Zhou’s audience gasped. This put the notion of a long-term perspective in a new light. If the best part of 200 years was insufficient time to assess the first great political revolution of the modern world, then it was no wonder China’s rulers had the Confucian patience to let the clock run down on Britain’s control of Hong Kong and were content to wait for Taiwan’s inevitable return to mainland rule.
As it turned out, Zhou had misunderstood the question and thought it referred to the so-called French revolution of 1968, which history has relegated to the japes of pampered students thinking it would be fun to re-enact scenes from the Paris Commune while chanting clever slogans such as “It is forbidden to forbid”. No matter. The incident with Zhou only served to reinforce the myth of China’s uniquely-long perspective on things, whereby, for instance, Goujian of Yue, a ruler from 2,500 years ago, remains a potent symbol of China’s latest revitalisation.