The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hotel tryst with memory of Mao

Shanghai, June 27: Vajpayee may now claim to know China’s new, younger leaders, particularly the Chinese President Hu Jintao whom he met three times — Evian during the G-10 meeting, St Petersburg and now here in China.

Here, at Shanghai, he had an opportunity to catch up with some history of past Chinese leaders.

Akura Garden Hotel, where he was staying, has been home to many heads of state and other celebrities in its 77-year history.

Mao Zedong stayed here for a period in 1959 but his wife, Jiang Qing, was the hotel’s guest on several other occasions. The garden in front of the hotel “had some changes to match his leisurely walk”, says a hotel document.

The hotel began in 1926 in a two-storeyed colonial building that housed the French Club. In the 1940s, it was taken over by the US army’s local unit. The communist revolution saw the hotel taken over and used as a “people’s culture palace”.

The old structure remains as the facade of the Japanese-style 32-floor new wing. As I came down from the 32nd floor of the hotel building where Vajpayee held his press conference, took the elevator to the right of the front lobby and stood outside “Mao’s room”, the young banquet reservation manager, Ye Gang, greeted me with a curious look on his face.

What on earth was I doing outside the banquet room — Carnation — where there was no banquet scheduled this morning' That banquet room on the first floor of the old hotel building was where Mao stayed.

On my request, Ye opened the door of the banquet room where little seems to have changed since the Great Helmsman’s time — not even the huge, ornate chandeliers.

Further down the corridor, another banquet room — Orchid — was, however, occupied. A meeting was on there. That was the room of Mao’s wife during her stays in Shanghai. No wonder Shanghai was such a favourite with the Gang of Four even much later.

And, of course, the names of the banquet rooms — after flowers — offer one of the most infamous historical memories of communism in China — of the cruelties and executions hidden behind the Hundred Flowers Bloom slogan of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

But not many Chinese today know about the hotel’s tryst with Mao, his wife or the Gang of Four. Those who do, do not care.

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