In 1949 foreign sympathisers came to help build the Maoist dream. Sixty years later, one of them is still there.





On January 31 1949, when the People’s Liberation Army came marching into Beijing – heralding the imminent demise of Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang regime in mainland China – Sidney Shapiro, a bespectacled 33-year-old lawyer from Brooklyn, New York, rode his bicycle up to Xizhimen, the city’s north-west gate, to take a look at the soldiers.

There, he remembered years later, he saw a parade of “clean, smartly stepping, smiling young men” being welcomed by cheering crowds, and a line of American-made vehicles that the Communists had captured from Guomindang forces. Shapiro, who had spent the last year and a half in China but had been in Beijing for only a couple of months, was enchanted. “Parents held their kids higher on their shoulders for a better view,” he later wrote. “The streets were gay with flags and bunting.” The Mao era had arrived.

Almost six decades later, Shapiro is still here – a robust 92-year-old Chinese citizen with white hair, a strong handshake, and an exceptionally well-preserved Brooklyn accent. Part of a wave of westerners who settled in Beijing in the early Mao years to sign up for the “socialist experiment,” Shapiro is one of a tiny few who lasted long enough to experience the entire, ongoing era of Communist rule – and to see China stage an Olympic opening ceremony last Friday night that gave almost no acknowledgement to Mao’s legacy.


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