Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976), also known by his courtesy name Mao Runzhi (毛润之) and the title Chairman Mao (毛主席, Máo zhǔxí) as Chairman of the Communist Party of China and paramount leader of the People's Republic of China (PRC), was a Chinese communist revolutionary who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) as Leader of the Communist Party of China from 1943 to his death in 1976 and became the founding father of the PRC when it was established in 1949. In addition, he was also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1954 to 1976. Although he was only formally the head of state until 1959, first as Chairman of the Central People's Government (1949 to 1954) and then as Chairman of the People's Republic of China (1954 to 1959) and was succeeded as head of state by Liu Shaoqi, his control over the party and military made him the de facto leader of the PRC from 1949 to 1976 and the paramount leader of the country's first generation of leadership. His theories, military strategies, and political policies are collectively known as Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought within the PRC, an ideology that remains a part of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, despite dramatic changes to government policy and ideological orientation after his death.
Mao was the son of a prosperous peasant in Shaoshan, Hunan. He had a Chinese nationalist and an anti-imperialist outlook early in his life, and was particularly influenced by the events of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and May Fourth Movement of 1919. He later adopted Marxism–Leninism while working at Peking University, and became a founding member of the Communist Party of China (CPC), leading the Autumn Harvest Uprising in 1927. During the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the CPC, Mao helped to found the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, led the Jiangxi Soviet's radical land policies, and ultimately became head of the CPC during the Long March. Although the CPC temporarily allied with the KMT under the United Front during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), China's civil war resumed after Japan's surrender and in 1949 Mao's forces defeated the Nationalist government, which withdrew to Taiwan.
On October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the foundation of the PRC, a single-party state controlled by the CPC. In the following years he solidified his control through land reforms and through a psychological victory in the Korean War, as well as through campaigns against landlords, people he termed "counter-revolutionaries", and other perceived enemies of the state. In 1957, he launched a campaign known as the Great Leap Forward that aimed to rapidly transform China's economy from agrarian to industrial. This campaign led to the deadliest famine in history and the deaths of 20–45 million people between 1958 and 1962. In 1966, Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution, a program to remove "counter-revolutionary" elements in Chinese society which lasted 10 years and was marked by violent class struggle, widespread destruction of cultural artifacts, and an unprecedented elevation of Mao's cult of personality. The program is now officially regarded as a "severe setback" for the PRC. In 1972, Mao welcomed U.S. President Richard Nixon in Beijing, signalling the start of a policy of opening China to the world. After years of ill health, Mao suffered a series of heart attacks in 1976 and died at the age of 82. He was succeeded as paramount leader by Party Chairman Hua Guofeng, who was quickly sidelined and replaced by Deng Xiaoping.
A controversial figure, Mao is regarded as one of the most important and influential individuals in modern world history. He is also known as a political intellect, theorist, military strategist, poet, and visionary. Supporters credit him with driving imperialism out of China, modernising the nation and building it into a world power, promoting the status of women, improving education and health care, as well as increasing life expectancy as China's population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million under his leadership. Conversely, his regime has been called autocratic and totalitarian, and condemned for bringing about mass repression and destroying religious and cultural artifacts and sites. It was additionally responsible for vast numbers of deaths with estimates ranging from 30 to 70 million victims through starvation, prison labour and mass executions.