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The Tiananmen rallies
Our most beloved leader Chairman Mao meets revolutionary teachers and students of the masses at Tiananmen Gate Tower
Printed in December 1966

A fascinating picture. The time is 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. The place is Beijing's Tian'anmen Square. Featured are Chairman Mao Zedong, his heir apparent Lin Biao and Premier Zhou Enlai. Behind them, enthusiastic Red Guards, each of them holding the Little Red Book - a digest of the great leader's thoughts. This thin volume was edited by the devoted Lin Biao himself and printed in the hundreds of millions.

As often in pictures from this period, Mao seems somewhat absent-minded, although he is closely surrounded by ecstatic young girls, some of them rather pretty. But Mao is probably absorbed by his grand plan: using the so-called Cultural Revolution to dethrone Lui Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, and regain absolute power, which he lost after the disastrous Great Leap Forward.

On the left, casually dressed, is the clever, artful, enigmatic Zhou Enlai. He has managed so far to survive all the fierce political infighting. Partly because he is a competent, often indispensable administrator, but mostly because he has never tried to become the Number Two of the regime and thus a potential rival to Mao. During the chaotic Cultural Revolution, Zhou Enlai's pragmatic and discreet actions probably saved the Chinese economy from total collapse.

Finally, wearing a superbly cut jacket, stands Marshal Lin Biao. Is he already plotting against Mao? Probably not right now. But perhaps he should be, for his own safety: four years later he will be eliminated by Mao, along with his family, under obscure circumstances. But in 1966, he is still Mao's favored companion-in-arm and designated successor. During that year Mao Zedong and he hosted eight rallies on Tian'anmen Square, reviewing more than 13 million Red Guards.