There was a time when well-meaning, if not wishful-thinking, Westerners thought that “China’s Gorbachev” was the highest compliment they could pay a Chinese leader who looked like a reformer.

But when Zhu Rongji, the straight-talking mayor of Shanghai, visited the U.S. in July 1990, and some Americans called him that, the future premier was not amused. “I am not China’s Gorbachev,” Zhu reportedly snapped. “I am China’s Zhu Rongji.”

We will never know what Zhu, widely admired for implementing key reforms in the 1990s and spearheading China’s successful efforts to join the World Trade Organization, really thought about Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who died on Aug. 30. What we do know for certain is that, in the eyes of most leaders of the Communist Party of China, Gorbachev committed the unforgivable crime of causing the collapse of the Soviet Union.