Historian Frank Dikötter is one of the most respected chroniclers of modern China, winning acclaim for books including Mao’s Great Famine (2010), The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution (2013) and The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History (2016). In his new book, How to be a Dictator , Dikötter - chair professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong - focuses on the most notorious strongmen of the 20th century: Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Kim Il-sung, Nicolae Ceausescu, Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia, “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti and, of course, Mao Zedong. In this edited excerpt from the chapter on Mao, Dikötter describes how the founding father of the People’s Republic of China built up his cult of personality: The moment the red flag fluttered over Beijing, a hastily sketched portrait of Mao Zedong went up over the main gate of the Forbidden City. Over the following months portraits of the chairman appeared in schools, factories and offices, often with precise instructions on how they should be displayed. His distinctive wart soon became a trademark. The study of Mao Zedong Thought became compulsory, as adults from all walks of life had to go back to class, poring over official textbooks to learn the new orthodoxy. Revolutionary songs, including Mao Zedong is our Sun or Hymn to Chairman Mao were belted out daily by schoolchildren, soldiers, prisoners and office workers. These tunes were also blasted from loudspeakers, installed on street corners, railway stations, dormitories, canteens and all major institutions. Carefully choreographed parades were held twice a year, as clockwork soldiers, mounted cavalry, tanks and armoured cars were reviewed by the Chairman on top of a rostrum in Tiananmen Square. With the cult of personality came a harsh regime modelled on the Soviet Union. “The Soviet Union’s Today is our Tomorrow” was the slogan of the day. Mao emulated Stalin, seeing the key to wealth and power in the collectivisation of agriculture, the elimination of private property, all-pervasive control of the lives of ordinary people and huge expenditures on national defence. The regime’s first act was to overthrow the old order in the countryside. This was done in the guise of land reform, as villagers were forced to beat and dispossess their own leaders in collective denunciation meetings, accusing them of being “landlords”, “tyrants” and “traitors”. Some did so with relish, but many had no choice as they risked being targeted themselves. Close to two million people were physically liquidated, many more stigmatised as “exploiters” and “class enemies”. Their assets were distributed to the perpetrators, creating a pact sealed in blood between the poor and the party. A Great Terror followed from October 1950 to October 1951, as the regime turned against “counter-revolutionaries”, “spies”, “bandits” and others standing in the way of revolution. Mao fixed the killing quota at one per thousand, but in some regions two or three times as many were killed, often at random. The following year former government servants were subjected to a massive purge, while the business community was brought to heel. All organisations operating outside the party – religious communities, philanthropic societies, independent chambers of commerce, civil associations – were eliminated. A literary inquisition ensured artists and writers conformed to the dictates of the party. Books considered undesirable were burned in giant bonfires or pulped by the tonne. The Commercial Press, one of the largest in the country, had roughly 8,000 titles in print in the summer of 1950. A year later a mere 1,234 of these were considered acceptable for “the masses”. In every domain of the visual and literary arts the socialist realism devised by Stalin was imposed. The most prominent theme was Mao, not Stalin. His works, essays, poems, lectures, musings and mottos were churned out by the million, from cheap paperbacks to expensive gilded editions. A huge amount of propaganda work was published, telling the story of oppression and the road to liberation, sometimes in Mao’s own words and handwriting. Newspapers and magazines, too, spread his wisdom far and wide. Photographs of the Chairman dominated the front pages. In 1949 the chairman hand-picked a photographer named Hou Bo. She had joined the party at the age of fourteen, and her pictures were soon printed in the millions. “The Founding of the PRC” (1949), “Mao Zedong Swimming Across the Yangzi” (1955) and “Chairman Mao at Ease with the Masses” (1959), some of them heavily touched up, were among the most widely distributed images of the twentieth century. No parks, streets or cities were named after Mao. The chairman instead fashioned a more intangible monument to himself, as philosopher king of the East. At its heart was the idea that he had combined the theory of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution. Instead of applying Marxism dogmatically to conditions very different from those in Russia, Mao had overseen the Sinification of Marxism. In December 1950 the Chairman published an article titled “On Practice”, followed in April 1952 by “On Contradiction”. Both were hailed as philosophical developments of the dialectical materialism of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Although these essays contained little that was original, the idea of the Sinification of Marxism captured the imagination of admirers at home and abroad. Mao also posed as a renaissance man, a philosopher, sage and poet wrapped in one, a calligrapher immersed in the literary traditions of his country. Even as traditional poetry vanished from the shelves, the Chairman’s own verses were widely distributed. A high point was the publication of Chairman Mao’s Nineteen Poems. The compendium actually contained twenty-one pieces, but Mao was keen to imitate a well-known classical anthology titled Nineteen Ancient Poems. It immediately prompted a movement to study his work, as learned professors and party secretaries vied with each other to praise this “historic breakthrough in literary history”’. While Mao’s poetry was only marginally better than that of Stalin, who also liked to dabble in rhyme, he did have a genuine gift for words. His pithy slogans found their way into every household, whether it was “Women Hold up Half the Sky”, “Revolution is Not a Dinner Party”, “Power Comes from the Barrel of a Gun” or “Imperialism is a Paper Tiger”. His motto was “Serve the People”, proclaimed from posters and placards everywhere, the white characters written in a flamboyant hand against a red background. His mighty brush was used to name government buildings, grace public monuments and adorn mugs, vases and calendars. To this day his calligraphy dominates the masthead of the People’s Daily .