Primarily, Changsha is known for its links with Mao Zedong, who arrived here in 1911 at the age of eighteen as nationwide power struggles erupted following the collapse of the Manchu dynasty. By 1918 there was a real movement for Hunan to become an independent state and, for a time, this found favour with local warlord Zhao Hendi, though he soon turned violently on his own supporters. Mao, back in his hometown of Shaoshan heading a Communist Party branch, was singled out for persecution and in 1925 fled to Guangzhou, taking up a teaching post at the Peasant Movement Training Institute. Within three years he returned to Hunan, organizing the abortive Autumn Harvest Uprising and establishing guerrilla bases in rural Jiangxi.

Mao was by no means the only young Hunanese caught up in these events, and a number of his contemporaries surfaced in the Communist government, including Liu Shaoqi, Mao’s deputy until he became a victim of the Cultural Revolution; and Hua Guofeng, Mao’s lookalike and briefly empowered successor.

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