Ai Ping, a high ranking Communist Party official, sprung a surprise by discussing his reading habits when the foreign media settled down for an official briefing on the Party's department that maintains ties with over 600 political parties in over 160 countries.
The Chinese are careful to avoid talking about the Sino-Indian border war during public diplomatic niceties and media briefings. The sixties and seventies are purged from official statements listing milestones in India-China history in the Chinese media and speeches.
But here was Ai, vice-minister of the international arm of the Party, pleasantly telling us in his introduction about India's China War by Neville Maxwell, recommended for an 'in-depth analysis of the border war'. The Chinese staunchly insist that the war was India's fault to start with, and Maxwell's largely critical account of 1962 that blames Indian diplomacy and strategy, seems to have put it on the approved Party reading list.
The official named the book right after praising Edgar Snow's Red Star Over China, a classic biography that was later seen as a somewhat one-sided portrait of Mao and the revolution.
Next on his list was a Chinese translation of In spite of the Gods - the Strange Rise of Modern India, by British journalist Edward Luce who covers call-centres to the caste system and corruption, things that fascinate the Chinese about modern India.
Interestingly, Ai didn't refer to a single work by an Indian or Chinese author on India-China relations. I raised my hand but didn't have the chance to ask him the message in his pointed reference to border war. On the subject of India, he replied as expected to a query on the Maoist insurgency. "We do not engage with illegal extremists," he said. "We do not support any people who use violent means to overthrow the government."
The Communist Party is preparing to celebrate its 90th anniversary and the Chinese are back to singing revolutionary red songs in parks and universities. Questions were raised on how the Party will evolve with the times.