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Mao Zedong: Liberator or Oppressor of China?

Michael Lynch introduces the controversial career of a gargantuan figure in Chinese and modern world history.

The setting is Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the capital of China. The date is August 1966. The Square is packed with a vast throng of young people. In unison, their faces a picture of ecstasy, they wave their little red books of the sayings of Chairman Mao and repeatedly scream and chant his name. The object of their adoration, who stands on the balcony of the South Gate overlooking the Square, is a drug addicted 73-year-old womaniser. He is also the ruler of a quarter of the world's population.

Such scenes remain one of the most powerful images of twentieth-century China. The worship of Chairman Mao Zedong was extreme, but it was not wholly irrational. It was a recognition of what he had achieved for China. Those many millions of Chinese who ritualistically intoned 'Mao, Mao, Mao Zedong' saw him as the supreme hero who had freed their country from a century of humiliation at the hands of the foreigner. One of the titles given him was 'the red sun rising in the east', an apt metaphor for the man who, having led a momentous social and political revolution in China, went on to make his country a nuclear Superpower, defying the USA, displacing the Soviet Union as the leader of international socialism, and becoming the model for the struggle against colonialism.

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