One evening in 1964 Vergil Berger, a Reuters correspondent in Beijing, was asked by his cook to point out Albania on a globe sitting on his desk. With difficulty, Berger found a speck of red in southeast Europe and showed it to the cook. 'Albania cannot be so small,' he said. 'Mr Berger, I thought you were an honest man. You must be lying.' This anecdote catches the ambience of the years after the Sino-Soviet split in 1960, when Albania, one of the smallest and poorest countries in Europe, suddenly became China's best friend. Alone among communist governments, Tirana supported Beijing in its bid for independence from Moscow. In response, in 1961, Beijing agreed to give Albania technical assistance and equipment for 25 chemical, metallurgical and electrical plants and lent the country 112.5 million roubles, bringing its total aid since 1956 to more than the Soviets had given. The Albanians became the largest foreign community in Beijing, its embassy facing that of Britain, one of the worst 'imperialists', while the sprawling compound housing the Soviet embassy, complete with school, shops, swimming pools, sports field and a nuclear bomb shelter, was largely empty. There were no more invitations for the Bolshoi Ballet or the Moscow Symphony Orchestra - instead, it was song and dance troupes from Tirana that performed in concert halls in Beijing. Mao Zedong admired Enver Hoxha, communist head of state of Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985, who was similar to him in many ways. He confiscated private land and made collective farms that enabled the country to become almost self-sufficient in food, created an industrial base that had not existed before and improved literacy and medical care. He executed and imprisoned thousands of landowners, clan leaders, Muslim and Christian clerics and peasants who resisted collectivisation. His aim was to create a state that was self-sufficient, a goal pursued by Mao after the split with Moscow. But Hoxha broke with China after the death of Mao and its rapproche- ment with the west. Since the end of communism in Albania in 1992, relations with China have become normal, if less exotic. Now the cook would not accuse Berger of lying.