“I sat on Mao’s knee”

Not me – a friend of mine. I’m off to China in a few days time and was talking about this trip to a friend today when she told me this fascinating little story.

On 1 October 1959, China celebrated the 10th anniversary of its independence. At that time, my friend was a young girl of eight living in the international compound of Beijing where her father was serving as the Romanian Ambassador to China.  He took her to the celebrations and, as the only child there, she was invited to sit on the knee of Chairman Mao.

Telling me this story, she reminded me that that, although she did not understand this at the time, when she was making the acquaintance of Mao China was in the middle of the great famine of 1958-1961. Literally tens of millions of Chinese died as a result of the mismanagement of agricultural policy by the Communist Party led by Mao.

Although I never sat on his knee, I did once meet Mao. It was in Tiananmen Square on 8 November 2001. He had been dead for 25 years then and I saw his preserved body in the giant mausoleum that somewhat macabrely houses his preserves to this day. I’m not sure that I’ll revisit him on this trip.


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