Great foreign leaders have always evoked strong emotions among Americans. Churchill and Gandhi, Hitler and Stalin—all had precise images, good or evil, and their deaths were cause for sorrow or celebration. With Mao Tse-tung, it is another story. In his lifetime, he was transformed in the public mind from archenemy to a more ambiguous figure who inspired neither hatred nor love, but uneasy admiration.

He embraced too many opposites to be more than partially comprehended: visionary and tyrant, molder of men's souls and master of men's lives, the abstract theoretician ruthlessly presiding over the liquidation of his opponents, the roly-poly...

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