A myth: Did Zhou Enlai or Mao Tse-tung say it was too early to tell what the impact of the French Revolution was?

Storming of the Bastille. Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution#mediaviewer/File:Anonymous_-_Prise_de_la_Bastille.jpgIn short: no.

At greater length: it’s often said that either Zhou Enlai or Mao Tse-tung responded to a question about the impact of the French Revolution by saying it was too early to say. It’s a pervasive story as it’s a good one.

It’s also an untrue one, as an interpreter present when this was meant to have happened in the early 1970s has explained:

“I distinctly remember the exchange. There was a mis­understanding that was too delicious to invite correction,” said Mr Freeman.

He said Zhou had been confused when asked about the French Revolution and the Paris Commune. “But these were exactly the kinds of terms used by the students to describe what they were up to in 1968 and that is how Zhou understood them.”

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