi, the President of the People's Republic of China at that time, and Deng Xiaoping, deputy Premier. She was arrested after the Cultural Revolution ended (1976). At her trial in 1981 she was the only member of the Gang of Four who bothered to argue on her behalf. She was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in 1981, and the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. She was released for medical reasons in 1991. Ten days after her release, she killed herself in her apartment.