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Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was the founder of modern China and one of the most influential 20th century thinkers.

He was also a ruthless and deeply flawed leader whose policies killed tens of millions of people.

Born in 1893 as the son of a reasonably well-off peasant family in Hunan province, Mao was one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party.

He helped build the Red Army, led it on a 6,000-mile "long march" to escape its Nationalist foes, and emerged as the most powerful Party figure.

During China's long civil war he proved himself a brilliant thinker and military tactician, as well as someone with an instinctive understanding of China's millions of peasants, whose support the Communists needed to survive.

After victory over the Nationalists in 1949, Mao proclaimed the People's Republic of China and became its first leader.

Great Helmsman

Once in power, however, many of the policies he oversaw proved disastrous.

The so-called "Great Leap Forward" of collectivised farming and rapid industrialisation led to nationwide famine which killed 10-35 million people.

The Cultural Revolution, which he launched to purge political opponents, dragged on for 10 years and ruined the lives and educations of a whole generation.

Mao died in 1976, after several years of ill-health and apparent decadence.

The official Party view now is that although the so-called "Great Helmsman" committed serious mistakes, these were secondary to his contributions to the Party and to modern China.

Statue of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (AP)
Mao's legacy lives on in modern China

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