Back in Cultural Revolution days, one politically correct tour sometimes laid on for visitors included a trip to the loess caves of Yenan, where the Long March came to an end. There Communist Party workers showed off the modest cliff-dwelling quarters occupied by Chairman Mao Zedong and his colleagues during some dark days of their war against Japanese invaders and Nationalist pursuers. They understandably called those times the most inspiring in party history. But an odd thing happened if a visitor asked exactly who lived in the cave right next door to the chairman. Just a secretary, was one stock answer; nobody important. Display a guidebook which said the cave had been home to Liu Shaoqi , later to become president of China, and it would be dismissed curtly. Foreign propaganda, an official would call the guidebook published a few years earlier by Beijing's own Foreign Language Press. Presumably, they don't do that in Yenan anymore. Liu has been rehabilitated and the 100th anniversary of his birth has just been celebrated officially and prominently, nearly 30 years after he was hounded to death as the country's leading 'capitalist roader'. Today's verdict calls him 'a great Marxist and proletarian revolutionary who suffered extremely unfair treatment'. One assumes his former Yenan home is no longer called that of an anonymous clerk. China's leaders deserve full credit for rectifying this piece of their past and calling so much attention to it. Nations usually benefit when they face their history truthfully and abandon dishonest versions invented for the temporary cause of political expediency. This case must have been especially difficult because it raises questions about the role of socialist China's founding father, Chairman Mao, who drove Liu to his death. But while the recent birthday celebrations deserve praise, they're also reminders of how far China must go to become a more normal nation. For example, vast chunks of its past remain off-limits to close inspection; the chairman's heirs aren't ready for examinations of how the Great Helmsman was able to launch and persist in his more irrational policies - the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution - even though these brought death to tens of millions of Chinese. Perhaps the reputations of too many survivors would be on the line. Yet if China's leaders have trouble with the past, they also have difficulty with the present. While now praising Liu for having favoured change in his time, against the political odds, they still harass those who want something similar today. For example, they recently banned a collection of books which call for greater political, literary and social reform, presumably on grounds that allowing them to be read might endanger the status quo. They arrested for 'damaging state security' a man who called at a government office to register his would-be political party as a legal entity. And they've told newspapers to ignore memoirs of retired officials which reflect on China's recent history, not always favourably. There's no doubt Beijing faces enormous social problems, both present and potential. For one thing, the swollen jobless ranks will grow as more state enterprises are reorganised; the possibility of urban unrest cannot be ignored. Chinese leaders have reason to be wary of sudden change which might endanger social stability. Yet they may be too suspicious. A recent worldwide spate of elections shows people can vote out an establishment with a long record of failure (Venezuela) but will stay with the status quo when the alternative seems chancy (Taiwan). Many Chinese citizens seem angry about bits of the system they've got - corruption, for example - but there's little sign they're ready to risk their enormous gains of the past 20 years for something new and unproven. Thus China's leaders might do well to reflect again on the case of Liu Shaoqi. They could conclude they would serve the nation by permitting both a bit more rigorous study of yesterday, and a bit more tolerance today.