In a rare move, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday acknowledged that 'Chairman' Mao Zedong made "mistakes" but asked people to adopt a "correct" historical view to judge a revolutionary figure, who had changed the face of the nation.
Mao, a controversial figure in Chinese history due to some of his disastrous policies such as the 'Great Leap Forward', should be appraised correctly, Xi, also general secretary of the ruling CPC Central Committee, said as China celebrated the 120th birth anniversary of the founding father.
Mao still commands reverence among many Chinese but is also despised by critics who say his disastrous political and economic campaigns led to tens of millions of deaths.
"Mao is a great figure who changed the face of the nation and led the Chinese people to a new destiny," Xi said at a symposium held by the CPC.
Xi described Mao as a "great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theorist" and underlined the need to have a correct historical view to appraise a historical figure.
"Revolutionary leaders are not gods, but human beings," Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
"(We) cannot worship them like gods or refuse to allow people to point out and correct their errors just because they are great; neither can we totally repudiate them and erase their historical feats just because they made mistakes," Xi said.
Apart from Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and other top leaders visited the Mao mausoleum here to pay their respects. Thousands queued through the night near his childhood home in Shaoshan, Hunan, to see a huge fireworks display which is said to have lasted four hours. Many more made the pilgrimage to the village to mark the anniversary.
Chinese politicians rarely comment on the Great Helmsman as some of Mao's policies had disastrous consequences for the nation. After victory over the Nationalists in 1949, Mao proclaimed the People's Republic and became its first leader.
Once in power, however, many of the policies he oversaw proved disastrous.
The so-called "Great Leap Forward" of collectivized farming and rapid industrialisation led to nationwide famine which killed between 10 million and 35 million people.
The decade-long 'Cultural Revolution' from 1966, which he launched to purge political opponents, dragged on for 10 years and ruined the lives and educations of a whole generation, making Mao a controversial figure in China.