His giant portrait still hangs in pride of place over the entrance to the Forbidden City, his embalmed body lies in a mausoleum in the middle of Tiananmen Square, and his visage is the only one to adorn the latest set of banknotes.
Almost 30 years after his death, Mao still remains the central figure in China. While the legend and legacy of Mao Zedong is now under fresh, and intense, scrutiny overseas, there is no debate here.
A new English biography of him by Jung Chang, the author of Wild Swans, describes Mao as the biggest mass murderer in history, yet the book will not be the talk of Beijing’s coffee shops and restaurants, nor will its claims fill the pages of Chinese newspapers. For the book will not be published in China, and references to it are hard to come by on the internet.
According to a confidant of Mao – a retired senior member of the Communist party – it is this refusal to confront and reassess the darkest episodes of China’s past that is preventing the country from achieving its potential in the future.