Flat Earth: Our man at the barricades

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The Independent Online
SIR Percy Cradock, our man in Peking from 1966 to 1969 and from 1978 to 1983, has been reminiscing about the Cultural Revolution. The high point of his diplomatic career was when Red Guards stormed the British embassy compound in August 1967 to try to persuade Sir Percy to join them in a cheerful chant of 'Long live Chairman Mao'- he being one of the few diplomats who could speak the language. Perhaps it was Sir Percy's failure to do so that resulted in the embassy being burned down.

The resilient Sir Percy knew an assault was on the cards, and had readied his defences. Unfortunately, his carefully prepared barricades fell with distressing speed. As the mob cornered the British in their last redoubt, Sir Percy writes: 'There were blows on the shutters protecting the registry windows, and some unidentified liquid began to pour through. We wondered if it was petrol. One of the girls tasted it and reassured us it was water.'

That, we suspect, was just before they used the rest of the girls to barricade the windows.