If George Washington had lost the American Revolution against Great Britain, he and the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have been hung, and crows would have pecked on their corpses. Today, they would have been known as traitors instead of the Founding Fathers of a great nation.
In China, the same thing happens. During the nineteenth century while China was fighting the two Opium Wars with Great Britain and France, the Taiping Rebellion broke out. This rebellion lasted from 1845 to 1864 and more than twenty million died. At one point, the Tapings ruled a third of China. To the Imperial Chinese, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan was known as a bunch of longhaired bandits. If the Taipings had won, history would have turned out differently—Hong Xiuquan would have become the emperor of China and claimed he was God's Chinese son.
Instead, China went through series of wars with Great Britain, France, Russia, and Japan. After being a super power for more than two thousand years, China became a victim of Imperialism.
In 1949, from the ashes of revolution, Mao Tse-tung became the victor when he defeated Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang. In the West, Mao is known as a brutal dictator. In China, however, he liberated the common people from warlords, and economic deprivation and domination by Imperial powers like Great Britain and France. He also made women equal to men. Because of actions like these, to Chinese, it doesn't matter that Mao's Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution killed thirty million people and caused great suffering.
Although I did not live in China during those times, my wife did. She was born in China and lived through The Cultural Revolution. As an adolescent, she survived the Red Guard and was sent to a labor camp for three years. When she came to America in the 1980s, she wrote about these experiences in her memoir, Red Azalea, and went on to write about Mao's China in three more books: Katherine, Wild Ginger and Becoming Madame Mao. These four books do not paint a pretty picture of that era.
Yet, during one of our trips to China, she joined me to see Mao on display in his tomb in front of the Forbidden City. You see, in China, Mao is considered their George Washington, and that is how he is portrayed in the Chinese history books.
After all, the winners write history, and what counts is that China has become an economic miracle powered by a market economy with an expanding middle class. Both America and China burst into revolutionary flames and were reborn from their own ashes to rise like the phoenix and make a miraculous comeback.