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The Independent Online
The deadly dances of Chairman Mao

THEY were fine revelations last week from Mao Tse-tung's physician about the Great Helmsman's taste for ballroom dancing. But what shocked us was the old monster's callousness.

According to Dr Li Sui-Zhi, 73, his physician for 22 years until his death in 1976, Mao was prepared to see Fujian province disappear in a mushroom- shaped cloud in order to expose the Americans as imperialist warmongers. This was in the 1950s when the Communist- controlled mainland and the defeated remnants of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army on Formosa were getting ready for another battle across the Strait of Taiwan.

You have to be of a generation to remember names such as Quemoy and Amoy, islands occupied by Chiang's forces a few miles off the Fujian coast. They were shelled daily, and for a time it looked as if the United States might intervene to help its anti-communist ally. The generalissimo certainly wished they would. And now, we learn from Dr Li, Mao did so too. 'I hope the Americans drop an atomic bomb on Fujian Province,' was his response. 'I hope that millions and millions of people will die so that the world can see they are imperialists.'

It has been fashionable in the past couple of years to knock Mao. His victims now run the country and it has served them well to pull him from his lofty perch. So we should be wary of revelations because they tend to have a political purpose. But these add to the body of accusations that he was an extraordinarily callous man.

The late Harrison Salisbury gave us the first details of Mao's private life last year, after chatting to most of China's present rulers. They told him that the revolution might not have been a tea party, but it did involve a lot of dancing and coupling.

Dr Li confirms that at least twice a week Mao's personal dance troupe, as the young women were called, was summoned to his pavilion for a spot of soft-shoe shuffling and a turn on the couch. Mao followed the Chinese superstition which holds that the length of a man's life is determined by the number of women he partners (lying down, rather than standing up).

PC pastels

CHILDREN'S crayons have entered the world of political correctness. A colleague has just returned from the US with a 'MultiCultural' packet of 16 different skin, hair and eye colours. None of the crayons, except for black and white, is identified by its primary colour, which is no doubt just as well, since labels fall out of favour so rapidly over there. A few years ago, that pinkish hue so typical of the Caucasian complexion was called 'flesh'. When it was realised that this might offend blacks and orientals, it was changed to 'salmon'. When environmentalists objected it became 'peach'. We are now waiting for the organic food lobby to have its say.

Fleeing fish?

AS IF Cambodia didn't have enough on its plate just trying to survive. Last month, as the rainy season came to an end, the country's newly elected legislators considered a pressing matter of state - emigrant fish. A sand bank has formed at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, sending Cambodian fish unwittingly down the Mekong away from Cambodia and into Vietnam. By rights they should have turned a corner and headed back up the Tonle Sap. The problem now is, how do they get rid of the sandbar and will it be done before all Cambodia's fish take Vietnamese nationality?

Finn ice

SOMETHING odd is happening in Finland. More people each year are falling through the ice and drowning. According to the Finnish news agency STT, a record number of 69 Finns went under last year and didn't come up again. So far this winter 17 people have drowned. The ice it seems is thinner than it used to be - but no one has an explanation for the phenomenon. Perhaps the hole in the ozone layer in the northern hemisphere is bigger than we are told.

(Photograph omitted)