Arevolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate and kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” 1 With these words—written in 1926, at a time when the Communists, in cooperation with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party, were embarked on their Northern Expedition to defeat the warlords and reunify China—the young revolutionary Mao Zedong warned his colleagues that the road to victory in the struggle to build a Communist society would be arduous and would inevitably involve acts of violence against the class enemy. During the next twenty years, the mettle of the Communist Party was severely tested. It was harassed to near extinction by the Nationalist government and then attacked by the armed forces of imperial Japan. In the summer of 1949, it finally triumphed over Chiang in a bruising civil war that led to the latter’s abandonment of the mainland and retreat to the island of Taiwan. By then, Mao had become the most powerful man in China, and people began to speculate about his future intentions. Did Mao’s words two decades previously portend a new reign of terror that would—not for the first time—drown the Chinese Revolution in a sea of blood? Or were Mao and his colleagues—as some American observers had speculated in Mao’s wartime capital of Yan’an—really “agrarian reformers,” more patriots than revolutionaries, who would bind the wounds of war and initiate a period of peace and prosperity? As Mao and his colleagues mounted the rostrum of Beijing’s Gate of Heavenly Peace in early October 1949 to declare their intentions, the fate of a nation lay in the balance.